UN SECRETARY-GENERAL, OPENING SECOND WORLD
"Group of 77" and China Call for New Body Devoted to Issues of Ageing
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
NEW YORK, 8 April (UN Headquarters) -- "As more people are better educated, live longer and stay healthy longer, older persons can and do make greater contributions to society than ever before". United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said this morning at the opening of the Second World Assembly on Ageing, which is being held in Madrid from 8 to 12 April.
Urging world leaders to engage all relevant actors in effective coalitions to face the challenges of the world’s rapidly ageing populations, he described the unprecedented demographic transformation all over the world. In less than 50 years -- for the first time in history -- the world would contain more people over 60 than under 15, he said, with developing countries facing the greatest increase in the number of older persons.
Ageing was definitely no longer just a "first world issue", he stressed. What had been a footnote in the twentieth century was on its way to becoming a dominant theme in the twenty-first. To face the multiplying challenges as the older population grew larger, it was necessary to devise a new plan of action on ageing, adapted to the realities of the twenty-first century. The key was to build a society for all.
The Secretary-General stressed that older people are not a group apart. "We all grow old one day -- if we have that luck", he said. He had to confess that he had turned 64 today, he said in conclusion. "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?" questioned the Beatles’ song, to which, he trusted, the answer was yes: older people would be needed and provided for in the twenty-first century.
"We need to collectively generate a cultural change ... to create ‘societies of all ages’, in which neither older people nor any other person, on account of sex, health, race or religion, feels excluded", the President of the Government of Spain, a newly elected President of the Second World Assembly on Ageing, José María Aznar, said. Countries must increasingly promote "active" ageing through policies of preventive medicine, continued learning and a flexible work schedule.
A country that fails to offer opportunities for its older people to actively participate is a country missing opportunities.
The President of the General Assembly, Han Seung-soo (Republic of Korea), said that, while many countries had taken measures in implementation of the International Plan of Action adopted by the First Assembly on Ageing 20 years ago, ageing had not received the attention it deserved from the international community. The task of the Second Assembly was to revise the Plan in order to reflect new global trends. Stressing the importance of the international development targets set at the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000, he said that they would not be achieved without mainstreaming the concerns of older persons into development frameworks and poverty eradication strategies.
Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Juan Carlos Aparicio Perez, Minister for Labour and Social Affairs of Spain, also underlined the need to include ageing as a core item in the agendas for development, particularly in strategies to fight against poverty, paying special attention to the needs of developing countries and taking into account the outcome of the international conferences of the nineties.
A proposal to create an international body similar to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), devoted to the issues of ageing, was made by Luís Alfonso Davila, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Venezuela (on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China), who said that practical institutions were needed to achieve the development goals of the Millennium Declaration. Ten per cent of the foreign debt of the developing countries and 10 per cent of the military expenditure of the world could be used to finance an international humanitarian fund, he said. It was also important to take care of the special needs of the elderly who found themselves in armed conflicts or under occupation.
Welcoming remarks were made by Infanta Doña Cristina of Spain, Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Second World Assembly on Ageing.
Other speakers this morning were: Head of Government of Andorra, Marc Forne-Molne; President of Gabon, Omar Bongo; President of Albania, Rexhep Meidani; President of Equatorial Guinea, Obiang Nguema Mbasogo; Vice-President of the Sudan, Moses Machar Kacuol; Minister of Manpower Development and Employment of Ghana, Cecilia V.L. Bannerman; Minister of Social Security, National Solidarity and Senior Citizen Welfare and Reform Institutions of Mauritius, Samollah Lauthan; Minister of Social Development and National Solidarity of Senegal, Aminata Tall; Director for the National Programme for the Elderly of Guatemala, Alejandra Flores; Secretary of Social Development of Argentina, Silvia Gascon; and Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment of India, Satya Narayan Jatiya.
During the organizational part of the meeting, the Assembly elected 27 Vice-Presidents, with representation aimed at ensuring the representative character of its Main Committee and appointed the members of its Credentials Committee. Also elected this morning was D. Luan Jose Lucas Gimenez, Minister of the Presidency of Spain, as an ex-officio Vice-President from the host country, and Felipe Paolillo of Uruguay as Chairman of the Main Committee.
