Press Releases

    11 April 2002


    Speakers Describe Important Role of National Action Plans

    (Received from a UN Information Officer.)

    NEW YORK, 10 April (UN Headquarters) -- The constraints presented by poverty, and by related issues such as illiteracy and the impact of poor health and HIV/AIDS, on efforts to respond to the challenge of ageing were addressed by a number of speakers as the Second World Assembly on Ageing continued its general exchange of views this morning.

    The representative of Haiti said illiteracy was a major obstacle to a flourishing life in people’s golden years in his country. Addressing his country’s national action plan on older persons, he said his Government last year had launched a campaign to half the rate of illiteracy by 2004. As a result, a considerable amount of older persons, who never dreamed they would do so, have benefited from the ability to read. To that end, thousands of young students had dedicated themselves to that civic and patriotic task, which he called a true example of inter-generational solidarity.

    Noting that programmes to fill the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots" and to fight poverty were impossible without sufficient resources, he called on all members of the Assembly to recognize that the economic sanctions imposed on Haiti could only destroy its already fragile socio-economic infrastructure.

    As many speakers did, the Vice-Minister for Special Missions of Japan, Masahiko Otsubo, spoke about national challenges faced in dealing with an ageing society. Addressing the issue of inter-generational solidarity, he said efforts to build a society for all ages were predicated on promoting that solidarity. Rapid ageing of Japan’s population was beginning to have a major impact on the generational balance that so far had stabilized its social security schemes, such as pension funds and health insurance plans. That constituted a serious challenge in ensuring inter-generational fairness and sustainability of social security systems.

    Also speaking on his country’s national plan of action, Singapore’s Minister of State for Community Development and Sports, Chan Soo Sen, stressed housing options for older people. One example of that was a studio apartment scheme, with apartments equipped with elder-friendly features and which allowed senior citizens to sell their bigger dwellings, thereby enhancing their cash assets. His Government had also implemented a number of housing projects to encourage married couples to stay close to their parents or grandparents.

    The representative of Malta raised the ethical issues of the old age problem, which include the concepts of autonomy, respect, dignity, solidarity and social cohesion. He said older people, often perceived as consumers of services, were also morally obliged to contribute towards the common good of humankind by productively using their talents and sharing their life experiences. He proposed that the World Assembly request the Secretary-General of the United Nations to establish an international expert task force to prepare a comprehensive report on the moral questions concerning the process of ageing.

    Noting his personal experience that younger people were often ill-prepared for old age, Nigeria’s representative suggested that youth should be involved in the discussion on ageing so that they could better prepare for and appreciate the challenges and possible problems of old age. He proposed inclusion of a provision in that regard in the Plan of Action.

    He said it was sad to observe that caring older persons by the family could no longer be taken for granted as a result of the economic downturn, due to several external and domestic factors such as structural adjustment policies, heavy external debt servicing and the effects of globalization. He stressed that the Plan of Action must address them.

    Stressing the impact the HIV/AIDS pandemic had on most African countries, particularly south of the Sahara, the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania said the tragedy had exacerbated the vulnerabilities of older populations as they had been increasingly forced to care for grandchildren, orphaned by the disease. Most disturbing in all this was that for most African societies, the family was still the basic social unit that bound, supported and educated communities. Yet, more than ever before, many African families were living in absolute poverty. This meant that older persons were living in insecure, unhealthy and difficult circumstances. It was incumbent on the Assembly to identify ways and means to support and strengthen the family.

    Ministers from Mauritania, Cape Verde, Pakistan and Kenya also spoke, as did representatives of Belize, Jamaica, Turkey and Bhutan.

    Statements were also made by representatives of the Latin American Parliament and the non-governmental organizations Federation International des Associations de Personnes Agées and International Federation for Family Development.

    The Second World Assembly on Ageing will meet again at 3 p.m. to continue its general exchange of views.


    BABA OULD SIDI, Minister for Civil Service, Labour, Youth and Sports of Mauritania: Since the first Assembly on Ageing it is encouraging to note that significant progress had been made in establishing national infrastructures on ageing. National programmes on health, housing and income security for the elderly have led to improvement in the well-being of older people.

