SPEAKERS URGE INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT FOR
Rights-Based Approach, Gender Issues Also Stressed
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
MADRID, 11 April -- The links between development and ageing, human rights, the specific problems of women, the heterogeneous character of diverse ageing groups and research into ageing issues were addressed this afternoon, as the Second World Assembly on Ageing continued its general exchange of views.
Several speakers emphasized the need for international solidarity in addressing challenges developing countries faced in coping with the trends in ageing. Ecuador’s Vice-Minister of Social Welfare Ernesto Pazmino emphasized that international actors and donors must cooperate with poor countries to devise a plan so that they could alleviate their heavy debt burdens. He said a situation where a country had to use more than half of its resources earmarked for development towards debt payments was untenable and a solution must be found if poor countries were to live up to their international commitments. That would require industrialized countries to live up to their international commitments and meet their targets for official development assistance.
The representative of Guyana stressed the importance of a human-rights approach to ageing that supported the freedom and dignity of all persons irrespective of age, as well as the inviolability of all human rights -- civil, political, economic, social and cultural. It also promoted the essential nature of ensuring the right to development to provide an enabling environment at both national and international levels. Ensuring the promotion of human rights was even more necessary in a globalizing economy, where the cultural significance of older persons was dismissed and they were seen merely as passive recipients.
Underlining the fact that older persons were not a homogeneous group, New Zealand’s representative said that the ageing trend in her country would be accompanied by increases in the ethnic and social make-up of the elderly communities, including higher percentages of Maori, as well as Pacific and Asian peoples. All those groups would have different aspirations and expectations. It would, therefore, become increasingly important to monitor the changing characteristics of ageing populations so that policies for older people could be tailored to promote positive ageing.
The Minister of National Unity and Social Development of Malaysia said women tended to outlive men. That increasing number of elderly and ageing women has social, economic and cultural implications on policy and programmes. The emerging trend had to receive due attention, and appropriate measures must be taken to ensure that older women, in particular those who were single, had affordable access to the necessary services and facilities.
She also implored the United Nations and its various organizations to undertake further research into the prospect for such issues as ageing, and productivity. Member States with various cultural, racial and religious characteristics could share their experiences in that regard.
Reporting on the "Valencia Forum", a gathering of 500 leading researchers, educators and practitioners in the field of ageing which took place from 1 to 4 April, the convenor of the Forum said it had pointed to the hard evidence linking poverty and health with ageing and had proposed possible approaches to dealing with the problems. The Research Agenda on Ageing for the Twenty-First Century was designed to support the International Plan of Action and identified priorities for research and data-collection in order to support the implementation and monitoring of policy actions proposed in the Plan of Action.
Ministers from Slovenia, Guinea, Yugoslavia, Azerbaijan and Syria also addressed the Assembly, as did representatives of Mali, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Zambia, Bolivia, Jordan, Ethiopia and Sri Lanka.
The representative of the League of Arab States spoke, as well.
The Assembly further heard statements from representative of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) of the International Social Security Association and the American Association of Retired Persons. It also heard a report from the Committee on Ageing of the Conference of the NGOs on Ageing.
The Second World Assembly on Ageing will meet again tomorrow at 10 a.m. to continue its general exchange of views.
VLADO DIMOVSKI, Minister for Labour, Family and Social Affairs of Slovenia: It is important to tackle the problem of ageing on the global level, as well as at the national one. The importance of drafting strategies that will enable implementation in countries that do not have adequate financial resources needs to be stressed.
In Slovenia, 14 per cent of the population is already over 65. This percentage will increase to 20 by the year 2020. The Government has to pursue two main goals: maintaining a high level of social protection of the elderly, and adjusting the social security system in line with demographic changes. One of the most important reforms that has to take place is reform of the pension system. Other reforms are in the field of health care, housing and social care. Four years ago, the Government adopted the National Development Programme for Care of Elderly Persons, aiming among other things at the de-institutionalization of services. It is also crucial to enable the development of programmes targeted at the prevention of loneliness and social exclusion of the elderly.
