High level joint event showcases renewed commitment to put an end to elder abuse

On the occasion of the 10th World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on 15-16 June 2015 AGE co-organised a high-level two-day event with the Council of Europe, the European Commission and the European Network of Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI) to take stock of European and international action and reflect together on how to better protect and promote the rights of older people to age in dignity and to be protected against all forms of elder abuse.

The debate focused on the implementation of European and international human rights standards, elder abuse and financial exploitation in consumer relations, prevention of mistreatment through training, multi-agency co-operation to tackle elder abuse and support to older victims.

Day one: looking at existing EU and international tools and highlighting gaps

photo CoE panel

The first day was opened by Humbert de Biolley, Deputy Head of Office of the Council of Europe, who hosted the event. It was then followed by a video statement from Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, the United Nations Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, and by Salla Saastamoinen, Director for Equality, DG JUST, European Commission.

Matthias Kloth of the Council of Europe, Dima Yared from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Johan ten Geuzendam (DG JUST Advisor), presented several instruments and tools available to help policy makers tackle elder abuse and older people to claim their rights. These include the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the Council of Europe Recommendation on the rights of older persons. Some other international instruments were put forward such the EU Directive on victims’ rights, the CoE Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) or the Convention on the International Protection of Adults. The session opened to several panel discussions including representatives from national authorities (Davor Dominkus from the Slovenian Ministry, Markus Windegger from the Austrian Ministry and Barbro Westerholm, Member of the Swedish Parliament) and experts in the field of human rights, elder abuse and consumers rights.

Experiences shared by the participants demonstrated that the existing legal framework is not applied in a manner that adequately protects the rights of older people and that it may fail to cover the different forms of elder abuse.

Several reasons for this protection gap were identified:

  • Ageism, which is not only entrenched in individual attitudes towards older persons but can also be of a structural nature, operationalised through public policies that neglect this group and consequently foster age discrimination and abusive attitudes;
  • Failure to comprehend ageing and older people through a human rights lens: participants suggested that ageing policies are often developed either with a medical or ‘market-based’ approach in mind, neglecting the dignity, autonomy and other fundamental rights of older people;
  • Lack of awareness of existing tools by older persons and difficulty to navigate through the complex human rights system that often overlooks the specific challenges faced by this group;
  • Under-reporting and insufficient data on the prevalence of elder abuse, which compounds the difficulty to evaluate, understand and efficiently tackle the problem;
  • Absence of old-age specific policies and measures, as for example adapted support services, including victims support services; and
  • Pressure on public budgets caused by the economic crisis, which alongside the individualisation of care and other essential services may entail a low investment on quality of service provision.

Several examples of initiatives were introduced by the speakers illustrating efforts to address these protection gaps. First, the European Commission and the European Network of Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI) is coordinating a project aiming to improve the human rights protection of older persons in long-term care, with particular emphasis on residential care. The project specifically seeks to introduce a human rights based approach to long-term care of older persons, and to increase floor at CoEawareness of human rights of older persons living in or seeking access to long-term care in Europe. Secondly, representatives of the Slovenian and Austrian Ministries and the Swedish Parliament referred to the WeDO European Quality framework for long-term care services and the European Charter for the rights and responsibilities of older people in need of care and assistance as important tools that guide policy and practice change at the national level. Moreover participants stressed that consumer rights legislation and quality standards can complement the international human rights framework as long as they are actively promoting the dignity and independence of older people.

At the end of the first day, Mr Claude Moraes, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and chair of the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), made a plea to the European Commission to take rigorous action to promote the rights of older people and fight elder abuse (see interviews below this briefing).

Day two: sharing experiences and building synergies

CoR joint event

The second day was hosted by the Committee of the Regions and aimed at sharing local, regional and national level experiences to tackle elder abuse. After a comprehensive summary of day one by ENNHRI, an overview of key policies to prevent and fight elder abuse in Scotland, Ireland, Belgium and Spain was presented, introducing essential elements of a national strategy to fight elder abuse. Participants were able to benefit from a wide range of good practices such as dedicated trainings on care and human rights, protocols of action to coordinate professionals, and advocacy services for older persons. During the debate, MEP Lambert Van Nijstelrooij underlined that elder abuse is not as high in the EU agenda as child abuse and stressed EU’s role to fund research and facilitate national action on this topic. Arnoldas Arbramavicius from the Committee of the Regions supported the creation of age-friendly environments as a concrete way to prevent neglect and mistreatment of older persons. Ralf Jacob (Head of Unit, DG Employment) and Johan Ten Geuzendam (Advisor, DG Justice) of the European Commission highlighted the structural causes of elder abuse and the need for full awareness of what fundamental rights mean in the context of ageing. The European Commission was joined by the Council of Europe in welcoming this yearly event as offering concrete guidance to the implementation of existing human rights standards and to the adoption of appropriate ageing policies.