    Mankind is ageing and the older population is growing. Policies in the area of ageing must be revised and adjusted, taking into account the new demographics and socio-economic factors of today. We must all be fully aware of the implications for the role of older persons in society, in particular in a world characterized by globalization, immigration and epidemics such as HIV. Aware of the positive contributions older persons can play in social development, the Government of Mauritania has established policies regarding health, the fight against poverty and illiteracy.

    As these policies are in line with the goals and recommendations of the Millennium Assembly and the international conferences of the 1990s, the community of donors and financial institutions must support them through opening the markets of developed countries to products from developing countries, increasing official development assistance (ODA) and easing the consequences of upheavals in international financial markets.

    DARIO DANTAS DOS REIS, Minister of Health for Cape Verde: Ageing is a biological reality and considering the huge influence the phenomenon of rapid population ageing will have on our lives in the near future, we feel it is essential to work to identify its medium and long-term consequences. It will be particularly important to explore the consequences in a world environment characterized by rapid urbanization. It is our strong belief that for the past 20 years, the Vienna Declaration has been a major tool for countries to create national programmes and to amend their constitutions with the aim of enhancing the lives of their ageing populations. However, recent demographic, economic and technological changes underline the need to build on those efforts and to adopt a new Plan of Action.

    The promotion and protection of fundamental human rights, including the right to development, is central to the notion of creating a society for all. It is also important to recognize the need for an effective and comprehensive inter-generational dialogue. We are entering an unprecedented period of history, where, in the near future, persons over 60 years old will outnumber those 15 and younger.

    Cape Verde is a very small and insular country, comprised of 10 islands. It is a poor country, deprived of natural resources. As a result, we face enormous challenges in our attempts to achieve sustainable development. Despite our best efforts, one third of our nation lives in poverty. One of the main goals of our Government is to lead our nation to development. The number of older people in our society is increasing, though the rate is somewhat slower than that of persons between the ages of 15 and 60. In Cape Verde, 6 per cent of the population is over 60 and both civil society and State agencies provide programmes for the small percentage of older person who are excluded from the retirement system. Still, as the population grows older, we realize that social security issues, the attendant increases in health-care costs and improving inter-generational relationships will prove to be major challenges because of our economic realities.

    AHSAN AHMED, Minister for Health and Population Welfare of the Government of Sindh, Pakistan: Issues such as income security, housing and medical care for older persons have assumed increasing importance in Pakistan. Great strides in investigative and curative techniques, improved health coverage in the public sector, effective poverty alleviation schemes and media awareness have helped improved life expectancy, which could rise from 60 to 70 years over the next 10 years in Pakistan.

    Programmes addressing ageing in our country include the National Senior Citizen Task Force, which is responsible for analysing the needs of older persons and for drafting a comprehensive national policy of ageing, in line with national and international commitments. It has been asked to propose a mechanism for implementing all inter-sectoral activities related to older persons by June.

    Developing countries have been plunged into difficulties because of globalization and worldwide economic recession. The increase in debt servicing, withdrawal of subsidies on essential commodities and continuing denial of market access to exports have negatively affected the overall economic and social conditions in developing countries. Vulnerable groups, especially the elderly, have been affected the most severely. Thus, most countries have not attained targets made under the International Plan of Action for the older population, which was adopted in 1982 in Vienna.

    This is the opportune time for developing and developed nations to promote the interests of older persons. Our prime consideration should be to advocate respect for their dignity, equality and non-discrimination, and to promote violation-free societies, better health care and the alleviation of poverty. Pakistan views the Second World Assembly on Ageing as an opportunity to assess the progress made since 1982 in achieving desired goals, and to identify the strategies and actions which need to be redesigned in supporting global initiatives and commitments of ageing.

    JEAN CLAUDE DESGRANGES, Chef de Cabinet of the President of Haiti: A silent revolution has been taking place; a spectacular increase in life expectancy at a time when antibiotics, together with a rise in living standards and increased hygiene, has led to a significant drop in infant mortality. Two decades have elapsed since the First World Assembly on Ageing and the adoption of the first International Plan of Action. Today, we unanimously recognize that the results are not satisfactory. Hence the importance of this Assembly, so that, together with international organizations and civil society, we can achieve more concrete and effective results for the next decade.