Slovenia has a long tradition of NGOs. One of the characteristics of these is that older persons are represented in them in large numbers. The basic mission of these organizations, which unite the elderly, is to prevent their social exclusion and to reduce the stereotyped image of the elderly as being merely users of various services. The elderly in Slovenia are also organized in a political party and, as such, have a significant influence on the creation of legislation that concerns them.
BRUCE MARIAMA ARIBOT, Minister of Social Affairs, Advancement of Women and the Child of Guinea: In Guinea, the issue of elderly people is neither a population problem, nor a crucial social problem. The traditional society of Guinea operates on a gerontocratic basis. Older persons enjoy a privileged status because of their important role in the extended family. They are not only factors for social order and justice, they also establish social cohesion. The recognition of this status means that the younger generation is obliged to guarantee full support to older people. The family forms a security shell in which older persons see their major needs satisfied.
As a consequence of urban migration and other economic circumstances there is a need for effective policies for protection of the social and health needs of older persons. The Ministry of Social Affairs is the government institution in charge of older persons, and draws up a strategy in that regard.
The lack of a specific policy on older persons has to be noted, however. The Minister of Social Affairs is filling that gap by drawing up annual strategies. These strategies also support NGOs in the society who assist citizens in difficulties. The set of legal provisions in Guinea has taken into account the rights of older persons to housing, health and nutrition.
The progress of science and better living conditions are promoting longevity. The number of individuals over 60 is continuing to grow. We hope that at a world organization for ageing will be established.
MIODRAG KOVAC, Federal Secretary for Labour, Health and Social Policy of Yugoslavia: We desire to prolong life, and we have succeeded globally, provided that we disregard the failures such as wars, major disasters and new communicable diseases. It will not be possible to prolong life unless we improve the very quality of life. What we want to do now is to safeguard the quality and the dignity of prolonged years of life of each individual.
In 2000, people over 60 constituted 18.5 per cent of the population of Yugoslavia. The elderly are predominantly living in a family milieu, but 15 per cent of them live alone. By 2025, one out of four citizens will be over 60 years. The most important aspects of the present system of social welfare for the elderly are: old age pensions and disability insurance, health insurance, war veterans care, public welfare, and family and relative welfare. The integration of all elderly into active forms of life is the essence of the new Yugoslav plan of action. It includes goals of respect for and the dignity of the elderly, concern for their living conditions, housing and other needs, and the exercise of their rights to social and economic security. Other goals are recognition of the need of the elderly to remain in the desired family and social milieu, and respect for the democratic rights of the elderly in regard to religious, spiritual, cultural and other needs.
AMADOU ROUAMBA, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Social Development, Solidarity and Ageing of Mali: Ensuring the place and role of older people has always been the cornerstone of our social fabric. In the early 1990s, we created a ministry to help strengthen our national initiatives on behalf of our elder communities, which has enabled the Government to make significant improvements in the situation of older persons throughout our societies. Our national policy of solidarity has been complemented by a special programme based on keeping older persons in contact with other generations. This will prevent social breakdowns and ensure a society for all ages.
Our policies also include the participation of NGOs, civil society and private sector actors. We have established a research institute on geriatrics, which is recognized by the United Nations Economic and Social Council. I would also like to emphasize the recent creation of a national council of older persons. This is the highest body representing the concerns of older persons in the country. The President of Mali is personally committed to implementing all Government policies towards the development of older persons in the country. This was exemplified by our recent celebration of the International Day of Older Persons.
Despite our efforts to participate fully in international meetings on the elderly, our contributions will remain somewhat limited due to the country’s economic difficulties. Therefore, particular emphasis must be put on eradicating poverty in general, as well as poverty among the ageing. We also feel that the revised Plan of Action on Ageing under consideration should deal with the eradication of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other diseases. We realize that very little that is given to African countries to address situations specifically relate to ageing on the continent. We call on the wider international community, donor countries and international financial institutions to commit themselves to helping our countries’ efforts towards ensuring policy advancements in the name of our elder populations.