Welcoming Remarks by Her Royal Highness The Infanta Doña Cristina
Her Royal Highness The Infanta Doña CRISTINA, Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Second World Assembly on Ageing: I congratulate the United Nations for the excellent work done on the Assembly. We in Spain feel honoured to host this world event. We are aware that the ageing of the population is a challenge for which we must prepare. Spain wants to show its interest in policies for the integration of the elderly.
We live in a society in which important demographic events are occurring. The elderly should live longer and in better conditions. The elderly are a universal force and have the capability to shape society. Consequently, we must prepare for the new challenge, promoting changes of attitude in the face of the demographic revolution. To achieve a society for all ages, we, the young, have to be aware of the progress achieved by elder generations. We have to ensure that those achievements are relayed to future generations.
Together, we are going to build a positive image of ageing, not only as an extension of life, but to ensure that old age is healthy and fully integrated in society. I hope that all positive initiatives achieved during this Assembly will serve to involve our society in the challenge faced by ageing so that the elderly will benefit from this as soon as possible.
Statement by Secretary-General
KOFI ANNAN, United Nations Secretary-General: In Africa, it is said that when an old man dies, a library vanishes. That proverb may vary among continents, but its meaning is equally true in any culture. Older persons are intermediaries between the past, the present and the future. Their wisdom and experience form a veritable lifeline in society. We meet today to pay tribute to the contribution of older people, and to formulate a strategy to help them lead the safe and dignified lives they deserve. In that sense, this is an assembly for them.
Twenty years have passed since our predecessors gathered to adopt the first global document to guide policies on ageing. Since then, the world has changed almost beyond recognition. What has not changed is our fundamental objective: building a society fit for all people of all ages. There are vital and pressing reasons to revisit the issue today. The world is undergoing an unprecedented demographic transformation. Between now and 2050, the number of older persons will rise from about 600 million to almost 2 billion. In less than 50 years from now -- for the first time in history -- the world will contain more people over 60 than under 15.
Perhaps the most important increase in the number of older persons will be greatest in developing countries. Over the next 50 years, the older population of the developing world is expected to multiply by four. This is an extraordinary development that bears implications for every community, institution, and individual -- young and old. Ageing is definitely no longer just a "first world issue". What was a footnote in the twentieth century is on its way to becoming a dominant theme in the twenty-first.
Such a revolution will present enormous challenges in a world already transformed by globalization, migration, and economic change. Let me mention just a few challenges we are already facing today. As more and more people move to cities, older persons are losing traditional family support and social networks, and are increasingly at risk of marginalization.
Also, the HIV/AIDS crisis is forcing many older people in developing countries to care for children orphaned by the disease -- of whom there are now more than 13 million worldwide. In many developed countries, the concept of cradle-to-grave security is fast disappearing. The shrinking size of the working population means older people are even more at risk of inadequate pensions and medical attention.
As the older population grows larger, so will these challenges multiply. We need to start preparing for them now. We must devise a new plan of action on ageing, adapted to the realities of the twenty-first century. Let me mention some overriding objectives. We need to recognize that, as more people are better educated, live longer, and stay healthy longer, older persons can and do make greater contributions to society than ever before. By promoting their active participation in society and development, we can ensure that their invaluable gifts and experience are put to good use. Older persons who can work, and want to, should have the opportunity to do so; and all people should have the opportunity to continue learning throughout life.
By creating support networks and enabling environments, we can engage the wider community in strengthening solidarity between generations, and in combating abuse, violence, disrespect and discrimination against older people. By providing adequate and affordable health care, including preventive health measures, we can help older people maintain their independence for as long as possible.
The past 20 years have brought a wealth of new opportunities that should help us achieve those objectives. New international commitments have been reached in the conferences of the 1990s, culminating in the Millennium Development Goals. Taken together, these form a blueprint for improving people’s lives. Building better lives for older persons must form an integral part of that agenda. A global revolution has taken place in the use of information technology and the empowerment of civil society.
This enables us to build the partnerships needed to achieve a society for all ages. While governments have the primary responsibility towards their older populations, they need to work through effective coalitions engaging all actors: from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to the private sector, from international organizations to educators and health professionals, and, of course, associations of older people themselves.
We have been given some wonderful opportunities to strengthen those partnerships in connection with this World Assembly on Ageing -- through the parallel NGO forum here in Madrid and the international scientific forum just ended in Valencia. Given the challenges and opportunities before us, I trust you will make every effort to conclude successfully the negotiations on the outcome document of this Assembly. And I hope you will also send a wider message to the world: that older people are not a category apart.
