In a global observance, UN urges more opportunities, safeguards for older persons
The world’s population is ageing. Almost 700 million people are now over 60. In 2050, for the first time in human history, there will be more persons over 60 than children in the world - more than one in five of the world’s population will be aged 60 or older. Women already outnumber men among those aged 60 or older, and are twice as numerous among those aged 80 or over.
A 2011 report to the UN Secretary-General examines the human rights challenges and trends presented by population ageing faster than at any other time in history.
Whilst the report stresses that persons over 60 face diverse challenges depending on their context, nonetheless, there are a number of clearly identifiable challenges which require strategies at the national and global levels. All of these questions should be viewed through a human rights prism, in developed and developing countries alike.
■ Discrimination: Ageism is too often tolerated in societies across the world. Discrimination on the basis of age is often combined with other forms of discrimination, on the grounds of gender, race and ethnicity, religion, disability, health or socio-economic conditions, among others negatively affecting the enjoyment of the full range of human rights of older persons.
■ Poverty: The single most pressing challenge to the welfare of older persons is poverty, characterized by homelessness, malnutrition, unattended chronic diseases, lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation, unaffordable medicines and treatments and income insecurity. Despite their own poverty, older persons are often the main providers for the household and the primary caregivers for grandchildren and other family members.
■ Violence and abuse: Abuse of older persons - physical, emotional and/or sexual - by someone in a position of trust, occurs worldwide. Financial exploitation, too, is not infrequent and goes under-reported, and under-documented.
■ Lack of specific measures and services: There are not enough resources and facilities to cope with the growing demand, particularly for specialized services such as residential centres, and long term home-care programmes or geriatric services, necessary to guarantee the human rights of older persons.
INTERNATIONAL NORMS AND STANDARDS RELATED TO OLDER PERSONS
The report summarizes existing norms and standards, offers some illustration of how they have been applied and explores remaining gaps. Since 1982, the international community has explored the situation of older persons in a series of international declarations such as the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (endorsed by the General Assembly in 2002) which called for the elimination of age discrimination, neglect, abuse and violence.
International obligations to older persons are implicit in most core human rights treaties, such as the two Covenants, on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, explicit references to older persons in binding international human rights instruments are scarce.
Some treaty monitoring mechanisms and special rapporteurs have applied existing norms specifically to the situation of older persons, including in relation to the right to social security, the right to health, equality before the law, and guarantees of an adequate standard of living without discrimination on any ground.
NATIONAL RESPONSES TO SPECIFIC HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES
The report stresses that older persons are not a homogenous group. The experience of old age varies greatly between men and women and may be very different for someone in their 60’s versus another person in his or her 80’s. Nonetheless, what is often shared by older persons as a group is the experience of being stereotype, of political disempowerment and economic and social disadvantage. The report offers various examples of measures taken in response to the challenges facing older people and also outlines some of the major gaps in the responses.
Some Governments, particularly in recent years, have begun to address the need to afford special protection to older persons, for example, by recognizing in their constitutions the principle of equality and non-discrimination; by introducing laws and policies that address age-related discrimination in employment, and by reforming pensions to offer broader coverage.
Globally however, the response has been inconsistent. Efforts to protect the rights of older men and women are scattered and insufficient, with a general lack of comprehensive, targeted legal and institutional frameworks.
The report identifies several areas where much work remains to be done:
■ Strengthening the international protection regime for the human rights of older persons: In spite of the challenges outlined in this report, there is still no dedicated international protection regime on older persons
■ Violence against older persons and women in particular: Closely linked with disempowerment and discrimination, violence often goes unreported and under-documented as older persons are reluctant or unable to report incidents.
■ Financial exploitation: Older persons continue to face multiple threats of financial exploitation, including fraud, arbitrary deprivation of their property, theft and expropriation of their land, property and goods.
■ Health: Older persons suffer discrimination in health care and tend to be overlooked in health policies, programmes and resource allocation. There are few comprehensive health policies which include prevention, rehabilitation and care of the terminally ill.
■ Long-term care: Much remains to be developed in this area. Long-term care is often inadequate, affected by labour shortages and low quality services. The situation is worsened by lack of legal frameworks to monitor human rights violations in long-term care facilities.
■ Participation in policymaking and political life: Direct and informed participation of older persons in the design of public policy is central to their integration as right-holders. The report highlights as particularly lacking, mechanisms ensuring participation and accountability.
■ Work: A few countries have enacted non-discrimination legislation in employment based on age. The European Council, for example, has approved a directive which requires all Member States to introduce legislation prohibiting discrimination at work based on age. The report notes it will be important to follow up on how the directive is enforced.
1 The report (A/66/173) is submitted pursuant to the General Assembly resolution 65/182 of December 2010. Approximately 80 written contributions were received for the preparation of this report, from member states, national human rights institutions, United Nations entities and non-governmental organizations, coalitions and other groups.