SITI ZAHARAH SULAIMAN, Minister of National Unity and Social Development of Malaysia: We believe that the family is a basic unit of society and the primary source of nurturing, caring and providing support for the sick, the disabled and older people. For this reason, emphasis is placed on strengthening of the family unit. Institutionalization of the elderly is seen as the last resort. To encourage families to care for older persons, the Government has allowed for tax deductions for the payment of medical expenses. It has also established community-based day-care centres, as well as homes for older persons who are destitute.
The Government has allocated a sufficient budget to ensure that all groups of the population, including older people, have the opportunity and the means to participate in the development process. Our plan of action outlines the provision of health care for older persons, with emphasis on: community-based services and geriatric care; social and recreational activities; safe housing; research and development; and advocacy programmes. Steps are being taken to acknowledge the productive capabilities of older persons and their contributions to national development. We have extended the retirement age for employees in the public sector and provided opportunities for retraining, life-long education and employment of older people.
A significant emerging trend is the feminization of ageing, which also presents a great challenge to us. Women tend to outlive men. This increasing number of elderly and ageing women has social, economic and cultural implications on policy and programmes. This emerging trend has to receive due attention, and appropriate measures have to be taken to ensure that older women, in particular those who are single, have affordable access to the necessary services and facilities.
With regard to the ageing issues at hand, Malaysia wishes to implore the United Nations and its various organizations to undertake further research into the prospect for such issues as ageing, and productivity. Member States with various cultural, racial and religious characteristics can share their experiences in that regard.
ALI NAGHIYEV, Minister for Social Security and Labour of Azerbaijan: Despite some achievements, the situation on ageing now requires new policies. This Assembly shows that international cooperation and solidarity is a very important factor. Azerbaijan has undertaken a programme for rendering assistance to vulnerable people, in particular older persons. Comprehensive social protection of the older person is a high priority of the Government. The numbers of older persons has increased by 3 per cent in Azerbaijan. Ageing, therefore, raises additional problems to social services. The people have placed the greatest value on respect for the older persons for centuries.
The Government has adopted important legislation. A fundamental element of its strategy is to strengthen measures to combat poverty and increase social protection. Pension reform is taking place as well. Numerous international organizations have assisted in a number of projects to solve the problems of older persons. There is, however, a need to improve the quality of such joint activities in order to achieve more effective results.
Despite all measures the Government is taking, the problem requires even more attention because of the presence of refugees and forced migrants. Armenia had occupied more than 20 per cent of Azerbaijan which resulted in a flow of refugees and forced migrants, often living in tents. The most vulnerable part of that group is the category of older persons. Housed in temporary camps, they have limited access to medical services and nutrition. Despite measures, the situation of those older persons remains a difficult one. The guarantee of social protection to older persons provided by the State must be supported by the international community, among other things, through respect for the territorial integrity of the State.
GHADA AL-JABI, Minister for Labour and Social Affairs of Syria: What is sometimes adopted as a criterion of development does not always represent the reality of the human aspiration to a better life for various social segments, particularly those whose needs require more attention by the community. The availability of social care requires first that a single standard should prevail regarding the rights of people and States to enjoy the basic human rights provided for in international charters, especially the respect of independence. We are witnessing the gross violation of human rights in Palestine, the Golan and southern Lebanon through the continuous Israeli occupation.
Syria, in collaboration with international and regional organizations, continues to pay great attention to the social question. An accelerating rate of longevity moves parallel to a process of modernization of the economic, political and social structures, a notable decline in mortality rates, a decrease in fertility and a comparative retreat in the rates of natural population growth. In light of all this, there is an increasing need to take effective and essential measures to prepare for the coming socio-economic implications, particularly relating to the issue of caring for the elderly. This care falls on the shoulders of the State, the family and the community at large.
Syria has drawn up a national plan of social and health care for the aged, which aims at: preservation and promotion of the health of older persons; improvement of their economic and social conditions; promotion of awareness of their needs, ensuring their welfare; provision of psychiatric care; and research and study. There are 20 houses caring for ageing and disabled people in Syria. Ageing people benefit from the services offered by the State to all citizens without any discrimination, guaranteed by law.
