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UN human rights expert on older persons welcomes opportunity to engage with China


BEIJING / GENEVA (10 December 2019) – United Nations human rights expert Rosa Kornfeld-Matte today welcomed the opportunity to engage in an open dialogue with the People’s Republic of China, following a nine-day visit to the country.

“This was an opportunity to emphasise that any normative or policy action on older persons has to adopt a human rights-based approach which places the individual at the centre,” she said.

“China has the largest ageing population in the world. Projections suggest that by 2050, it will have at least 483 million older persons aged 60 years and above. A demographic revolution of that kind inevitably comes with many challenges, including in the area of human rights.”

During her visit, Ms Kornfeld-Matte visited Beijing, Shanghai, Changzhou and Shenzhen for discussions with government representatives, non-governmental organisations and others, as well as older persons themselves.

“I hope that my visit contributes to supporting governmental efforts to address the challenges of an ageing society, in particular in fighting old age poverty and in advancing the promotion and protection of the human rights of older persons, in accordance with the leitmotiv of the Sustainable Development Goals to ‘leave no one behind’,” the expert said.

She stressed that existing international human rights framework, notably the UN principles on older persons, alongside the core human rights instruments, should guide the Government’s efforts.

Her preliminary statement recommends an unqualified universal non-contributory pension for the most vulnerable and reconsideration of China’s household registration system, among other steps. “The hukou system remains a source of inequality and prevents many older persons in practice from claiming their social benefits,” she said.

The expert commended Government efforts and China’s complex legal framework related to older persons, adding that the country had some very good practices regarding lifelong learning and third age universities. She said China’s preferential policies benefited older persons, but stressed they were no substitute for a comprehensive policy that systematically addressed older persons’ rights in different situations, particularly those who were the most ostracised and vulnerable.

Kornfeld-Matte also highlighted the need to supplement, on a large scale, family and home care with formal long-term care and to invest in geriatric medicine.

She met tech companies and researchers working on emerging assistive technologies and digitalisation of health and care services for older persons. Noting the potential of more precise predictability of health conditions and care needs, she also referred to challenges of data protection, informational self-determination and informed consent, in particular for older persons, resulting from the integration of personal and physiological data, including facial recognition, and behavioural patterns that enable all-round analysis.

The expert hoped her visit would encourage further cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms, the UN Human Rights Office and the UN system at large.

A comprehensive report on her findings and recommendations will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2020.


Ms Rosa Kornfeld-Matte (Chile) was appointed by Human Rights Council as the first Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons in May 2014. Ms Kornfeld-Matte served as the National Director of the Chilean National Service of Ageing, where she designed and implemented the National Policy of Ageing. She has a long career as an academic and is the founder of the programme for older persons at the Pontificia Unversidad Católica de Chile.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – China

For further information and media requests, please contact:
Mr. Khaled Hassine (+41 22 917 93 67 / khassine@ohchr.org), or write to olderpersons@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact:
Mr. Jeremy Laurence (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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