Structural abuse main concern for the elderly

POSTED: 06/19/13 1:34 PM

St. Maarten – A qualitative survey conducted by the St. Maarten Seniors and Pensioners Association (SMSPA) has revealed that among the foremost concern for the elderly in our society is the issue of structural abuse.

Scores of seniors assembled at the Senior Citizens Recreational Centre in Hope Estate yesterday to hear first vice president of the SMSPA, drs. Raymond Jessurun present a report of the survey that was conducted over a two week period. The researchers made use of participatory observation to document various infringements against the rights of the elderly. It is this report, along with highlights of a three year struggle for equal rights that will be used by the seniors to gain international support.

While many seniors face personal struggles in terms of emotional abuse from their family members, it is the structural abuse via the healthcare and social security system, that is taking a toll on the elderly, Jessurun reported. In July, the association will observe 3 years of appealing to The Hague, the Kingdom Council of Ministers, St. Maarten’s Parliament and the Council of Ministers for the highest attainable level of healthcare and a minimum pension of €1,000 ($1,300) which is comparable with the Netherlands. Anything that endangers the mental, physical, emotional, social and financial wellbeing of the elderly can be considered abuse, he stressed, adding that since government does not give proper attention to the needs of seniors, their human rights are being violated.

Jessurun pointed to the pension regulations that indicate that only persons that have worked in St. Maarten for 45 years uninterrupted will be entitled to a full pension of 1,000 guilders. He defined this as another form of abuse of the system, since “9 out of 10 seniors in St. Maarten were not born here and also travelled to other places to work. As long as we keep quiet, we won’t get anywhere. We must make our demands. Since we are not getting any cooperation within the Kingdom, we will report it to the international community because our government is due for this kind of cooperation from Holland,” Jessurun charged.

He added that during the survey period many seniors complained of substandard healthcare, the SZV insurance premiums and sickness insurance packages.

People are still being denied their onderstand without any valid reasons, there is too much bureaucracy in government and many public places still lack a senior friendly environment, he reported.

The SMSPA now has a membership of more than 200 and after hearing yesterday’s presentation, more seniors decided to use the opportunity to register with the foundation. A common thread throughout the discussions was for the approximately 4,000 seniors here to unite and challenge the Dutch government to recognize their human rights. Thus far, the association has been able to reach out to seniors at the Red Cross Home, St. Martin Home, Home Away from Home Foundation and those at the Senior Citizens Recreational Centre. While they may represent a small band of activists in the face of the Netherlands, Jessurun insists that reports of the St. Maarten situation sent to the Civil Society of Latin America and the Caribbean on Aging, European Anti-Poverty Network, UN NGO Committee on Aging and United Nations Economic Committee of Latin America and the Caribbean (UN/ECLAC) will yield positive fruit for the society as a whole.

“The Cft needs to look at human rights and good governance side by side. The same way they addressed the budget by saying it was too much and needed to be cut down, the same way they should examine it to ensure that there is a balance between government spending and the provision of human rights and equality,” he added.

After promises made by several seniors to rally their family and friends in the struggle  and participate in wheelchair protests, if necessary, Jessurun summed up the entire situation as a form of apartheid in the Dutch Caribbean. Many seniors supporting this notion by sharing personal experiences of what they called gross injustices perpetuated through the public health and social affairs system. (see related story in tomorrow’s edition.)

“It’s a long time they have not educated us, we know our rights now; we need equality and we need it now,” Jessurun concluded.

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