ERNESTO PAZMINO GRANIZO, Vice-Minister of Social Welfare of Ecuador: While it has become obvious that the world’s increasing population of older people has become a topic which governments and NGOs must urgently address, in many States, older communities remain invisible and very little is being done to ensure that they benefit from social policies that can enhance their lives. To ignore the needs of the elderly is tantamount to a violation of their rights. It is also an inexcusable waste of historical and cultural resources that could benefit all humankind. Very little has been done since the First World Assembly on Ageing held 20 years ago in Vienna, particularly in poor countries. Here in Madrid, then, we must make it a priority to address the relationship between ageing and development.
We believe that global development policies must be created and we must ensure that older people and representatives from elder communities are included in the elaboration of such strategies. We must also eradicate stereotypical and discriminatory attitudes, so that growing old will be seen as a positive experience. Attention must be given to poor or marginalized people, particularly those living in rural areas. Governments must work with civil society in order to adapt national policies for the benefit of their older populations. We must also work to ensure that gender balance is included in all policies and programmes. Ecuador, like many developing countries, has many unique problems that hamper many of our efforts to ensure stable social security and development.
The number of elderly has doubled over the last 20 years. Their income generally comes from social assistance and social security programes run by the State. Our new Constitution aims to shore up our social development frameworks and places particular emphasis on the creation of a sustainable pension system. Other recent legislation is being adopted which will ensure that the principles of the Constitution can be carried out.
I must emphasize that international actors and donors must cooperate with poor countries to devise a plan so that they can alleviate the heavy debt burdens they bear. Ecuador uses more than half of its resources earmarked for development towards debt payments. This situation is untenable and a solution must be found if poor countries are to live up to their international commitments. This will require industrialized countries to live up to their international commitments and meet the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product (GNP) for official development assistance (ODA).
DARIA KRSTICEVIC (Bosnia and Herzegovina): Today, there is definitely much more awareness of the problems associated with ageing than in 1982, when the First World Assembly on Ageing took place. And yet, ageing has not been receiving adequate attention from the international community. The Second Assembly is called upon to rectify this situation.
As a post-war society, my country is facing a situation that is much more complicated than in other countries. Following the armed conflict and ethnic cleansing, over 1 million people have been displaced, and many thousands are dead. Most older persons live with their families. The majority of the older persons’ homes have been damaged or destroyed. In my country, protection of persons over 65 years of age is guaranteed under the law, but many legal provisions are difficult to implement because of the damage suffered as a result of war. The Government does not have sufficient resources to address the social problems in the country, including those of older people.
The process of population ageing is very fast in both developed and developing countries, but the developing countries have much smaller resources to face the challenges associated with this phenomenon. We call upon the international community to provide assistance to the developing countries in dealing with the emerging difficulties. It is important to ensure that people everywhere age with dignity. Health care, income security and full participation must be among our top priorities. We are responsible for creating the global society of tomorrow.
JENNI NANA (New Zealand): New Zealand is a Pacific nation of just over 3.7 million people, 16 per cent of whom are 60 years old and over. By 2050, the proportion of older people will have doubled to 32 per cent. That change will be all the more significant because it will be accompanied by increases in the ethnic and social make-up of our elderly communities. In the future, New Zealand’s older populations will include higher percentages of Maori, as well as Pacific and Asian peoples. All those groups will have different aspirations and expectations. We also expect that older women will be more likely to have had a long employment history, while older men will have experienced greater diversity in their professional lives. Older persons are expected to be healthier, more skilled, better educated and more active than ever before.
It will, therefore, become increasingly important to monitor the changing characteristics of this population so that policies for older people can be tailored to promote positive ageing. That concept embraces a number of factors, including health, financial security, independence, self-fulfilment and personal safety. The premise that underpins the notion of positive ageing required that the years of "old age" be both viewed and experienced "positively". Promoting positive attitudes towards ageing is the first step to achieving this goal.
Positive ageing begins at birth and policies to that end should support people to lead active and productive lives as they grow older. Such policies should also promote the participation of older persons in the economy of their communities. Supporting continued participation in old age has benefits for all members of society. It is, therefore, important that Government policies address a range of issues, including employment, health, housing and income support, with the aim of enhancing the overall ageing experience. To this end, my Government has developed a positive ageing strategy, launched last April. The strategy sets out the Government’s commitment to positive ageing and has included a review of existing policies and services to ensure consistency with the principles of positive ageing. It is a living document, which requires all government agencies to identify "work items" each year that can contribute to the achievement of priority goals.