Overall, the conference highlighted that, while there is a wealth of instruments and practices to tackle this problem at all levels, there is no coherent response to elder abuse that adequately protects the rights of older persons. The event showed clearly the necessity to apply a rights-based approach in all policies, as well as to improve the understanding of the realities of an ageing society, of the rights of older people and of elder abuse. It called on making sure that older people are systematically involved in decision-making and implementation processes that affect their rights.

The full report of the event will be released in the next weeks.

The conference presentations (and agenda) can be downloaded on this page (at the end)

For more information on the event, please contact Maude Luherne, maude.luherne@age-platform.eu

, and Nena Georgantzi, nena.georgantzi@age-platform.eu

Useful links:

Co-organisers :

Useful material :



Salla Saastamoinen smallSalla Saastamoinen
Director for Equality, DG Justice, European Commission

  • At the joint conference on elder abuse on 15-16 June 2015, it was stressed that age comes in the last place in the current system of protection from discrimination. How does DG Justice intend to address the invisibility of older people's rights and age discrimination across EU action and to promote a rights-based approach to ageing across EU Member States?

'The statement at the conference referred to existing national anti-discrimination legislation in the EU Member States, outside the area of employment: If you look at the main grounds of discrimination, the ground most often protected is disability, followed by religion and sexual orientation, and age comes last. This is an additional reason for the "age constituency" to give its support, as it indeed has been doing, to our efforts to get the 2008 Commission proposal for an Equal Treatment Directive adopted. This Directive aims to cover the important gap in our current EU anti-discrimination legislation providing inter alia protection against discrimination on the ground of age in the areas of access to and supply of goods and services, including housing, social protection (including social security and healthcare) and education. Under the Juncker's Commission political guidelines, we give high priority to filling this gap of protection from discrimination in EU law. We need broad political support to achieve this aim. We know that there is support in the EP, but as we need unanimity in the Council, we also need all Member States on board. We are still making progress towards that goal.'

  • Also pointed out during the conference is the great diversity of forms that elder abuse can take, and which are not - for all of them - covered by the existing EU and international legal instruments. What do you think should be done to fill that legal gap? Do you think a legal definition of elder abuse would help tackle the protection gaps?

'Also outside of the EU there is much diversity in legal definitions. See for example the US. Legislatures in all 50 US states have passed some form of elder abuse prevention laws, but the laws and definitions of terms vary considerably from one US state to another. What is important at the European side too is that the EU Member States tackle elder abuse in their national legislation, even if in varying ways.
The absence of a common legal definition of elder abuse is not something that the EU could easily resolve. However, also without having such a common definition it should be possible to identify the main protection gaps and in particular also where abuse is resulting from an insufficient implementation of our existing laws and rules. Getting a clearer picture of where, in clear violation of existing laws and international obligations, elder abuse is happening, is for the EU a major political task. We see a clear role for civil society in drawing our attention to such instances of abuse that need to be tackled.'

ClaudeMoraesClaude Moraes
MEP and Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee

  • At the joint conference on elder abuse on 15-16 June 2015, you invited the European Commission to take strong action to promote older persons' rights and fight age discrimination. How do you think the European Parliament could contribute to the realisation of article 25 of the EU Charter that deals with the rights of the elderly, address discrimination faced by older persons and fight elder abuse in all its forms?

'I welcome the efforts of the Commission in including the rights of the elderly in article 25 of its 2014 report on the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This is a positive step to address age discrimination in the EU. However, it is disappointing that the Commission have not included initiatives focusing on the rights of older people in their work programme for 2015. The European Parliament can play a key role in enhancing the visibility of age discrimination when shaping EU policy on fundamental rights. As Chair of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee I will continue to apply pressure in order to address the current stalemate of the horizontal anti-discrimination Directive. It is unacceptable that the EU is still lacking a horizontal anti-discrimination instrument.'

Related news

Skip to content