June 15 2020
COVID-19 Crisis Sheds Light on Older People’s Vulnerability
-Statement by Chairperson of National Human Rights Commission of Korea for National Day against Elder Abuse and World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (June 15)
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK, Chairperson Young-ae Choi) releases a statement on the occasion of the National Day against Elder Abuse and World Elder Abuse Awareness day, which are observed on June 15.
The United Nations and the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) have designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to prevent and raise awareness about elder abuse. Korea celebrates the National Day against Elder Abuse on the same day to promote understanding of elder abuse and bring attention to this issue.
As the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a global crisis, older people comprise the largest portion of deaths. Older adults often suffer from chronic diseases and thus have far higher COVID-19 case fatality rates compared to other age groups. In particular, fatality rates for patients 80 years and over are five times higher than the average of all age groups.
As Chair of the Working Group on Ageing of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, Chairperson Young-ae Choi of the NHRCK sent a letter on April 13 to the Chair of the United Nations Open-ended Working Group on Ageing, Bureau Members, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General and High Commissioner and Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressing concern about inadequate medical and care services and social isolation of vulnerable older people and urging each Member State to prioritize protecting the rights of older people.
The Chairperson of the NHRCK stated in the letter to the United Nations that “The COVID-19 crisis has revealed that ageing does not simply mean growing older, but it also means becoming the most vulnerable group in disaster situations like this. The current situation has led us to reflect on the meaning of ageing and reminds us once again of the importance of realizing the urgency of and renewing our focus on protecting older people’s rights and increasing our efforts in this regard.”
The UN Secretary-General’s policy brief on COVID-19 and older people’s rights, which was released on May 1, raises concern about the threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to the lives, health, rights and well-being of older people and calls on States to minimize these threats by promptly addressing various risks facing this group of people and ensuring protection of their rights in the COVID-19 response.
According to the data released by the World Health Organization for the period before the COVID-19 outbreak, elder abuse had increased steadily to affect one in six older adults worldwide in 2017. Domestic violence committed by males against female partners has been on the rise in the COVID-19 crisis. Social distancing and everyday life quarantine measures have inevitably restricted movement and led to isolation of individuals, increasing the likelihood of violence or neglect of older persons. Mr. Dereje Wordofa, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Populations Fund, noted that a rise in domestic violence amid the global spread of COVID-19 is a crisis within a crisis.
Older people’s vulnerability has been made more apparent by the COVID-19 pandemic. The infection fatality rates are higher in older adults due to chronic conditions. Older people with chronic illness need constant care and live in collective care facilities such as nursing homes, which exposes them to a greater risk of infection. Cluster infections continue to be reported at domestic care institutions and older persons were found abandoned and dead in care homes of other countries. Older persons with chronic illness need regular prescriptions and assistance with daily activities, but the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the delivery of home-based healthcare and care services for community-dwelling older adults.
In the COVID-19 crisis, older persons are faced with daily life-or-death situations. We need to examine and strengthen the social safety net to protect vulnerable older people and human rights should be taken into account as crucial values in the process.
As the 11th session of the UN Open-ended Working Group on Ageing, originally scheduled for April 2020, was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHRCK has been participating in weekly online meetings since March 27 with international civil society organizations and older persons’ rights experts, including the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, national human rights institutions of Germany and Poland, HelpAge International and INPEA, to identify current issues related to older persons’ rights and share Korea’s experiences. Moreover, the Commission distributed to relevant government ministries and posted on its website 15 human rights guidance and reports related to COVID-19 published by international organizations such as the UN Secretary-General and UN Office of the High Commissioner for human Rights to make sure that national COVID-19 response measures adhere to the international human rights guidance.
The NHRCK hopes that our society can take one step further towards protection of older people’s rights, as we celebrate the National Day against Elder Abuse and World Elder Abuse Awareness Day in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.