PRAK SOKHONN (Cambodia): With hardly 5 per cent of the population over 60 and more than half under 20, Cambodia can be considered a young country. The situation is a result of a lengthy period of troubled years that caused the death of many men and women during the Khmer Rouge regime, and also by the baby boom of the 1980s. By 2020, the percentage of older persons may not exceed 7 per cent.This does not mean that Cambodia does not realize the problems of ageing. Poverty and technological change directly affect the problem of the ageing. Average life expectancy is 54 and the average income is barely a dollar a day.
Cambodia must focus its efforts to overcome the past and to combat poverty. With the Ministry of Social Affairs, Labour and Veterans in the front-line, the Government is pursuing projects for the elderly based on the principles of the United Nations conferences and summits. It is encouraging cooperation with NGOs, as well as with the private sector to ensure sustainable improvement in the quality of life of older persons. The Government is contributing to ensuring the perpetuation of traditional values of the family and the communities, which has held up remarkably despite the war, to guarantee older persons their support and participation in society with the dignity they deserve. But sometimes children are too poor to provide their elders with the required support.
Older persons in Cambodia work as long as they can. They help each other and benefit from mutual assistance, which is traditional in the village. Another characteristic is the outstanding role the pagodas play in society. They are not only sites of religious observance but also are centres for getting together and solidarity for village communities. They provide older persons with friendly centres in which socializing is combined with social work. Building a society for all ages requires not only the solidarity of all generations but also of all nations. The developing countries, and in particular the poorest countries, are, therefore, counting on international solidarity to turn their aspirations into reality.
GRACE MUZYAMBA, Director of Social Welfare, Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare of Zambia: Older people are a valuable segment of Zambian society. The Government of Zambia continues to put in place policies and programmes aimed at addressing their well-being. It is reviewing its national population policy to incorporate issues of ageing. The social welfare programme will also be refocused in order to spell out the special needs of older persons. Zambia is already implementing one of the major safety nets by addressing the basic needs of vulnerable older persons.
Zambia upholds the fundamental principles of the family as the main social unit. The Government is promoting the role of the family in the care of its older members and protection of their rights. Due to the poor economic situation in the country, in which about 70 per cent of the population are living in poverty, Zambia’s traditional support system for the aged has been seriously eroded. Changing cultural values, compounded by the effects of globalization, are also undermining traditional values of respect and support for older persons. As a consequence, some of them are left to fend for themselves. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has also had a negative impacted on the well-being of older persons and on support services for them.
MANFREDO KEMPFF SUAREZ (Bolivia): Sadly, a few years ago, my country would not have been represented at an international conference on the issue of ageing. Malnutrition in infancy, lack of education and, particularly, the horrible working conditions in the mines and fields wiped away any thoughts our people had about growing old. Times have changed, though. And as living standards have risen, so has our average life expectancy. Because of our growing population of older people and their call to our Government that they want to remain in their communities, we are now happily compelled to participate in all international forums aimed at ushering in a new era for the entire world -- the era of active ageing.
As we attempt our best to answer that call, we will in turn call on the wider international community to help us reverse trends that have led to poverty and underdevelopment in our country. We are not asking for gifts. We are asking for markets. Access to markets will give us the chance to stabilize our economic and social situations while continuing important and innovative efforts to fight drug trafficking.
In Bolivia, the majority of our elderly population lives in poverty. Moreover, 55 per cent are illiterate and have no access to alternative education programmes. Most receive very low incomes and do not own homes. While they do live with their families, they also suffer from high incidents of abuse. They lead an appalling existence of marginalization and isolation. Some years ago, there were nomadic tribes in the Amazon who left their older people to die in the jungle when they could no longer walk. That is a sad but true example of the way older people were treated. That is not what we want for our elder communities today. Indeed, we value the contributions of our older populations and we have worked to ensure that seniors are integrated into society. We have a national plan for older persons which promotes the participation of civil society in implementing initiatives to ensure sustainable development and the protection of our elder populations.