    With concern for the respect of human rights of older persons, Haiti has made efforts to modernize institutions in order to provide services to this part of the population. Several State institutions in the social sector are contributing to improvement of the living conditions of older persons. The Office of National Insurance of the Elderly has been established to provide an old-age pension to qualified people over the age of 55. The Government believes in the need to guarantee older persons a safe and adequate framework for their existence.

    Illiteracy is a major obstacle to a flourishing life in the golden years and is therefore of great importance to Haiti. Last year, the Government launched a campaign to halve the rate of illiteracy by 2004. We are proud to announce that a considerable amount of older persons, who never dreamed they would do so, have benefited from the ability to read. To that end, thousands of young students have dedicated themselves to that civic and patriotic task, a true example of inter-generational solidarity. The State is obliged to provide to all citizens appropriate means to guarantee their health. Abuse of older persons is also addressed. Haiti, despite fragile economic means, is continuing actions to fill the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots’ by providing employment and health care. Such programmes are impossible without sufficient resources. We call therefore on the international community, on all members of this Assembly, to recognize that the economic sanctions imposed on Haiti can only destroy its already fragile socio-economic infrastructure.

    MASAHIKO OTSUBO, Vice-Minister for Special Missions, Cabinet Office of Japan: I would first like to emphasize the importance of promoting social participation by older persons through work and volunteer activities. Such activities are very valuable, in terms of both supporting the dignity and independence of older persons, as well as enhancing the vitality of society overall. Older persons in Japan have retained a strong motivation for work. Approximately 50 per cent of all people in their sixties are working. Given that, we are making great efforts to create a future society in which all persons can work, regardless of age.

    The second issue I would like to touch on is inter-generational solidarity. Our efforts to build a society for all ages are predicated on promoting solidarity between the generations. In Japan, the ratio of persons 60 and over living with their families has dropped from 47 to 24 per cent over the last 20 years. A growing number of older couples are now living alone. With that in mind, we are working towards the promotion and enhancement of generational solidarity through various types of support and family structures. The rapid ageing of our population is beginning to have a major impact on the generational balance that has heretofore stabilized Japan’s social security schemes, such as pension funds and health insurance plans. Thus, we face a serious challenge as we work to ensure the inter-generational fairness and sustainability of our social security systems.

    Finally, as life expectancies have increased, overall care for older persons has become a major issue for us. Responding to this phenomenon, we have launched a new long-term care insurance system which ensures services to older persons requiring care. We are also endeavouring to create a barrier-free living environment for all members of our society, which will enable older persons to improve the quality of their lives and promote participation in social activities. Because Japan has one of the world’s longest life expectancies, our number of older persons has increased sharply over the last 20 years. In the very near future, Japan will become the world’s most advanced aged society. In light of that, we have enacted the Basic Law on Measures for the Aged Society.

    CHAN SOO SEN, Minister of State, Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Community Development and Sports of Singapore: I salute all those involved in developing the first Plan of Action for their vision and far-sightedness. I also congratulate the organizers of the second Assembly for championing the spirit of sharing policy experiences and best practices in the field of population ageing. The phenomenon of an ageing population is faced by many countries, including Singapore, and we have made some headway in addressing the challenges and opportunities associated with it. Our policies and initiatives are in line with the principles contained in the Plan.

    Since the 1980s, our Government has set up a number of high-level advisory councils to study issues related to ageing. In 1998, a standing inter-ministerial committee on the ageing population was formed, which comprises key ministers and senior officials, as well as representatives from the private sector. Singapore’s approach to the issues of ageing is based on the principles of the social integration of older people, collective responsibility for providing care and the sustainability of policies. Our policies revolve around providing our people with financial security, the means of maintaining good health and a supportive social network. Singapore has in place a compulsory savings scheme, where each working citizen sets aside a portion of his or her monthly income for retirement needs. Recently, the Government fine-tuned the system, making it more flexible. Closely related to financial security is the employability of older persons, and we have set up employment centres at the community level to provide assistance to job seekers.

