Abused Chinese, South Asian seniors trapped by language barriers, immigration rules

A seniors advocate says many Chinese and South Asian elders experience unique challenges when it comes to abuse and more resources are needed to support them. Krista James of the Canadian Centre for Elder Law says seniors from those communities are sometimes bound by barriers ranging from language to immigration policy. She spoke to the media as part of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Her non-profit organization studied the issue by speaking with front-line workers with police, women’s shelters and settlement organizations.  James said not knowing English is an obvious challenge for seniors seeking help, but what’s lesser known is that even translated materials aren’t always helpful. “Especially for older women from immigrant communities, they may have never had the chance to learn to read, so print tools have a fairly limited impact,” said James.  The VPD launched a new educational initiative on Wednesday called S.A.F.E — Safety Awareness for Elders. The campaign features seniors of Asian descent but is presented in English.

Elderly women and isolation

In addition to challenges with language, James say women who are brought to Canada to be caregivers to their grandchildren can face additional barriers.   They become isolated because of the job.  “They don’t leave the home. They’re always just with the kids,” she said. “They just have less time to reach out for assistance.”  James said Canada’s immigration policy doesn’t help by “trapping” seniors and financially tying them to their sponsors for decades and making them ineligible for some publicly-funded assistance.  In order to raise awareness amongst the Chinese and South Asian communities on these issues, she recommends abandoning the commonly-used term elder abuse.  Instead, she says their research found “healthy aging, respect in the family, safety” were more useful in opening up dialogue. She noted more resources are needed, but not necessarily more police arrests — because most seniors don’t want their abusers sent to jail. Instead, “they just want to feel safe.”