ABDULLAH SIRAJ (Jordan): The world has never before witnessed such an increase in the number of older persons. In this context, the convening of the Assembly presents an opportunity to take stock of the policies and programmes implemented at various levels. Meeting the needs of older people is linked to social development issues. In order to achieve numerous objectives of catering to the needs of older people, developing countries must face many constraints. Therefore, it is important to take into account their particular economic and social needs.
The political complexities of meeting the needs of older people are exacerbated by armed conflict and foreign occupation. This is illustrated by the situation in the Middle East, where elderly Palestinian people are subjected to unprecedented abuse. Displacement, detention, killing and destruction of cities, villages and refugee camps constitute a flagrant violation of human rights. The international community must put an end to such a situation. Israel must realize that there is no solution in the use of military force, and return to the negotiating table. It should implement the decisions of international legitimacy to put an end to the occupation of all occupied territories.
Jordan bases its attitude towards the elderly on its traditions and the tenets of Islam. Solidarity and cohesion within the family are considered to form one of the pillars of social unity. In this context, Jordan depends on the extended family system, which provides the elderly with care and protection within their own environment. A national plan for the elderly aims to increase the capacity of care centres and voluntary institutions, as well as giving encouragement and support for charitable organizations. We also encourage research of the phenomenon of ageing and creation of clubs for the elderly people and geriatric clinics. Access to services and comprehensive health insurance are also among the country’s priorities. We are also making efforts to enact legislation for the protection of the older people.
LULIT ZEWDIE MARIAM (Ethiopia): When the first World Assembly on Ageing met 20 years ago, the issue of ageing was perceived as a phenomenon of the developed world because the majority of older persons lived there. Today, due to a dramatic demographic transformation, the developing countries have become home to the majority of the world’s older persons. This sudden change, together with already rampant absolute poverty and meagre resources in these countries, pose great challenges to their institutional capacity in addressing the issue.
In 1994, out of the 60.5 million people in the country, older persons constituted about 3.2 million, around 5.2 per cent. The majority of them live in rural areas and their needs are catered for by a traditional extended family system. However, due to the rapid growth of cities, the family system is taking on a new dimension. Thus, families in urban areas cannot afford to provide adequate support for the elderly. Older persons are being abused, neglected and abandoned to fend for themselves. The issues and needs of older persons in Ethiopia are enormous and compounded by poverty and underdevelopment. Therefore, measures taken to address the issue should focus on tackling the socio-economic problems of the country and should proceed at various levels, incorporating a poverty alleviating growth strategy.
Ethiopia has established the National Association of Older Persons. It is working closely with the United Nations Programme on Ageing, HelpAge International and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). While the Government is the major responsible body to provide services to older persons, a number of efforts are also being exerted through partnerships with NGOs, religious institutions, local organizations and individuals to address the needs of older persons.
SONIA ELLIOT (Guyana): As we have gathered to re-commit ourselves to efforts to enhance the situation of older persons, an important element that has emerged during the review of the First World Assembly on Ageing has been an emphasis on the human-rights approach to ageing. This approach supports the freedom and dignity of all persons irrespective of age, as well as the inviolability of all human rights -- civil, political, economic, social and cultural. It also promotes the right to development in order to provide an enabling environment at both national and international levels. A human rights perspective can contribute significantly to initiatives aimed at empowering older persons. Moreover, ensuring the promotion of human rights is even more necessary in a globalizing economy, where the cultural significance of older persons is dismissed and they are seen merely as passive recipients.
The skills and family contributions provided by the elderly are continually called into question or overlooked altogether. Many countries are witnessing the increasing divide between youths and the elderly, as rapid changes transform traditional values and cultural practices. While recognizing the positive impact of economic growth on the welfare of all persons, including the elderly, we have learned the important lesson that such growth should not be at the expense of social inclusion. Isolation, disabilities and other vulnerabilities already contribute to the exclusion of older persons.