    Among other actions undertaken in the country are subsidies for nursing home care, community-based rehabilitation and home medical services. We are developing a wide range of housing options for older people. One example is the studio apartment scheme, under which the flats are equipped with such elder-friendly features as non-slip tiles and grab-bars. These smaller apartments allow senior citizens to sell their bigger flats and downsize, enhancing their cash assets. The Government has implemented a number of housing projects to encourage married couples to stay close to their parents or grandparents. Singapore also encourages volunteer work by older persons and their active participation in the life of society. A number of clubs for older persons function in the country.

    ANTOINE MIFSUD BONNICI, Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry for Social Policy of Malta: Following the recommendations of the First World Assembly on Ageing, the Maltese Government has made significant contributions towards the establishment of the International Institute on Ageing in Malta, under the auspices of the United Nations. Through its continued financial support to the Institute, Malta is showing its commitment to meeting the challenges of ageing, particularly in the field of training in developing countries.

    Ageing has been a central theme on Malta’s socio-political agenda. The nature of services provided to the elderly ranges from home-based support, to residential care. In recognition of the fact that older persons should remain active and socially integrated for as long as possible, a number of day centres have been set up in various towns and villages. Notwithstanding these strategies, some people are still unable to cope in their own home and require residential care. While the pioneer role of the Roman Catholic Church in this field cannot be overlooked, my Government does not neglect its responsibilities. Community homes have also been established in various localities to cater for the growing need for residential care services.

    The effectiveness of formal services relies heavily on suitably trained personnel, and no effort has been spared to provide training opportunities in gerontology and geriatrics. At this point, I must acknowledge the valuable contribution of the United Nations Institute on Ageing, as well as that of the University of Malta. Although my Government is proud of its track record in the field of elderly care, the reality is that the State should not and cannot be the sole care provider. Malta strongly believes in social partnerships and the need to consolidate resources to provide the best possible care. One of our goals is now to promote best practices and establish minimum standards to ensure that all social partners are providing services that befit the dignity of the older individual.

    The Government has also circulated a declaration on ethical issues on old age, which includes the concepts of autonomy, respect, dignity, solidarity and social cohesion. As we persevere in our endeavour to promote the well-being of humankind, let us not overlook the dignity and totality of the human person, let us not be led astray by the material needs of the individual and become oblivious of the positive contribution that he or she can make to the rest of society. May the policies that we devise prove to be a source of empowerment of the individual. In that connection, I propose that the World Assembly request the Secretary-General of the United Nations to establish an international expert task force to prepare a comprehensive report on the moral questions concerning the process of ageing.

    SANTIAGO ALVAREZ DE TOLEDO Y BANDEIRA, Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Belize: To better appreciate the potential of our older citizens, they must be included in all aspects of our lives. In today’s globalized world, it is often the weakest who are first caught in the wake of its fast pace.

    Older persons, who are among our most vulnerable, must not only be protected, but allowed to participate in our economic and social lives. Their age must not be seen as a detriment to meaningful development, but celebrated as a symbol of determination and progress. Aspects of our lives, such as maintaining the family unit and conserving our oral history and other traditions, serve as glowing examples of the potential possessed in our older citizens.

    Economic changes at the global level affect the quality of life for people of all ages in the developing world. The instability of markets translates into highly uncertain incomes and jobs. In the developing world, our older citizens have too often shouldered an unfair burden of our underdevelopment. Left to care for the orphaned children of victims of HIV/AIDS, irresponsible teenagers or for children left by young parents who have migrated to more developed urban cities, they continue to contribute with little if any compensation. We must do more to reward their efforts and protect them from this often abusive relationship.

    Governments must ensure that accessible and affordable health care, social security and available credit exists for older persons. They should also draw up and promote policies giving older persons the opportunity to remain active members of their societies, working closely with families and communities. Non-governmental organizations can support those efforts by developing schemes that use the talents and skills of older persons, and by helping younger people to value and appreciate the contribution of their elders.

    BEVERLY HALL-TAYLOR (Jamaica): During the 1999 International Year of Older Persons, Jamaica recognized that ageing was a life-long event beginning long before the official age of 60. A major project was begun to provide education and information on ageing across the lifespan of people, beginning in schools. Such an initiative not only educates young persons about the ageing process, but also provides them with increased understanding of and respect for older people.