We will all grow old one day -- if we have that privilege, that is. Let us, therefore, not look at older persons as people separate from ourselves, but as our future selves. And let us recognize that older people are all individuals, with individual needs and strengths, not a group that are all the same because they are old.
Finally, that brings me to a confession I’d like to make: I turned 64 years old today. I, therefore, feel empowered to quote the Beatles’ song and ask, on behalf of all older persons: Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64? I trust the answer is yes, older people will be provided for, and yes, older people will be needed, in the twenty-first century.
Election of President
The Assembly elected by acclamation José María Aznar, President of the Government of Spain, as President of the Second World Assembly on Ageing.
Statement by President of Conference
JOSÉ MARÍA AZNAR, President of the Government of Spain: The demographic structure of most countries has changed considerably since the last Assembly on ageing in Vienna in 1982, and population ageing has made even more rapid advances than had been expected. In the least developed countries, some symptoms are appearing that allow us to predict a major transformation in their populations. In developed countries, we have already witnessed a rise in the proportion of older people relative to the population as a whole, and older people live increasingly longer.
Population ageing is a complex process with many causes and many different consequences. It is already a fact for many of us, a new and undeniable phenomenon requiring profound changes and resolute responses from all of society’s structures and institutions. Institutions, in general, and governments, in particular, must be realistic and adapt their actions to what people decide freely and responsibly. However, they are still responsible for ensuring, above all through education and social policies, that individual conduct incorporates civic behaviour imbued with a spirit of solidarity.
The challenge facing many countries is that of adapting their societies to this new reality, while anticipating possible negative effects of ageing, and removing obstacles impeding its balanced and harmonious development. We need to collectively generate a cultural change allowing us to create "societies of all ages", in which neither older people nor any other person, on account of sex, health, race or religion, feels excluded.
At the present time, the mental faculties of a 60 year old are the same as those of a middle-aged person some years ago. This new circumstance underscores the important role older people continue to play in the professions, politics, social life or intellectual and cultural training. Countries with older populations must increasingly promote "active" ageing through policies of preventive medicine, continued learning and a flexible work schedule. A country that fails to offer opportunities for its older people to actively participate is a country missing opportunities. But it is, above all, a country preventing many useful and capable people from continuing to contribute to the well-being of others, as well as a sense of satisfaction to their own lives.
Our society needs to recognize the role older people have played throughout their lives and can still play. That is why the family is such an important institution. In families, and through intergenerational relations found in families -- based on affection, freely offered -- we learn to appreciate people, whether old or young, healthy or ill, for what they themselves are. That is why it is so important that governments acknowledge, facilitate and reward the work families are doing, providing them with the help they need to care for older people, and ensure that they will have access to services of all kinds to them in their task.
The Second World Assembly adopted its rules of procedure (document A/CONF.197/2). It also adopted its agenda and other organizational matters (document A/CONF.197/1).
The Assembly then elected 23 of it mandated 27 vice-presidents, with representation aimed at ensuring the representative character of its Main Committee, one ex-officio vice-president from the host country, and a chairman of its Main Committee.
The vice-presidents included seven representatives from African States, three from Asian States, two from Eastern European States, five from Latin American and Caribbean States, and six from Western European and Other States.
The Assembly postponed its decision to elect a rapporteur-general, pending further consultations.
D. Luan Jose Lucas Gimenez, Minister of the Presidency of Spain, was elected as the Vice-President ex-officio of the Assembly.
Felipe Paolillo of Uruguay was elected as Chairman of the Main Committee.
The President of the Assembly then announced that the Main Committee would meet from today through 11 April and, in according with its rules of procedure, would elect its own officers. The Main Committee would be seized with finalizing the Second World Assembly’s Political Declaration and draft International Plan of Action on Ageing 2002.
The Assembly then appointed the members of its Credentials Committee, including China, Denmark, Jamaica, Lesotho, Russian Federation, Senegal, Singapore, United States and Uruguay.
