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Doctoral Dissertation: Elder Abuse in rural and urban Zambia


Elder abuse is a global problem. In his doctoral dissertation, MSc Isaac Kabelenga digs deeper into the phenomenon of elder abuse in Zambia using the views of the 31 community leaders from one rural community and one urban community.

Zambia is a country in the Southern part of Africa. According to Zambia’s Central Staistics Office (2016) Zambia has a total population of 14,638,505. Of this population, older people that is, those aged 60 years and above comprise 4 %. As used in his study, the term ‘community leaders’ refers to influential members of the two communities of Zambia.

These are the people who have institutional powers to influence the affairs of their communities on daily basis. They included traditional leaders such as the chiefs, village headmen, village court judges, community crime prevention units, leaders of various social groupings such as leaders for the churches, youth groups, women’s groups, elderly people, development committees, political parties, senior government workers such as ward councillors, head teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, conventional court judges, community development workers and leaders of civil society organizations. By community, it refers to a group of people living together in one geographical area and thus, they understand their community problems better.

From this study it is evident that all the 31 community leaders hold the view that elder people in the two communities of Zambia are abused within family and non-family set-ups. This means that from the views of the community leaders, elder abuse in the two communities is both a domestic and public issue.

The study results indicate that seven main forms of elder abuse take place in the rural community and urban community of Zambia. These are spiritual abuse (accusing and killing some elder people out of the belief that some elder people are witches), political abuse (deliberate making some elder people to vote for political candidates during presidential, parliamentary and local government elections who are not of the older people’s choice), verbal abuse (using abusive language to elder people on the basis that they are witches), physical abuse (biting and killings of elder people out of the belief that elder people are witches), material abuse (misusing elder people’s material resources, partly due to the belief that the elder person possesses material resources because he/she is a witch), sexual abuse (committing sexual act with an elder person out of the belief that by committing a sexual act with an elder person, the abuser would get rich) and neglect (deliberate refusal to take care of an elder person out of the belief that the elder person is a witch).

Interestingly is that from the views of the community leaders, all these types of abuse are inseparable. This is because they usually take place simultaneously. Thus, from this study, it is clear that most of the abused elder people in the two communities of Zambia simultaneously suffer more than one type of abuse. The results also indicate that spiritual abuse is the ‘parent’ form of elder abuse. This is because it gives birth to other forms of elder abuse especially verbal, physical, material, and sexual and neglect abuses.

The results indicate also that elder abuse in both rural and urban Zambia is a multifaceted social problem. This is because it does not only negatively affect the abused elder people but also affects the perpetrators of elder abuse, the local communities where abuse takes place and the whole Zambia.

With regard to the characteristics of the abused elder people and perpetrators of abuse, the study has shown that there is no single category of elder people or perpetrators that can be single out to be the victims or to be behind elder abuse in the two communities of Zambia.

Last but not the least, when all the new insights provided in this study are brought together, one deduction that arises is that on the overall, the findings of this study have broken various scientific boundaries that engulfed scientific knowledge on elder abuse. This is because new ways of thinking about elder abuse have been generated. Thus, it is the author’s hope that the results of this study will spark intense scientific debates among scientists and non-scientists in both the global north and global south on elder abuse.

Public defence:

MSc Isaac Kabelenga will defend his dissertation titled Elder Abuse in rural and urban Zambia: Interview-study with community leaders in a public defence held at the Faculty of Social Sciences on Friday 15th of June at 12 o’clock. Kabelenga’s opponent will be Helena Blomberg-Kroll, from the University of Helsinki and the Custos will be Professor Merja Laitinen from the University of Lapland.

Information on the doctoral candidate:

Isaac Kabelenga is an academic product from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in the United Kingdom (UK) and the University of Zambia (UNZA). He obtained his Master of Science Degree in Social Policy and Development from LSE in 2010 and Bachelor of Social Work Degree from UNZA in 2008. He also holds a certificate in Designing and Implementing Social Protection Programmes in Africa from African Institute for Health and Development (Kenya), Economic Policy Research Institute (South Africa) and Maastricht University (Netherlands).

Additional information:

Isaac Kabelenga

Information on the publication:

Isaac Kabelenga: Elder Abuse in Rural and Urban Zambia – Interview Study with Community Leaders. Lapin yliopistopaino. Rovaniemi 2018. Acta Universitatis Lapponiensis 372. ISBN 978-952-337-075-3. ISSN 0788-7604. PDF: Acta electronica Universitatis Lapponiensis 239. ISBN 978-952-337-076-0. ISSN 1796-6310.

LaY/Communications & Language centre/J-EK & AT

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