According to UN’s estimates, 1 in 6 people over 60 years of age experienced some form of abuse during the past year. National data, on the other hand, show that half of the elderly violence victims remain silent, mostly due to fear, shame, or lack of information.
On the occasion of the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day observed globally on 15 June, Ombudswoman Tena Šimonović Einwalter has warned once more about the need for the stronger protection of the older persons from the abuses of the support-until-death contracts. These represent a form of elder abuse and (economic) violence and can potentially expose older persons to serious human rights violations.
How Can We Better Protect Older Persons?
Due to the insufficiently detailed regulation of the support-until-death contracts and the lack of protection mechanisms, significant numbers of older persons deciding to conclude such contracts unfortunately end up without both care as well as their property.
Thus in her 2021 Annual Report to the Croatian Parliament Ombudswoman Šimonović Einwalter addressed several recommendations to the Ministry of the Judiciary and Public Administration advocating for the establishment of a better framework for the regulation of the support-for-life and support-until-death contracts, including setting up a registry of the concluded contracts.
Additionally, taking into account the fact that it is not likely that one support provider can take adequate care of a larger number of older and infirm persons, it would be beneficial to limit the number of such contracts a single provider is allowed to conclude. Public notaries should be given access to the existing data records, so that they could ascertain the existence of the legal capacity of the clients to conclude such contracts as well as the existence of any possible legal obstacles. Furthermore, it is extremely important to make court proceedings for the purpose of the annulment of these types of contracts urgent, which can be achieved by amending the Civil Procedure Act.
On the other hand, in the process of the adoption of the new Social Welfare Act, the Ombudswoman advocated for the granting of the right to certain social services and material rights within the social welfare system to the persons who have instigated court proceedings to annul such contracts, which was adopted.
Advocating for a Convention on the Rights of Older Persons
Support contract abuses are only one of the serious issues faced by older people in Croatia. Others include the insufficient accessibility of the health care and social services, both those aimed at enabling them to continue living in their own homes (such as, for example, home assistance and day care) as well as long-term institutional care (the problems in this area include long waiting lists, the inadequate monitoring of the work of the long-term care facilities, etc.). At the same time, as much as a third of older persons in Croatia live below the poverty line, which places them at a higher risk for human rights abuses.
Thus, with the aim of providing this social group with more visibility in the global human rights protection system and establishing the obligation of the individual states to report on the progress they have made in improving their position, Ombudswoman Šimonović Einwalter has been advocating for the adoption of a legally binding instrument at the UN level aimed at the protection of the rights of older persons.
- In line with WHO’s definition, elder abuse is “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship, where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.”
- National data mentioned in this text has been derived from the research conducted by the NGOs Duga Vukovar and Centar za kvalitetu života 50+ on the topic of domestic violence.
- In line with the relevant provisions of the Civil Obligations Act, under a contract for support-until-death, one party (provider of support) undertakes to support the other party or a third party (recipient of support) until their death and the other party undertakes to make a transfer of all or part of their property to the provider of support.
- More information on the initiative for the adoption of a legally binding instrument at the UN level for the protection of the rights of older persons is available here.
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