Statement by President of General Assembly
HAN SEUNG-SOO (Republic of Korea), President of the General Assembly: The rapid pace of ageing will bring new and increased demands to all countries in health care, employment, social protection measures and economic growth. As, barring fatal illness or accident, everybody will one day become an older person, ageing cannot be an issue of concern only to particular individuals, societies or countries. It is a common issue that affects all individuals, societies and countries. In the coming years, the ageing of the human population will be a universal force that has the power to shape the future as much as globalization.
At the First Assembly on Ageing, 20 years ago, the International Plan of Action on Ageing was adopted, on which many countries had taken various policy measures. Yet, unlike other global issues such as the environment or poverty eradication, ageing has not received the deserved attention from the international community. The task here is to revise and elaborate the International Plan of Action in order to reflect global trends affecting ageing. I stress that the international development targets of the Millennium Declaration will not be achievable without the mainstreaming of ageing and concerns of older persons into development frameworks and poverty eradication strategies.
Older persons should be regarded as an asset, not a burden. As the old proverb says: "There is many a good tune played on an old fiddle." The skills, experience, knowledge and wisdom of older people should be put to use for promoting human capacity-building and sustained economic growth, which will benefit both older persons and society, particularly in the knowledge-based economy of the twenty-first century.
All governments must emphasize the mainstreaming of ageing into national policy planning and implementation based on the International Plan of Action. I urge all Member States to render their best efforts for the early and effective implementation of the International Plan of Action on Ageing and to strive for empowerment of older persons and their full participation in all aspects of society.
General Exchange of Views
MARC FORNE-MOLNE, Head of Government of Andorra: Due to its specific social and demographic characteristics, my country does not have as high a level of ageing population as other countries around us. Even so, we are aware of the growing complexity of their needs, especially in the case of those persons who can no longer fend for themselves. This is why Andorra has followed the international trends and strategic lines in the question of ageing and attempted to increase its overall knowledge of the phenomenon so as to design new social policies in that respect.
Andorra has included in its social policies the United Nations principles in favour of the elderly, approved by the General Assembly in 1991. During the International Year of Older Persons in 1999, the Andorran Government carried out a survey of the elderly to get to know and understand their situation and build "Andorra for all ages". It has been working to draw up a national plan for and with the elderly, which is based on the internationally recognized concept of active ageing.
The plan aims at guaranteeing overall attention to the needs of the elderly, focusing on the social and health issues. Its main principles include equal responsibility of the individual, the family and the State for the well-being of the elderly; social solidarity; preventive actions; shared financing of services; and follow-up and evaluation of the programmes. Among the priorities defined by the programme is attention to the elderly; protection of their rights; maintaining them in their environment; training of professionals and research.
OMAR BONGO, President of Gabon: the First Assembly on Ageing made the world aware of the need of States to adopt a Plan of Action and a long-term strategy on ageing. After 20 years, it is now time for evaluation. From time immemorial older persons have held an important place in African society. Old age has always been seen as a sign of wisdom. The traditional family played a role of providing an environment for older persons.
Today, our societies are undergoing great changes because of industrialization in urban areas. The rural areas are being deserted and the framework of values is being challenged. Furthermore, the extension of life has led to an increase of the number of older people. This is an improvement, but age poses problems at the same time. In 1983, my country undertook a major programme of social protection for economically weak persons, of which older persons constitute a major category. To that end, a fund has been established, financed mostly by the State.
What can we do in the face of new challenges and the distress brought about by globalization? The State has a duty to activate mechanisms to ensure cohesion within society and to ensure basic human rights. Sustainable development can only be achieved if we avoid the marginalization of one category of people. The challenges faced call for fighting poverty and the reintegration of marginalized groups. My country remains determined to combat poverty. Together with the international community, Gabon will participate in all initiatives to improve the conditions of older persons.
REXHEP MEIDANI, President of Albania: The United States Supreme Court recently considered a case filed by a group of workers alleging discrimination on the basis of age. That case highlights, among other things, that such cases are becoming more prevalent. It also highlights the differences between discrimination based on age and other forms of discrimination, such as race or sex. More problematic was that new developments, inspired by the rapid pace of growth in science and technology, as well as the information revolution, had exacerbated age discrimination in the workplace.
