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‘Human rights don’t stop at 60’

Explicitly recognizing age as a prohibited ground for discrimination would go a long way in improving the lives of older persons around the world. 

Demonstrators asking for pensions for poor older people in the Philippines © Helpage/COSEWith the world’s population growing older, human rights experts have called for a stronger international protection regime to ensure the rights of older persons without discrimination.

“It is clear that the phenomenon of age-related discrimination around the world is one of the most frequent challenges faced by older persons,” stated Craig Mokhiber of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Commenting on the paucity of data, Mokhiber observed that the lack of a dedicated regime at the international level perpetuates the data problem. “Discrimination hides,” he said. “Finding it, remedying it and preventing its occurrence require a dedicated focus.”

The call for strengthening the international protection of older persons came in the context of the Open-ended Working Group on ageing and human rights of older persons, at its second working session held at the United Nations in New York 1-4 August 2011. 

Discrimination in old age persists at all levels of society – in families, government institutions and the workplace – and is further compounded by other dimensions of discrimination, such as sex, race and ethnicity, disability, health and socio-economic condition.

The cumulative impact of discrimination has a profound effect on the enjoyment of rights in old age, particularly in accessing health care, treatment and medicines; accessing social security and pensions and employment opportunities. It is also intimately linked with violence, stigma and neglect of older persons.

Underlining the importance of the right to social security, Salvacion Basiano of the Confederation of Older Persons Association of the Philippines said depending on handouts from relatives is demeaning for older people who, for a long time, had supported their families.

“Finding ourselves dependent on our children for our most basic needs shatters our pride and our self-worth,” she said.

The sixteen experts from a broad range of organizations and backgrounds participating in the session discussed major areas of concern, including multiple forms of discrimination; violence and abuse; the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; the right to social security; and social exclusion of older persons. Discrimination was a central feature in all discussions.

Some speakers and member states noted that in recent years, a range of initiatives and measures at the national level have been put in place to combat discrimination against older persons, particularly laws and policies about retirement, vocational training and accessing public services.

However, in many cases all over the world, discrimination against older persons persists.  Many speakers noted that although existing international human rights instruments have provisions against discrimination, there is, to date, no central, comprehensive and systematic mechanism to address the very unique challenges faced by older persons in the exercise of their human rights. 

“Despite legislative responses in the form of the Older Persons Act, political will still seems to be lacking in ensuring the implementation of the legislative framework aimed at protecting older persons from discrimination, neglect and abuse,” said Roedolf Kay of the South African Older Persons Forum.  “All older persons, whether healthy or frail, deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and to have their rights upheld. Human Rights don’t stop at 60!”

The 2011 UN Secretary-General’s report on ageing focuses, for the first time, on the human rights of older persons. The report shows growing international concern for the situation of older men and women in four main areas: poverty and inadequate living conditions; age-related discrimination; violence and abuse; and lack of special measures. It will be considered by the UN General Assembly in October.

Established by the UN General Assembly last year, the mandate of the Open-Ended Working Group on ageing and human rights of older persons is to consider how best to close the gaps in the international legal protection of the human rights of older persons.

11 August 2011