DCOA president Nigel Lawrence
DCOA president Nigel Lawrence

Dominica's elderly population is crying foul on financial institutions for carrying out financial abuse against them.

As many have realised, elder abuse does not usually receive the level of attention of other social issues, such as domestic violence against women and girls, rape of minors, and incestuous activities.

The spotlight was placed on the ill-treatment of Dominica's ageing population when the country joined the international community in observing World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) this month.

Abuse of the elderly is one of the least investigated types of exploitation. It needs to be addressed in national action plans or policies. However, Dominica has slowly but surely been taking steps in this direction, firstly with the recent establishment of the National Advisory Board to take on matters concerning the well-being of the elderly. And secondly, with the passing into law of several family bills in April this year, some of which focus on senior citizens and efforts towards reducing abuse against them.

The theme for WEAAD 2023 is: 'Closing the Circle: Addressing Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Older Age Policy, Law and Evidence-based Responses'.

"In tandem with this year's theme, we are saying we want to close the cycle. And we also talk about reformation and reforming policies, laws and all those other things," said Nigel Lawrence, President of the Dominica Council on Ageing, DCOA.

WEAAD aims to sensitise the public and raise awareness among different groups in society on the frequency and commonplace nature of elder abuse. This, in turn, would spur organisations into action and ignite discussions on how to eliminate this malaise against the people described as Dominica's gems.

Lawrence says it is time for financial institutions to step up and assist, not abuse the country's senior citizen population.

"That is why we want to use this platform to tell the financial institutions they have to think about the elderly more," he stated.

The DCOA President expressly referred to using debit cards to withdraw from and deposit into one's account. But he expounded that this may not be a good idea for Dominica's elderly population.

"As far as older persons are concerned, the issue arises with the mere fact that you need to have a personal identification number (PIN), and at my age, we forget our PINs," Lawrence said.

The option of writing one's PIN on the debit card has been deemed an absolute 'no' by these financial institutions.

The Dominica Council on Ageing is the umbrella body which oversees and ensures the best interest of the country's mature population.

"As someone who speaks for older persons, the best PIN is your thumb. It is only there for that person. Your fingerprint is identifiable only for you," he said.

The DCOA President used the opportunity to appeal to the financial institutions to explore biometric verification at the various automatic teller machines (ATMs) to guarantee secure access to funds by elderly individuals.

"So why don't they modernise the system?" Lawrence challenged, "Knowing that older persons would have difficulty going there or giving someone their PIN to withdraw or deposit money for them. Why don't they put a mechanism whereby I put my finger on a scanner, and my money comes out?"

According to the United Nations, 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.'

To this end, Lawrence is adamant that "these are some of the measures they can take. So if the financial institutions do not see that they must do these things as safeguards, then we, as older persons, are doomed. We will forever be abused."