Press Releases

    12 April 2002


    (Received from a UN Information Officer.)

    MADRID, 11 April -- The Main Committee of the Second World Assembly on Ageing this morning heard calls from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur who would report to the Commission on Social Development on the progress in implementation of the Plan of Action on Ageing.

    Observers of several NGOs also stressed the importance of implementation provisions in the International Plan of Action to be adopted at the Assembly. They further drew attention to the special needs of older women and older migrants, and called, among other things, for minimum income security, affordable health care and inclusion in decision-making processes regarding their specific issues.

    The representative of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) noted that the role of older people in responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic had not been given sufficient emphasis. She hoped that the Assembly would address that oversight by putting into action the provisions in that regard in the Plan of Action.

    In other business, the Main Committee elected Penny D. Herasati (Indonesia) from the Group of Asian States as Vice-Chairman.

    The representative of Suriname and representatives of the Council of Europe and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also spoke.

    NGOs speaking this morning were: Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, International Federation of Settlements and Neighbourhood Centres, New Humanity, Gray Panthers and Dutch Islamic Elderly Union.

    The Main Committee will meet again tomorrow at a time to be announced to take action on the draft report of the Committee, including the texts of the draft Political Declaration and the draft International Plan of Action on Ageing.


    The representative of the Council of Europe said the Council had always based its work on the dignity of the individual, with special concern for the most vulnerable groups of society, older people among them. Social-cohesion policies should meet the basic needs of all citizens and should provide access for them to basic social rights. The Council’s philosophy is one of full citizenship for all, without any discrimination, as enshrined in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In the European Social Charter, other rights were included, such as the rights to health protection, social and medical care and the benefit of social services. It also provided for the right of older people to social protection.

    The Council had noted that the further societies in Europe progressed, the more important those rights became. Current privatization trends in medical care could relegate the traditional systems that relied on solidarity to second place. Radical changes in the structure of society could result in the collapse of cohesive inter-generational societies in which everyone accepted a shared burden. The State had a central part to play in funding care and in encouraging the introduction of measures to help reconcile the occupational obligations of carers with their obligations towards older members of their families.

    The representative of UNAIDS said that in the past 20 years, over 60 million people had become infected with HIV/AIDS, 20 million had died and 13 million children had lost one or both parents to the disease. HIV/AIDS was setting back the progress many countries had made in health, education and economic growth. Life expectancy had decreased. The epidemic was spreading fastest among young adults, who constituted the core of the workforce, and had changed the demographic profile. Older people would bear a heavy burden as a result of that.

    The impact was most visible in sub-Saharan Africa. Orphaned children would be cared for mostly by older women. In developing countries, where HIV/AIDS had struck the hardest, the familial systems of strong inter-generational links imposed tremendous pressures on older relatives. Although older adults were also at risk from HIV/AIDS, prevention-education programmes did not target them. A government HIV/AIDS agenda for older people should provide the environment, mechanisms and support to better empower older people to cope with the impact of HIV/AIDS, including monitoring, education, and elderly-friendly health services. A holistic response should include support for their health and for their economic and social well-being. Collaboration with community-level organizations had proven to be a key strategy. Indeed, the place of older people in the response to the epidemic had not been given sufficient emphasis. She hoped that the Assembly would address that oversight by putting into action the relevant provisions in the draft Plan of Action.

    The representative of the FAO said it was often assumed that in developing countries ageing proceeded faster in urban areas than in rural settings. In reality, ageing in rural communities usually manifested itself earlier than in the cities because of rural-to-urban migration. FAO had a long-standing interest in rural ageing and had identified work on that topic as one of its priorities. Ageing was a key component of rural demographic change, with potentially major implications for the composition of the rural labour force, patterns of agricultural production, land tenure, social organization and rural development in general. The increasing demands of agricultural modernization might drive older farmers from their lands, which could lead to an overall deterioration in the welfare of the elderly village populations. The elderly in rural areas could face serious problems of overwork, isolation, poor nutrition and insufficient means of subsistence. Older women suffered extra disadvantages in some cultures, arising from discrimination on account of old age, widowhood, illiteracy and gender.

    Yet, rural ageing should not be viewed as an entirely negative trend, he said. The benefits of ageing included the wealth of skills and experience that older people could bring. The elderly typically acted as guardians of old traditions in farming, which might be more ecologically sound than modern techniques. Given the expected demographic dynamics, rural development in poorer countries would be increasingly powered by older persons. The issue of improving the well-being of ageing rural populations was a daunting task which necessitated close collaboration by many different actors, including governments, NGOs, the private sector and the elderly themselves.