    Education on ageing has been influenced by an increase in chronic disease in the Jamaican population, and seminars are being held for those in mid-life and older persons on healthy lifestyles. We are quite aware of the issue of caregiving, which has been raised in connection with population ageing. The Government has introduced a drug programme for seniors. More consideration on how to support the caregiver and the family providing care will be needed as the population ages.

    While attention is focused on the economic and health issues faced by seniors, as well as an overall developmental issues such as poverty alleviation and the impact of globalization, there are also other matters to consider. Research in the Caribbean, and specifically in Jamaica, has identified social issues as a major concern for seniors -- loneliness, a sense of isolation and a lack of social opportunity were listed by seniors. Programmes for seniors should address not only what is good for seniors, but also what they want. There is a need for social activities and opportunities for seniors such as seniors clubs. It is important to consider not only the quantity of life, but also the quality of life.

    FRANCIS M. NYENZE, Minister for Heritage and Sports of Kenya: Kenya has always been committed to improving the welfare of older persons. In collaboration with other stakeholders, the Government has initiated various programmes aimed at providing security and a better quality of life in old age. Social security and hospital insurance funds, which offer payments to retirees and medical coverage to all, are complemented by other service providers who run projects in support of older persons. The Government is currently preparing a national policy on older persons to ensure the proper coordination of programmes.

    Despite all efforts, the majority of older people are still facing a host of economic, health and social problems. Older people are among the poorest of the poor and often have no access to regular income due to limited employment opportunities. Currently, 56 per cent of Kenyans live below the poverty line, most of them in rural areas, where most of the elderly people are. The weakening of the extended family support systems makes older people vulnerable and marginalized. The national poverty eradication plan seeks to address these problems.

    Kenya is in the process of developing a national employment strategy, which seeks to mainstream special groups, including older persons and retirees, to ensure access to employment without discrimination. The Government is also trying to provide housing for older persons. Plans are under way to decentralize the management of health services and promote participation of communities at all levels of decision-making. To improve older people’s access to health services, such initiatives as the creation of special counters at health centres and hospitals have been taken. One issue that requires international attention, however, is discrimination against older persons by insurance plans -- either on the grounds of age, or through high premium charges.

    HIV/AIDS has been declared a national disaster in Kenya, and the country is strengthening its partnership with development partners in the fight against the disease. Kenya recognizes the link between ageing and disability. The Government is developing its national disability policy, to harmonize it with the policy on older persons. The socio-economic organization, beliefs and practices in many communities in Kenya continue to have a bearing of the welfare of older persons. Social exclusion of older persons has been identified as a major weakness leading to the loss of self-esteem and confidence. To improve the status of older persons at the family level, multi-pronged approaches are promoted in the country, to take advantage of the positive traditional practices to enhance economic opportunities for senior citizens and their immediate care providers.

    AKIN IZMIRLIOGLU, Under-Secretary of the Prime Ministry State Planning Organization of Turkey: While the population of both developed and developing countries is getting older, the population structure in Turkey has remained young due to persistent high fertility rates and relatively low life expectancy. The median age of the population remained below 25 until the 1990s. The proportion of the elderly in Turkey is expected to rise to 12 million by 2025, however, and this will undoubtedly put considerable pressure on the country’s social and economic services. We believe that promotion of economic growth is the main element in responding to the challenges of creating a society for all ages.

    The social security system in Turkey is based primarily on social insurance, funded mainly from contributions by employers and employees. The State does not make any regular contributions to financing of the system. However, the State covers the deficits of the publicly mandated insurance organizations. As of 2000, pension programmes in Turkey covered approximately 87 per cent of the population. The social security system has recently undergone a reform process, which, we believe, is going to improve it.

    Health is important for all people, but for the ageing people, it is a particularly urgent issue. According to the World Health Declaration, the improvement of the health and well-being of all persons is the ultimate goal of social and economic development. In order to meet the challenges of ageing populations, it is crucial to achieve a new balance between health promotion, disease prevention and curative care. Among the objectives and strategies in my country is the goal of achieving the active participation of older persons in society. Through various organizations and social aid programmes financed by Government donations, Turkey has also been implementing policies towards the alleviation of poverty. The main objective of these programmes is to provide a safety net for the poor and elderly who are not covered by social security.