Supporting multi-generational relationships will also require attention as our populations continue to age. In Guyana, the family and community continue to play a significant role in reducing the social exclusion of older persons. However, family structures are changing, with poverty reducing the capacity to remain home and care for older persons. More and more persons are living alone. We must create long-term policies on ageing rather than simply analyse the situation of older persons. In focusing on individual lifelong development, greater attention could also be given to promoting a lifetime approach to health, education, employment and skills training.
CHANDRA WICKRAMASINGHE (Sri Lanka): Women represent the majority of Sri Lanka’s ageing population, as their life expectancy is higher than that of men. While the elderly population is rapidly increasing, the growth of the labour force is going to show a decline. In this situation, countries like Sri Lanka will have to focus mainly on the provision of adequate welfare and safety for the elderly and the absorption of the adverse impact of the ageing population with all its attendant implications on overall development. These problems will have to be resolved within the existing social and cultural framework and pressing financial constraints.
Most elderly people in Sri Lanka live in rural areas. In the villages, they remain in extended family settings, assisting in income-earning activities that are mutually supportive. In urban families, however, the elderly people have to face loneliness and other problems stemming from insufficient family incomes, coupled with a high cost of living. Exacerbating the problem in Sri Lanka are internal and international migration and the ethnic crisis, which has created feelings of insecurity in the minds of older people.
Sri Lanka started addressing the issues of increasing elderly population as early as the 1940s, when the Government appointed the Social Service Commission to look into the problem of destitute elders. The National Committee on Ageing, which functions under the Ministry of Social Welfare, has been established to assist the Ministry in policy-making and the formulation of national plans and programmes for the welfare of elderly people. Participating in the work are non-governmental and voluntary organizations. The national policy on elderly people is focused on ensuring independence, participation, care, self-fulfilment and the dignity of older persons. Among the measures introduced in the country are legislation for the protection of the rights of the older people; the establishment of the national council for the elders; and creation of a national fund for their welfare.
MOHAMED ELARABY AL DAOUDI, of the League of Arab States: The youth of yesterday are the elderly of today. The secretariat of the League of Arab States has been making significant efforts to implement the Plan of Action adopted by the First World Assembly on Ageing, organizing seminars and undertaking studies on the matter. A model law has been prepared for member States to review and upgrade their legislation on the issues of ageing. Following the creation of national plans for the elderly, the secretariat has been promoting numerous actions at the national and pan-Arabic level.
Islamic law stresses that respect for the elderly and their dignity are sacred duties. Among the priorities promoted by the League is support for the family and care for older people within their home environment. Due to the strong family structure and respect for religious and traditional values within our societies, most elderly people in Arab countries live with their families. It is important to take into account the needs of the older people and allow them to actively participate in the life of society. Prior to the Second World Assembly on Ageing, the Arab States convened a regional meeting to review the results of the implementation of the Vienna Plan of Action and the Arab Plan of Action for the Elderly of 1993. The particular cultural and religious characteristics of Arab States were emphasized at that meeting.
Israel is destroying the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority -- the Palestinian people’s legitimate leadership, headed by Chairman Yasser Arafat. Flouting all international covenants and laws, it perpetrates barbaric acts against the Palestinian people. The elderly people now have to take care of the families of martyrs. The women and the elderly belong to the most vulnerable. The international community must help them, putting pressure on Israel to end its barbaric practices. I call on the United Nations to provide the technical and material assistance to Arab States to implement their plan for the elderly.
DALMER D. HOSKINS, Secretary-General of the International Social Security Association: For the Association, the Second World Assembly on Ageing is an event of very real importance. Indeed, the older persons are at the centre of all national social protection policies. Ageing affects all branches of social security protection, including sickness insurance, family policies, disability and unemployment insurance, and pensions.
As many speakers have already stated, social security should not only survive, but can and should be further strengthened. Its sustainability is closely linked with continued economic growth, and with steady improvements in productivity, employment and decent work. A viable social security system can, in turn, make a critical contribution to continuing economic progress and social justice.