    The observer of the Chinese People´s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries said it must be understood that the level of development of every country is different. Different groups from different regions had different expectations of the Assembly. Most older people living in the rural areas of the developing world were suffering from insufficient food, clothing and health care. Without improvement in their conditions, people could not talk about human rights. The impetus of rapid and continuous growth in China´s ageing population constituted a serious challenge. The majority of the elderly lived in rural areas. Although the material conditions of elderly people in the urban areas were ensured, there were problems in their participation in society. But the goal of support and medical care must first be achieved before the participation of the elderly in society could be addressed. Seventeen per cent of older people were illiterate. Education was therefore closely related to the problems of the ageing.

    The observer of the International Federation of Settlements and Neighbourhood Centres noted she was 92 years old and certainly deserved the right to speak. She said her organization was utterly frustrated by the lack of appropriate implementation provisions in the Plan of Action. Monitoring of all programmes was essential and she emphasized that the text should call for monitoring of all projects, not only by governments, but also by NGOs. She also stressed the need for more effort to provide adequate shelter for the ageing; both housing, and for public buildings to have adequate access for the elderly. She hoped that the need to provide productive employment for the elderly would also receive some attention.

    The observer of New Humanity said his organization worked for unity at every level of society between people of all nations, cultures, ethnic backgrounds and ages. The organization had found that communities that worked together to achieve relationships of unity and fraternity found creative ways to serve all members of society, including the young and the ageing. As those relationships matured, individuals found themselves becoming naturally more considerate towards the needs of the most disadvantaged in the community. When older persons felt welcome and respected in the community, everyone benefited from their precious contributions. The new generation´s capacity to build its own future depended on its ability to internalize the experience and culture of the preceding generations. A public "pledge of inclusiveness" between citizens, politicians and public administrators could serve as a reminder to consider older people equally with others in the planning and deployment of institutions, laws and regulations affecting society.

    The observer of Grey Panthers, a member-organization of the Sub-Committee on Elder Women, said older women represented the majority of older people across the world. Most were productively active and not a burden on society. They were tax payers, consumers and volunteers. She emphasized three key areas: poverty and income security, health and social exclusion. Women faced life-long discrimination. They had been responsible for the provision of care to families, partners, friends and neighbours, a task for which they were not remunerated.

    Older women had specific health needs not adequately addressed in most countries. Widows in particular could experience a range of restrictions which contributed to social exclusion. She called upon the United Nations and governments to: ensure minimum income security; provide appropriate, accessible, affordable and targeted health and care services; include older women in decision-making processes at all levels of government; and collect, analyse and use data disaggregated by gender and age in all policy areas. She also supported the appointment of a Special Rapporteur to the Commission on Social Development to report on progress in implementation of the Plan of Action.

    The observer of the Dutch Islamic Elderly Union, also speaking on behalf of Dutch NGOs present in Madrid, drew attention to the positive roles older people could play in the role of migration. The motto was empowerment. Active ageing was a way for older migrants to invest energy in staying independent and healthy and in developing new roles and responsibilities in society. Older migrants, strengthened by empowerment, could contribute greatly to integration, self-respect and good citizenship. They could bring more equality to cultural, educational, social and political areas. His organization urged the United Nations to strengthen the role of NGOs and promote their worldwide cooperation to further mutual respect and tolerance, to build and strengthen organizations and services for older migrants, to support empowerment and good citizenship and to use the influence of religion in creating a multicultural and multi-religious society. Those issues deserved serious attention in the Plan of Action.

    The representative of Suriname said NGOs were very important in the development of the world and in the promotion of the situation of older persons in societies. She supported the call of NGOs for implementation provisions in the Plan of Action. The implementation of commitments in the Plan of Action and the Declaration must be assured. She further supported the NGOs’ call for a Special Rapporteur who would report to the Commission on Social Development on the progress in implementation of the Plan of Action on Ageing, and urged delegates to carefully study NGO conclusions.

    A human-rights based approach was essential, she said, and expressed the hope that the Plan of Action and the Declaration would include that element. Human rights of older persons had to be promoted and protected. Human rights were key to development. She also supported the statement made today with regard to migrants. She realized it was difficult to bring new language into the outcome documents, but consideration should be given to the NGOs’ concerns in order to ensure the situation of certain groups.

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