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A few weeks ago the whole of the East Africa region was shocked after watching a clip on Kenya national TV station of a people, mostly young men hitting older people mostly older women. What was more shocking was that this happened in Church, a place where people are supposed to feel safe and free to worship.

To most of us who grew in an African family setting, this would be an abomination of the highest order—the kind where the elders in our families will ostracize you, spit on the ground to curse. This is because it was unheard of for anyone physically or verbally abuse an elder person whether a member of your family or not. Every older person in our communities deserved the highest level of respect, protection and support.

Unfortunately we see lots of these stories in our media today. A few weeks before that, there was another story in the Kenyan media of older woman whose home was burned down by a group of people. Of late we also see a number of older people abandoned by their families, left alone to die, claiming that life in the city is too tough for them to support their ageing parents. The saddest part is that most of these crimes go unreported or unpunished. The perpetrators of abuse of older people continue to use all sorts of excuses including cultural practice, tradition, economic hardships and other to continue abusing older people.

In other parts of the region, we read or hear about other countless crimes committed against older people. In parts of Tanzania for instance, killing of older people based on witchcrafts allegation is predominant. A study conducted by Tanzania Legal and Human Rights confirmed a total of 765 older people were killed in 2013-14 out of which 50 and 260 men.  This is in one country and based on reported cases, they are several other cases that go unreported.

This is because most of our countries do not have functional laws or policies to protect the rights of older people. In countries where we have laws, we do not have supportive structures where older people can access justice. In addition, we have not invested enough effort to raising awareness and enable older people to claim their rights.  As a result the perpetrators of abuse and discrimination continue abusing older people in the name of anything.

This is one of the main reasons why many countries in Africa are ranked at the bottom of the Global Age Watch Index 2015 report launched on September 9th, 2015 by HelpAge international. The report notes that 10 out of the 11 countries featured in the Index are at the bottom 20 mostly because of the absence of social security mechanisms for older people.

The Global AgeWatch Index 2015 notes that older women and men in Africa experience economic and social hardships with the majority unable to access basic services. It reviews 13 different indicators for the four key domains of Income security, Health status, Capability, and Enabling environment. Due to lack of relevant data, only 11 African countries are included in the Global Age Watch Index out of the total 93.

The countries are Ghana, Malawi, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and United Republic of Tanzania. There are not relevant data to include other countries in the Index

According to the Global Age Watch Index, by 2012 only seven countries had adopted national policies on ageing while only three countries Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa had allocated budgets to support older people.

The Index ranks Nigeria at position 86, slightly lower than her neighbour, Ghana as best country in West Africa with better conditions for older persons. The low ranking of Africa's biggest economy in the Index could be attributed to the fact that the country is yet to enact a National Policy on the care and welfare of older persons.

So what needs to be done? There is an urgent need for African governments to create a conducive environment for older people to enjoy dignified lives. This includes pushing for social protection policies including access to secure incomes. There is also a need for more partners to invest in mobilising and building the capacity of older people to claim their rights. Older people's lives matter.

Written by Jamillah Mwanjisi, Head of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns, HelpAge International, East, West and Central Africa.

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