There now appears to be a direct or indirect attempt to develop the idea that older workers must be moved out to make space for the young. Unfortunately, without evaluating the relationship between generations, and balancing the notion of knowledge and experience, new problems were bound to arise. The concerns of industrialized countries, particularly regarding the ways immigration policies affected elderly workers, are becoming more pronounced. Moving away from the notion of the simple demand for manpower, it appears that immigration, particularly that of qualified workers, will continue to grow. That will most certainly continue if differences in economic development of regions around the world continue to widen. That will, in turn, spark more discrimination against the elderly.
The question is whether using the notion of economic growth and technological advancement as an excuse to discriminate against the elderly -- through forced or early retirement -- is contrary to efforts to promote overall growth and sustainability. For many countries, serious difficulties are also emerging as they try to cover or enhance their pension schemes. The phenomena of ageing is also affecting various State structures, as well as many aspects of the business community.
The Second World Assembly provides the proper forum to deal with such issues and to make sure national structures are aware of tendencies to ignore discrimination against the elderly, particularly in the work place. Forced or early retirement often cause businesses or institutions to lose the most knowledgeable and experienced workers in the field. At the same time, small signs of change are showing and many businesses as reacting to the problem by balancing manpower needs with efforts to promote teamwork, education or even reducing work hours.
OBIANG NGUEMA MBASOGO, President of Equatorial Guinea: It has been 20 years since the international community placed the issue of ageing on its agenda. We wish to see a better world for all ages. Older persons, whatever their status, are part of the heritage of future generations, and strategies should be adopted to protect them. The problems of ageing should not be seen in isolation -- they should be part of the global plan for social development. It is important to identify the problems facing each individual country or a group of countries, for developing countries do face the same problems as developed ones. It is not just a matter of providing the best possible care for older persons, but an issue of involving them in social life, taking into account the achievements of modern science and technology.
Among the problems encountered in many countries are the lack of cohesion within the family and marginalization of older people. In many instances, older persons are considered useless, and abandoned. They are also subject to abuse and violence. This marks regression of mankind -- a loss of values. In African countries, older persons have their families’ attention. Older persons are still seen as wise people, able to pass their wisdom to other generations. However, they suffer from the problems of poverty, as well as environmental and economic problems. Thus, their situation should be taken into account in devising social policies and development of health and education infrastructure.
In my country, 80 per cent of the population live in rural areas and have few possibilities of increasing their income and improving their circumstances. Given the limited resources and poor infrastructure, there are few programmes for older people in Equatorial Guinea. The development of social infrastructure would help the country to resolve its problems, and it has started putting in place social protection and retirement programmes. The country’s difficulties are aggravated by the debt burden.
Now that the international community has come together to address the problems of older persons, the situation of women, children and older persons in the Middle East requires attention. It is important to draw attention to the need to build peace there and call upon the parties to implement United Nations resolutions calling for the immediate cessation of hostilities. We would also like to propose a code of rights of older persons and the establishment an international organization to address their problems.
JUAN CARLOS APARICIO PEREZ, Minister for Labour and Social Affairs of Spain, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States: We are currently witnessing an unprecedented demographic transformation, as a result of which the number of persons over 60 years old will increase from the current 600 million to almost 2,000 million by 2050. The twenty-first century will be one of comparatively slower population growth than the previous century, and be characterized by declining birth rates leading to a population decline. This "silent revolution" occurs in the midst of significant political and economic transformations, characterized by globalization. Our challenge is to adapt our societies to this new reality. We take advantage of this occasion to reaffirm the important commitment agreed in the Millennium Assembly to promote national and international environments that encourage a society for all ages.
We underline the need to include ageing as a core item in the agendas for development, particularly in strategies to fight against poverty, paying special attention to the priority needs and prospects of the developing countries. This inclusion must take into account the need to follow up the world summits and conferences held during the 1990s. The implementation of the United Nations International Year for Older Persons contributed to approaching ageing and the situation of older persons issues from a broader perspective. The Union’s answer to ageing is included in the framework of a global strategy aimed at pursuing policies and practices in favour of active ageing. Against this background, the European Union underlines the important role regional commissions will play in the implementation of the revised International Plan of Action.
The International Plan of Action must reaffirm that older persons have to be given the possibility to continue to contribute productively to society, including their labour market participation, as long as they wish. Flexibility and diversification of opportunities, within a framework of rights, is particularly important. It is essential to fight against any exclusion or discrimination on grounds of age, to encourage life-long learning, to promote flexible and progressive retirement, to reinforce the measures to increase labour participation of women, as well as the promotion of health, economic and social security, adaptability and employability.
