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Africa

Education key to preventing witchcraft accusations, elder abuse in Tanzania

media Salume (left) with friend holding their memory book in Kwimba District (c) Clemence Eliah_HelpAge International

Campaigners in Tanzania are calling for greater protections to prevent the abuse of elderly people, as Wednesday marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. An increasing number of Tanzanian elders are being murdered, according to statistics, but there are some initiatives aiming to foster better relationships between different generations, which hopes to prevent future abuse.

“In the northwestern Mwanza region alone, there were 51 murders this past year, and 50 of the victims were old women, ” says Joseph Mbasha, a rights officer in Tanzania with HelpAge International, an non-governmental organization that defends the rights of the elderly.

Jealousy, inheritance, property rights, and even a retired person’s physical appearance can trigger abuse.

“Sometimes land is an issue because they see the older ones who own that land, the cattle, and they would like to inherit this, but they cannot inherit it in a legal manner,” says Paul Mikongoti, program officer at the Legal and Human Rights Centre in Dar es Salaam.

“Sometimes they will attack the older people, especially women, widows, in order to free the land. That way the land will no longer have an owner, so they can own the land,” he adds.

Finding solutions to Tanzania's elder abuse issue

The Legal and Human Rights Centre in Dar es Salaam reported that some 630 older people had been murdered in 2012, and the number jumped to 765 the following year. Accused of witchcraft, older people have been run off their land, had their property stolen, or even attacked and murdered. Some of the cases had been carried out by family members.

Some people perceive older women as witches because they are not “normal-looking” they have wrinkles and red eyes from cooking over a wood fire for so many years. However, there are some initiatives which hope to change these misconceptions and help bridge the generational gap.

Mbasha has been working in the field with rural communities and says that schoolchildren are key to prevent this from escalating. “This has traditionally been an issue for so many years. It’s a cultural upbringing, behavior and practice,” he says.

Students in Magu district, Tanzania, will have the opportunity to join a new after-school club this week called Friends of Older People. Pupils will have the opportunity to foster inter-generational links, so that children can start looking at older people as normal people, says Mbasha.

HelpAge International is also targeting standard three schoolchildren, who are eight years old and can read and write. “One of the aspects that we are trying to integrate into our program is that students try to write a memoir, a memory book, with older people helping to write it,” he says. Although many elderly family members are illiterate, they can tell their stories to their grandchildren, who can write them down.

“This is one way of attaching value to the life of an old person. These children can now be learning the history of their family, of their parents, of their grandparents,” he says.

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