Safety: Elderly abuse – the worst form of disrespect

Safety: Elderly abuse – the worst form of disrespect

By Annalise Kempen

Earlier this year the World Health Organisation (WHO) noted that one in six people of 60 years and older experiences some form of abuse in community settings. Rates of abuse in nursing homes and long-term care facilities are high, as two in three staff members reported to have committed abuse in the past year (during 2023). Although these are international statistics, it does not mean that elder abuse does not happen in South Africa.

What does the law say?

The Older Persons Act 13 of 2006 is important legislation to deal effectively with the plight of older persons by establishing a framework aimed at the empowerment and protection of older persons and the promotion and maintenance of their status; rights; well-being; safety and security; and to provide for related matters.

Specific offences committed against older persons

An older person who needs care and protection is, according to section

25(5) of Act 13 of 2006, someone –

  • whose income, assets and/or old age social grant is taken against his/her will, or that the person suffers from economic abuse. This form of abuse is defined as “the deprivation of economic and financial resources to which an older person is entitled under any law; the reasonable deprivation of economic and financial resources which the older person requires out of necessity; and the disposal of household effects or other property that belongs to the older person without the older person’s consent”;
  • who has been removed from his/her property against his/her wishes or who has been unlawfully evicted from any property which they occupy;
  • who has been neglected or abandoned without any visible means of support;
  • who lives or works on the streets or begs for a living;
  • who abuses or is addicted to a substance and without any support or treatment for such addiction;
  • who lives in circumstances which may harm that older person physically or mentally;
  • who lives in circumstances which are likely to cause or will be conducive to seduction, abduction or sexual exploitation; and/or
  • who is in a state of physical, mental or social neglect.

Act 13 of 2006 makes it clear that whenever someone is aware that an older person suffers from an abuse-related injury or has been abused (physically, sexually, economically) that a person must notify the Director-General of Social Development ( or a police official immediately. Those who have knowledge of such abuse and who fail to comply with the legal provision to notify the authorities are guilty of an offence in terms of section 26(3) of Act 13 of 2006.

Section 30 of Act 13 of 2006 specifies that any person who abuses an older person is guilty of an offence.

Abuse is not limited to physical abuse but refers to any conduct or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress or is likely to cause harm or distress to an older person.

Section 30(3) describes specific forms of abuse namely –

  • sexual abuse meaning any conduct that violates the sexual integrity of an older person;
  • physical abuse meaning any act or threat of physical violence towards an older person;
  • psychological abuse meaning any pattern of degrading or humiliating conduct towards an older person which includes name calling, repeated insults and ridicule; repeated threats to cause emotional pain; and/or repeated invasion of an older person’s privacy, liberty, integrity or security; and
  • economic abuse which has been described earlier in this article.

Where to find help?

Crime Stop: 08600 10111 or download the MySAPSApp from the Google Play store or Apple App Store to get details about your nearest police station or submit tip-offs about crime.

*The information from this article is derived from a comprehensive article about this topic that was originally published in the Servamus Safety and Security Magazine. For more information visit:

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