Social protection systems constitute one of the fundamental cornerstones of social cohesion. The European Union has committed itself to reinforcing social cohesion and combating social exclusion. Achieving healthy and active ageing also requires that the International Plan of Action give priority to strategies for promotion of healthy life styles. We must reaffirm the primary responsibility of governments to ensure the provision of universal and equal access to efficient social and health care services. The key role played by families, volunteers, communities and organizations of older persons must be acknowledged. The inclusion of a gender perspective is also essential. The objectives of the revised International Plan of Action require effective collaboration between local and national governments, international agencies and other organizations, and other actors of civil society, including NGOs, as well as an effective monitoring process to be developed by the United Nations.
LUÍS ALFONSO DAVILA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Venezuela, speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China: It is important that the Plan of Action to be adopted constituted a document focusing on the needs of the older persons, especially in developing countries. The Millennium Summit was a landmark event which compels us to rethink the role of the United Nations in order to act consistently to the goals set by the Millennium Declaration. To achieve the development goals, we need practical institutions. The President of Venezuela at the Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey, Mexico, has proposed an international humanitarian fund to break the vicious cycle of poverty among the elderly.
Ageing in the world is a reality that requires major attention from the entire international community. We propose the creation of a body similar to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), devoted to realizing the aspirations of the ageing. It is also crucial in this context to confront problems such as the foreign debt; 10 per cent of the foreign debt of the developing world; and 10 per cent of the military expenditure of the world could be used to finance the international humanitarian fund. It is also necessary to take care of the special needs of the elderly who find themselves in armed conflicts or under occupation. The challenges of globalization in developing countries have a great impact, and the obstacles to the total participation of developing countries in the world economy translate into fewer resources for social programmes. We must reverse this situation if we want to ensure the elderly have equal opportunities. It is essential for developed countries to comply with their official development assistance (ODA) commitments.
The contribution of the elderly is very often ignored. Today, the HIV/AIDS pandemic has highlighted the situation of grandparents taking care of AIDS orphans. We must eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination of the elderly. The International Plan of Action contains important provisions in that regard. Preventive and rehabilitative care will contribute to guaranteeing the full potential of the elderly to the benefit of society. The Group of 77 and China are particularly concerned with the situation of elderly women. It is, therefore, important that policies and programmes include a gender-specific perspective to guarantee that their specific needs are addressed. All those elements need to be reflected in the 2002 International Plan of Action.
MOSES MACHAR KACUOL, Vice-President of the Sudan: Adopting a comprehensive Plan of Action on Ageing would reinforce the political will of all nations to enhance the situation of the world’s elderly. In all the work being done here this week, it will be particularly important to remember the world’s economic situation. The debt situation and the current lag in ODA contributions is negatively affecting the world’s poorest countries, particularly regarding their efforts to sustain their development programmes. This, in turn, will have a negative effect on efforts to implement international programmes and policies on ageing.
The Sudan guarantees equal participation in society at all levels, regardless of age, and made every effort to raise the level of prosperity and to enhance participation of all age groups. My Government has established national action plans and committees to promote security for the elderly. We have always regarded elderly persons in a positive manner, particularly because of the place and influence within the family structure. Such persons are, indeed, the "educational institutions" to which the youth can turn.
Elderly persons are family cornerstones. Family care is the basis of the country’s elder-care system. Scientific and research communities also pay particular attention to the situation of older persons. Educational and cultural institutions have also shown interest in the history of older persons, particularly as their experiences can help address current situations in the country. The Government is endeavouring to broaden insurances schemes. It has begun to pay insurance subscriptions to welfare funds. We are also creating micro-credit schemes.
We call on the international community to pay particular attention to the situations of all older persons throughout the world. We renew our call for support to developing countries and least developed countries to help implement the Plan of Action adopted by the Assembly. Those efforts can be enhanced with the establishment of an international fund for ageing in developing countries. Moreover, the Government of the Sudan calls on the world community to give due attention to the situation of elderly in armed conflict, particularly in the occupied Palestinian territories. We call for an immediate cessation of violence there and for all to work for peace in the region.