    LYONPO DAGO TSCHERING, (Bhutan): We feel that the world today is witnessing a profound transformation -- not only in the ageing process, but in politics, traditions, economics, technology, society and culture -- within an increasing dependence on globalization. Reports presented here have indicated that in many societies, economic and social strains have developed, due to the lack of compensation for care givers. We have also heard of abusive behaviour towards older persons, ranging from physical and emotional abuse to neglect. Surely, such a pattern must be reversed.

    In developed countries, a variety of responses have been put in place to deal with population ageing. In less developed countries, responses have been less, due to resource constraints. Every country is going through ageing, but in varying situations, and the increase in the older population will be most rapid in developing countries. However, we can find a common approach to ageing, with action-oriented guidelines. How we, as individuals and members of the international community, respond to the needs of older persons will determine the well-being of humankind.

    Bhutan has a population of 600,000 people. Youth makes up 45 per cent and individuals 60 years -- or over 8 per cent -- of the total. Life expectancy has increased from 45 to 60 years since 1960, and the percentage of older persons is rising. Since the early 1960s, the Government’s emphasis on the social sector has helped people of all ages. People enjoy free health services and education because Bhutan’s development philosophy is centred around gross national happiness, as opposed to gross national product (GNP). GNP is simply a means of realizing our goal of gross national happiness. This development concept has helped build a society for all ages in Bhutan, and meshes well with its social norms and policies, which are characterized by strong and extended family ties, and traditional respect for family and elders.

    SAM A. OTUYELU (Nigeria): In Vienna in 1982, at the age of less than 40 years, I did not feel as concerned about ageing as I do today. Then I saw people of 60 still working in Government and I felt they should retire so that I could rise. At that time, old age was so far away. My delegation therefore suggests that we consider that youths should be involved in the discussion on ageing so that they can better prepare for and appreciate the challenges and possible problems of ageing, and to include a provision for that in the Plan of Action.

    In Nigeria, older members of society are traditionally regarded as assets to the family. The welfare of the elders has always been the responsibility of the active members of the family. It is, however, sad to observe that the well-being of older persons can no longer be taken for granted as a result of the economic downturn, due to several external and domestic factors such as structural adjustment policies, heavy external debt servicing and the effects of globalization. Unemployment undermines the ability and the capacity of active members of society to cater for the elderly. My delegation would like the Plan of Action to address those factors.

    My delegation would also like to emphasize the protection of the elderly against all abuse, violence and discrimination. The Plan of Action should also emphasize non-discrimination in the field of economic activities, where the experience and acquired skills of older persons should be recognized and utilized. I would like to conclude by stating that the partnership between civil society and governments, the solidarity between developed and developing countries and the promotion of high social and moral standards and responsibility among private and public enterprises will facilitate the achievement of our fundamental objective of building a society fit for all ages for the mutual benefit of us all.

    CHRISTINA KAPALATA (United Republic of Tanzania): Advances in science and technology have sparked a so-called "unprecedented demographic revolution" -- significant increases in worldwide life expectancy -- which has been celebrated by the developed world as one of the greatest achievements of the twentieth century. But in developing countries, where the number of older persons is expected to triple in the next three decades, we are watching this "unprecedented" phenomenon with great concern. Indeed, for most countries in Africa, particularly south of the Sahara, these heralded advances have provided us with more challenges than opportunities, as often a lifetime of poverty, hardship, malnutrition and disease, our older persons are more vulnerable than ever.

    In the case of Tanzania, life expectancy, which stood at 35 years in 1961, reached its peak -- 52 years -- during the mid 1980s. Today, however, in the wake of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, we estimate that life expectancy has dropped to 42 years of age. So while we can record some statistical improvements in overall life expectancy, in real terms, the situation is precarious. The AIDS tragedy has exacerbated the vulnerabilities of our older populations as they have been increasingly forced to care for grandchildren, orphaned by the disease. This often saps their energies and impacts on their general health and well-being. What is most disturbing in all this is that for most African societies, the family is still the basic social unit that binds, supports and educates communities. Yet, more than ever before, many African families are living in absolute poverty. This means that older persons are living in insecure, unhealthy and difficult circumstances. It is incumbent on this Assembly to identify ways and means to support and strengthen the family. There is no question that the situation of older persons will be helped in turn.