Despite the successes of social security to date, large numbers of people, particularly in the developing world, are not adequately covered by social protection schemes. This can only further exacerbate the problems of poverty in most developing countries. It is important to study the extent of the gap in coverage in different societies around the world, to strengthen the capacity of social security institutions in all parts of the world and to promote cooperation among social security institutions. The Association has collected a unique and ever-expanding information system relating to social security programmes, which is available on the Internet. It stands ready to cooperate with the United Nations in the implementation of the Plan of Action.
GARY R. ANDREWS, Convenor of the Valencia Forum: In Valencia, we gathered under the auspices of the International Association of Gerontology, more than 500 of the world’s leading researchers, educators and practitioners in the fields of ageing for the primary purpose of providing the delegates of this Assembly with a sound evidence base to support your most important deliberations. The Valencia Report has been distributed.
The Forum pointed to the hard evidence linking poverty and health with ageing and proposed possible approaches to dealing with the most fundamental element of those plights. A new vision of ageing was proposed that accepts the prospect of achieving healthy, active, productive, successful and positive ageing to the very end through lifestyle modifications and interventions. At the same time, the need to provide for appropriate, cost-effective quality care and services is called for. The Forum also put forth the social and economic trajectories linked to the processes of ageing and the challenges associated with maintaining well-being during later life for all citizens. Data on gender issues, elder abuse, social and environmental constraints associated with ageing and the true value of an ageing population were presented, among other key issues. The messages are clear, it is for you to take heed of them.
The Research Agenda on Ageing for the Twenty-first Century is designed to support the International Plan of Action and identifies priorities for research and data collection. It also encourages researchers to pursue studies in policy-related areas of ageing. I urge the Assembly to accept the Research Agenda as the voice of the global research and academic community, and to use it as a powerful tool to facilitate the achievement of the objectives of the Plan of Action. Some priorities identified are: research into the relationships between population ageing and socio-economic development, identification of current practices and options for maintaining material security into old age, research into the basic biological mechanisms and age-associated disease, and research into quality of life and ageing in diverse cultural, socio-economic and environmental situations.
HELEN HAMLIN, Chair of the Committee on Ageing of the Conference of the NGOs on Ageing: The Committee on NGOs is an association of national and international NGOs on the enhancement of the role of civil society in the work of the United Nations. Issues of ageing are a necessary concern for the world today. The revised Plan of Action that has been debated for the last 20 years has been developed as a result of the hard work of Member States and the wider United Nations family. It has been fought over and wept over. For it to be effective, it must have strong means or measures for governments to respond to its principles, as well as to requests of the United Nations. We must ensure that the Plan of Action is given recognition and high priority in government programmes at all levels. The issues and concerns of the world’s ageing populations must be kept at the top of the development agendas of all international actors. To effect immediate implementation of the Plan, governments must make serious efforts to see how the goals can be reached, within their abilities.
We request follow-up mechanisms of this Assembly on the level of that of other United Nations conferences and meetings. This includes a full-scale decade review. Due to population growth and the rapid demographic and social changes under way, we also recommend that there be regional reviews in the interval. To implement these initiatives, many NGOs have recommended that a special rapporteur on the issue of ageing be appointed. That recommendation has met with broad acceptance. We also believe that the Assembly should work to specify an Action Plan based on the United Nations Principles on Older Persons. This is perhaps the only basis for ensuring the recognition and promotion of the social, cultural, political and human rights of older people.
ESTHER CANJA, President of the American Association of Retired Persons: The Association believes that the Second World Assembly on Ageing, through the adoption of an International Plan of Action on Ageing, can stimulate efforts to address the concerns and contributions of older persons in the developed and developing world. We welcome the new Plan and recognize the important impact it can have on developing sound and measurable policies on ageing worldwide. However, we feel strongly that the Plan must be more than a published document. An effective implementation mechanism is critical, one that requires participation, partnerships, commitments and leadership by governments, NGOs and the private sector alike.
The American Association of Retired Persons wishes to emphasize the opportunities of later life and the need to raise awareness of age discrimination, given a larger population of older persons. We hope that the Assembly will bring leadership and energy to addressing the opportunities of population ageing with full integration and empowerment of older persons in societies throughout the world.
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