CECILIA V.L. BANNERMAN, Minister of Manpower Development and Employment of Ghana: Population ageing is becoming an issue of concern in Ghana, in view of its social and economic implications for national development. It is anticipated that very soon there will be a significant increase in the dependent population due to the growth in the number of older persons, higher birth rates and the impact of HIV/AIDS. The economically active group will, therefore, be unable to support and cater for the rapidly increasing dependent population.
In reaction to the challenges of the ageing society, the Government of Ghana has developed a national policy on ageing. Poverty, poor nutrition and housing, as well as limited access to health facilities, have been identified as some of the major problems faced by older persons throughout the country. Older persons’ role in society should be recognized and rewarded, and their rights respected. The policy emphasizes the importance of improving the quality of life in old age, promoting healthy ageing and supporting community care. Also promoted are mental health and the special needs of older women.
The significance of cultural differences in the perception and treatment of old age is an issue my delegation would like to emphasize. Among other critical issues to be addressed are the problems of poverty and social unrest. We urge that due cognizance be taken of multicultural diversity and economic disparity among countries in designing programmes and strategies to address the issue of global ageing. Similarly, efforts have to be made to stop negative traditional and cultural practices and beliefs.
In our quest to enhance social, economic and cultural well-being of older persons, we are constrained by inadequate institutional structures, limited financial resources and lack of human capacity. Income security for older persons is a general concern in Africa, including Ghana, in view of the existence of a large and expanding informal sector, which is largely not covered by social security and pension schemes. The Government is, therefore, making efforts to develop appropriate and comprehensive pension plans.
SAMOULLAH LAUTHAN, Minister of Social Security, National Solidarity and Senior Citizen Welfare and Reform Institutions of Mauritius: One of the great challenges at the dawn of the new millennium is undoubtedly the phenomenon of population ageing. We must realize that the serious moral implications of the ageing revolution engenders strong moral obligations. International efforts to ensure the place of the world’s elderly should go beyond what will be achieved in Madrid. Time is of the essence and only bold action will justify our presence here today. Ageing is a multidimensional and complex phenomenon that required an equally multidimensional response.
It is expected that the elderly will represent 21 per cent of the population of Mauritius by 2027. However, my country is convinced that the phenomenon will not cause a problem or detract in any way from efforts to maintain all-around development and social programmes. The Government has set in place a comprehensive social policy that promotes the principle of ageing with dignity. Mauritius is one of the first African countries to have established such a plan. The policy aims to ensure, among other things, empowerment, security, independence and involvement in decision-making. The Government has also set up a national fund for the elderly, which has overseen the creation of national day-care centres, the institution of flu vaccine campaigns and establishing a programme in which the elderly share their valuable experiences with youth and NGOs.
Still, we realize we have a long way to go. Mauritius would like to make a special appeal to privileged nations to empower Africa and other underprivileged nations to promote the welfare, health and security of the elderly. Let us not think of our work as a favour to the elderly. We are only doing our duty to our grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts and uncles.
AMINATA TALL, Minister of Social Development and National Solidarity of Senegal: The world population is older than it has ever been. Ageing remains one of the major challenges of the third millennium. There has been a considerable increase of older persons in our region. By the year 2015, the older population will be 11 per cent of the total population. Ageing is a matter that Senegal must address.
As our society has become more modern, this has led, paradoxically, to a breakdown of the traditional respect for older persons. Today, they are victim of the insecurity of our society. Because of a lack of resources, about 70 per cent of them are dependent on the family. Because of the economic crisis, older persons suffer from increased marginalization. In the health sector, there is a lack of qualified staff covering geriatrics. However, we view ageing not as a problem, but rather as an opportunity to harness the experience of older people. Their self-denial and patriotism have contributed to building our nation. In Senegal, the focus is on safeguarding our collective heritage and the input of older persons, and to ensure the active input of all generations in building a social consensus.
Senegal has committed itself to establishing the conditions necessary for the development of older persons to live a full life in their communities. We have sought to focus on the role of the elderly in society, including issues such as tax exemptions. We have focused on social issues and adopted guidelines for the status of older persons. We have updated our protection system and improved access for the elderly to health care services, the national anti-poverty programme and social development programme. We have also endorsed the position that age is not a factor, it is our attitude to age that matters. We, therefore, encourage inter-generational solidarity. Age is not something to be seen fatalistically. We must focus on the principle of ageing actively and in good health. We must put a stop to negative images of age. Older persons are a precious resource that can contribute towards a more just society.
