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Seeking stronger protection for older persons

One in every 10 people is 60 years or older. By 2050, the number will have risen to one in five. Yet older persons around the world face particular human rights challenges, including discrimination and social exclusion.

Aged Bangladeshi men during an event marking the International Day of Older Persons © EPA Photo/Abir Abdullah Estimates show that only one in 5 persons aged 60 or more has a pension. Older people often lack access to essential information or the means to make decisions or have control over their own lives. Many are subjected to discrimination and abuse even by people closest to them – their relatives and caregivers.

How to improve the protection of older peoples’ human rights was the focus of a four-day meeting in late April held at the United Nations in New York.

In its inaugural working session, this meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group on strengthening the protection of the human rights of older persons, reviewed international and regional human rights frameworks, identified gaps in the human rights protection of older persons and suggested ways to address any such gaps.

UN Human Rights chief, Navi Pillay, welcomed the creation of the working group and has committed her full support.

“The irony of the elderly being excluded from the very societies and institutions that they have built is too tragic to ignore,” she said, calling for stronger mechanisms of protection at the national, regional and international levels.

“Our rights do not change as we grow older. What does change is that the contribution older people make to society is considered less valuable and less important that when they were younger. Under these circumstances older people can be subject to age discrimination, ageist attitudes and stereotype,” said Bridget Sleap of HelpAge International, one of the panelists at the meeting.

"Older persons represent a large and growing human rights constituency, with protection and empowerment needs thus far not adequately met by existing international structures,” said panellist Craig Mokhiber from the UN human rights office. ”The absence of a dedicated international protection regime for older persons continues to hinder the full realization of their human rights."

Other panelists included experts from the monitoring bodies of three international treaties: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. Also on the panel were delegates from the African Commission for Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the International Labour Organisation, the Pan-American Health Organization, national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations.

The working group, established by the UN General Assembly in December 2010, is open to participation by all UN Member States and welcomes contributions from UN system organizations, human rights experts, intergovernmental organizations and relevant non-governmental organizations.

21 April 2011