Human Rights - Protection of the rights of older people
Throughout the world, a large number of older people face challenges such as discrimination, poverty and abuse that severely restrict their human rights and their contribution to society. Although concerns involving the ageing population are not new, they have traditionally been seen as problems requiring solutions. More and more people argue it is time that older people were identified as a distinct category, deserving special care and attention under human rights law.
While older people historically have been neglected by human rights law, their rights are becoming a part of the public agenda. International and domestic non-government organizations (NGOs) as well as some nation-states have been pushing for a stronger human rights instrument to protect the rights of older people. The topic has also been given increasing attention in academic and professional media.
We should bear in mind that:
- The number of older people worldwide is growing at an unprecedented pace.
People aged over 60 years make up an ever greater percentage of the world population. Today, 760 million people are over 60; by 2050, that number will have risen to two billion. Older people already outnumber young children (aged 0-4) and will outnumber children under 15 by 2050. This trend is global. It’s important to keep in mind that 65% of people over 60 are living in less developed countries; by 2050, 80% will.
- There is no dedicated protection regime for older people's rights.
While the rights of women, children, prisoners and people with disabilities are all protected through special international conventions or standards, no such standards exist for older people despite their specific vulnerability to human rights violations.
- There are clear gaps in protections available to older people in existing human rights standards.
Only one of the existing human rights instruments explicitly prohibits age discrimination.
This has resulted in a failure in many countries to address the multiple forms of discrimination older people face. Specific provisions regarding issues like elder abuse, long-term and palliative care, are also absent from existing human rights standards.
- Age discrimination and ageism are widely tolerated across the world.
Negative ageist attitudes towards old age and older people are deeply ingrained in many societies and, unlike other forms of prejudice and discriminatory behavior, are rarely acknowledged or challenged. This leads to widespread marginalization of older people, and is at the root of their isolation and exclusion.
- Older people are highly vulnerable to abuse, deprivation and exclusion.
A growing body of evidence shows that many older people face abuse and violence in their own homes, and in institutional and long-term care facilities. Many are also denied the right to make decisions about their personal finances, property and medical care. They are often denied social security, access to health and productive resources, work, food and housing.
- Older people hold rights but are often treated with charity instead of as rights holders.
Many governments see ageing predominantly as a social welfare or development issue. This reduces older people to recipients of charity rather than people who should enjoy their rights on the same basis as everybody else. A paradigm shift is needed from a social welfare to a rights-based approach.
- National protections of older people's rights are inconsistent.
National standards on the rights of older people are patchy and inconsistent, as are protection regimes. As a result, few countries collect data on violations of the rights of older people. Violations will continue unaddressed as long as there is a gaping lack of information on their nature, prevalence, and cause.
- Respect for older people's rights benefits society as a whole.
Violations of the rights of older people lead to exclusion, poverty, and discrimination of older people. Yet, older people make key contributions to any society through their experience and wisdom. Better protection of the rights of older people will allow societies to better capitalize on the potential that older people represent. There is clear evidence, for example, that when older people's right to social security is realized, there is a positive impact on reduction of poverty rates, restoration of older people's dignity, reduction of child labour and increased enrollment in schools.
- Older people are an increasingly powerful group.
Older people represent a rapidly growing constituency and are among the most loyal election participants. When they vote, they can have significant political influence. Governments need to address their rights and needs or they risk losing support from this increasingly large block of voters.
Previous attempts to solve the issue
On 21 December 2010, the United Nations General Assembly established an Open-ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWG) with a mandate to identify gaps in the protection of the rights of older people and ways in which these gaps can be addressed.
ILO Recommendation No. 162 regarding older workers (1980) (section II, paragraph 5 (g))
These recommendations state that older workers should have equal opportunities with other workers, without age discrimination, including the right to housing, access to social services and health care organizations.
- To provide the ultimate, universal position that age discrimination and ageism morally and legally unacceptable
- To provide clarity on governments' human rights obligations towards older people
- To create an enforceable monitoring mechanism to hold those in authority to account for their actions towards older people
- To establish a single pension for all MS