ALEJANDRA FLORES, Director for the National Programme for the Elderly of Guatemala: In Guatemala, as in many other countries, the phenomenon of ageing has created a precarious situation. Elder adults suffer many ills, exacerbated by current economic and development constraints. The elderly have little access to basic services, and they often suffer from marginalization and family or institutional mistreatment. That is why all efforts to improve their lot should be centred on reform of social policies and programmes.
In Guatemala, substantial reform is under way. The social policy plan of 2000-2004 has been created to carry out initiatives and programmes for the elderly at the national level. Furthermore, in 2002 a law has been adopted to ensure the protection of the elderly and to address the duties of institutions that generally oversee the promotion of their rights. National plans have been established in other areas of business and society. Such plans particularly aim to incorporate the experience of the elderly at all levels and strengthen intergenerational links. The almost total lack of information on the real effects of rapid populations growth is hampering many efforts, however. Still, Guatemala is committed to beginning a process of research on the issues of ageing and relevant consequences, that will ensure that the complex situation of the elderly is given due consideration.
The country’s basic strategy will be to make the entire population aware of the phenomenon. We do recognize, however, that in some sectors of the population, respect for the elderly is the norm. We shall carry out multi-sectoral awareness campaigns at the national level with the goal of promoting respect and the establishment of basic services and valuing their important contributions. The holding of the Second World Assembly was a singular opportunity to achieve concrete action on behalf of the elderly in every country.
SILVIA GASCON, Secretary of Social Development of Argentina: Twenty years after Vienna, the Second World Assembly on Ageing is now focusing on the South, on the developing countries. In 1982, most of the elderly lived in the developed countries. This is changing rapidly. Whereas developed countries had grown older gradually, in the developing world this is happening rapidly. Where the developed countries were rich, the developing world is poor. Argentina is an unequal country. The trickle-down theory of development has never worked. Equality and solidarity have taken on a new dimension for us, with a need for greater opportunity to achieve a society for all ages. Because of globalization, people-centred development and solidarity between nations is needed. In Argentina today, the elderly, who had grown up in prosperity during the fifties, are ageing in poverty. Social services, to which they had become accustomed, have diminished as Argentina faces an unprecedented financial crisis.
Argentina today is ready to re-found a modern State that is flexible and works to the common good of all and the fulfilment of basic necessities. A process, called the Argentina Dialogue, has been started to search for consensus in which actors such as the Catholic Church and civil society actively participate. A modern State has to be transparent and has to take civil society into account. Organizations of elderly people are growing more numerous and the level of social participation has been growing.
The participation of older persons in society is essential to attain a better life for them and for society as a whole. This involves ensuring that population issues are on the social agenda. It means strengthening older persons and their organizations to increase their capacity to act on their own issues. The challenge is to promote the empowerment of older persons.
SATYANARAYAN JTIYA, Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment of India: My Government is committed to providing an effective environment to secure the goals of economic and emotional security for the elderly. In Indian tradition, society accords the highest respect and prestige to an individual in the last of four stages of life. This is why the concept of an old-age home is alien in India. However, globalization is causing a silent transformation within social structures. Fragmentation of the traditional family network is leading to an erosion of the available support within the immediate and extended family. The migration of younger generations results in elderly persons being left to fend for themselves.
The Government of India adopted the nation’s Policy for Older Persons in 1999. The Policy enjoins the State and civil society to extend support for financial security, health care, shelter and other needs of older persons, provide protection against abuse and exploitation and empower them. The Government already covers around 32 million workers and their families under schemes for provident funds and health and insurance facilities. However, there is a need to reach out to many more who do not have access to such schemes and would be rendered vulnerable on attaining old age.
The Government of India is also committed to the empowerment of older persons. Ageing is an ongoing process and the changing social order is not always conducive to the well-being of the older persons. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment coordinates and provides the basic road map for policies on the aged. Special privileges like old-age pensions, tax concessions and various amenities in transportation and health services, among other things, are some of the encouraging developments in our country. Every country will have to evolve its own strategy in meeting the challenges and harnessing the advantages of a growing resource pool of elderly citizens in line with their cultural and traditional values, as well as national perspectives. Elderly people in their productive spans of life have made significant contributions to the development and prosperity of the world. We, in India, will certainly do everything possible to honour them.
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