    For my Government, the issue of ageing is a very important aspect of social development. In order to create requisite conditions for improving the lives of older persons, we realize that the question of poverty reduction must be addressed in a coherent and comprehensive manner. Poverty-reduction strategies have to be implemented with specific emphasis on addressing the needs of our most vulnerable communities, including older persons. We will need to come up with innovative measures, including enacting policies that will promote social security for older persons. Since the majority of older persons are women -- and in developing countries, most women live in rural areas and are likely to be poor -- it is important to take the gender dimension of ageing into consideration when policies and programmes are formulated.

    JULIO LARA, of the Latin American Parliament: The demographic revolution taking place today -- life expectancy increasing while birth rates are decreasing -- is being exacerbated by increasing urbanization and widespread globalization. Overall, the current worldwide social situation has left our older populations less protected and less well integrated into family structures than ever before. This is particularly disturbing in light of the many international plans and programmes elaborated over the last 20 years aimed at ensuring the place of older persons in society. At present, there is no global awareness or recognized standard to which international actors can be held. Considering this, older adults undoubtedly face age discrimination and this growing segment of the population continues to require more and more attention and support.

    The Commission on Human Rights and Labour of the Latin American Parliament has prepared a paper to highlight the objectives of regional initiatives aimed at achieving a society for all. It builds on past models and the outcome of the Vienna Conference on Ageing, among others. It calls for concerted action to ensure healthy, active and productive older age in a variety of ways. It insists that older persons must be assured dignified treatment, and the right to receive the necessary family and social support. It also insists that older adults have the right to integration in community life, as well as inter- and intra-generational activities. It calls on communities and States to provide older persons with adequate opportunities to enhance their lives, and, in that regard, calls on States to provide adequate medical care and ongoing social assistance. Most importantly, it affirms the right of older persons to live in a society that recognizes the merits of their potential.

    Overall, and in all nations and regions, a vast effort must be made to enhance the situation of the world’s rapidly ageing populations. A silent revolution is occurring in which the population of older adults will increase to some 2 billion by the year 2050. We must change our values, so that the matriarchs and patriarchs that have been spoken of so proudly here as being repositories of family and community history and culture can live decent lives. It is a sad truth that while we are living longer, we are not living better. We must do out utmost to strengthen family structures so that we can all, regardless of age, live better lives.

    JEAN DEBOISE, President of the Federation Internationale des Associations de Personnes Agées: My Association represents the civil society of older persons, and is run solely by older persons. It was established 40 years ago, is located in more than 50 countries and represents about 250 million people. We are most strongly represented in southern Europe, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Latin America, China and Canada. Our objectives incorporate recommendations of the General Assembly in helping elderly people continue to be full-fledged citizens throughout their lives.

    I would like to speak about the impact that United Nations resolutions can have on elderly people. It is very hard to judge this. Many resolutions were adopted in Vienna in 1982, but a few years later it was difficult to know if the messages of the resolutions had been delivered, and if they had been implemented. You will be adopting new resolutions here in Madrid, although I don’t know what they will be or what impact they will have.

    The Association proposes the establishment of a global monitoring mechanism for ageing throughout the world, under the aegis of the United Nations, but functioning through organizations involved with older people. We believe that such a mechanism would help us to know whether resolutions passed on ageing at the United Nations actually reach people and what impact they have. The Federation would be willing to cooperate with the United Nations in this proposal.

    JAMES MORGAN, President of the International Federation for Family Development: During the past week, we have repeatedly heard often passionate pleas for strong family life from older persons and other participants in the NGO Forum. Their desires reflect our long experience in the Federation with thousands of families in many cultures, North and South. Grandparents are an encyclopaedia of knowledge and an infinite source of unconditional love, which contributes to healthy, happy children within the family.

    Children, when involved in inter-generational dialogue and perhaps even care-giving, experience increased self-esteem and a sense of history and purpose from their relationship with older people. This World Assembly on Ageing provides an opportunity to study again the importance of the role of ageing and the opportunities for grandparents to contribute positively to families and communities. Programmes in favour of children’s rights would do well to fully engage the family as the primary actor, unsurpassed in effectiveness. The family -- the parents and grandparents -- are closest to the unique needs and potentials in each child and freely contribute their wisdom and energy.

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