Press Releases

    SOC/4617
    15 April 2002

    SPEAKERS AT AGEING ASSEMBLY IN MADRID ADDRESS
    ISSUES OF INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY, WOMEN
    AND CONSEQUENCES OF CONFLICT

    MADRID, 12 April -- The Second World Assembly on Ageing this morning heard speakers address issues of international solidarity, women and the consequences of war for social policies on ageing as it continued its general exchange of views.

    Poverty, social exclusion, poor health, physical and mental disability, and increasingly unaffordable costs cast shadows over society as a whole, the Minister of Social Affairs of Liechtenstein said. However, while the ageing of populations was no doubt a challenge, it was too often perceived exclusively as a threat.

    To find solutions to numerous challenges posed by ageing, it was necessary to pay more attention to the positive aspects of longevity, he continued. The resources that older people had in store for society, their knowledge and practical experience needed to be explored. The goal must be a society in which all ages not only fitted in, but formed a whole, characterized by inter-generational interdependence and solidarity.

    The Minister for Social Action of Paraguay said if people were seen only in relation to their worth in the labour market, a dignified life for them would not be achieved. Often, attempts were made to force older persons to join the labour market, but improving the quality of life involves meeting the overall needs of older persons, not only their material needs, and also providing a sense of belonging. Social protection policies must recognize that broad view of the standard of living.

    The principle of justice in the free market economy was inadequate and detrimental to efforts to ensure equal opportunities for all, he said. There was a need for a more effective solidarity. Three concrete measures could contribute to affirming that: the elimination of tariff barriers, compliance with official development assistance targets and implementation of debt-relief initiatives.

    Referring to the wars his country had to fight, the representative of Eritrea said coping with the immediate challenges of daily survival remained the major preoccupation of the people. The dismal situation of wars and poverty had kept average life expectancy in his country at 46 years, a figure that prevailed a century ago in the world at large. It was thus a very small proportion of the population who got to enjoy the blessings of a long life. The rehabilitation and reintegration of elderly refugees and deportees, moreover, required the country to cope with the diverse psychological, economic and health needs of them.

    Addressing problems of older women, the Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy of Poland said men and women should share equally in opportunities society offered for economic security in old age. The most difficult task would be to eradicate two main sources of inequality -- the lower earnings of women that meant lower retirement benefits, and a shorter working life of many women, mainly due to their combined family and professional roles. Furthermore, the retirement age should be the same for men and women.

    Echoing other speakers, the Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Policy of Bulgaria said that her country was currently reforming its social services system. The purpose of the reform was to create a new approach to care, shifting it from institutionalized towards community-based services.

    Ministers from Nicaragua, Zimbabwe, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau and Myanmar spoke as well, as did representatives of Estonia, Togo, and Trinidad and Tobago.

    The Second World Assembly on Ageing will meet again at 3 p.m. to conclude its general exchange of views and to adopt the Assembly’s report, the Political Declaration and International Plan of Action on Ageing 2002, and a resolution expressing gratitude to the host country. It will also consider the report of its Credential Committee.

    Statements

    AURELIO VARELA AMARILLA, Minister for Social Action of Paraguay: The challenge of development in a globalized and ageing world is such that we must make the necessary changes in order to foster the welfare of all. Economic growth is indispensable to development, but does not improve the welfare of everyone. Policies to distribute welfare for all, including older people, children and migrants, are crucial.

    One cannot seriously think of a system of social protection if the institutions in the social sector are weak and uncoordinated. If we see people only in relation to their worth in the labour market, we will not achieve a dignified life for them. Often, attempts are made to force older persons to join the labour market, but we must look beyond their worth as a part of the labour force. Improving the quality of life involves meeting the overall needs of older persons, not only their material needs, and also providing a sense of belonging. Social protection policies must recognize that broad view of the standard of living.

    We should also mention that the principle of justice in the free market economy is inadequate and detrimental to efforts to ensure equal opportunities for all. There is a need for a more rational and ethical principle of equity: solidarity. Poverty, inequality and social exclusiveness have shown that cooperation among individuals and among nations is essential. What we need is not arrogant solidarity, but sincere and rational solidarity. The future calls for more effective solidarity. Three concrete measures could contribute to affirming this: the elimination of tariff barriers, compliance with aid targets and implementation of debt-relief initiatives.

    NATALIA BARILLAS DE MONTEIL, Minister of Family Affairs of Nicaragua: Given the social and economic vulnerability of our country, it can not meet all of the needs of older persons. We are providing old persons’ homes, cafeterias and clubs, and encouraging integration into the family to avoid the institutionalization of older people. We are also trying to improve the services provided by our institutions, and have begun implementing a strategy of economic growth and poverty reduction which seeks to ensure the economic sustainability of older persons so that they can remain in the family.

    Older persons contribute to the family’s economic output in Nicaragua and also to the economy of the country. They take care of their grandchildren, if their children have migrated to seek better living conditions elsewhere. The Ministry of Health provides health services, but is lacking resources for complete coverage. We have been seeking to meet the fundamental needs of our population, but have come up against the constant obstacle of poverty. Despite our efforts, the economic crisis has become even more severe than in the past, and this has especially affected older persons.

    We welcome the possibility of sharing our experiences and welcome the commitments of donors and international organizations to increase their contributions to poorer countries. My Government will attempt to implement the agreement reached at the Second World Assembly on Ageing to the extent it is able, and invite all other nations to combine their efforts in this respect.

    JULY G. MOYO, Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare of Zimbabwe: My country has been constrained by the lack of resources in our efforts to provide for our increasing ageing population and to ensure that older persons have full access to their rights, as enshrined in the Principles for Older Persons. Older persons aged 60 years and above are about 5.3 per cent of the total population. The number of older persons is increasing while that of children has progressively been decreasing. The proportion of people with disabilities increases with age. For this reason, my delegation is pleased that the Plan of Action sees the link between poverty and ageing, particularly in the developing world.

    In Zimbabwe, the impact of HIV/AIDS on older persons has been acknowledged. Older persons face a major problem of providing care and support for the sick, who usually revert to being cared for by their ageing parents. By the time the person with AIDS dies, they will have used up most of their resources, leaving the older persons who have cared for them, poorer. Older persons also face the challenge of caring for children orphaned as a result of AIDS.

    The present agrarian reforms being undertaken by the Government have demonstrated that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the young and professional classes are eager to engage in agriculture. This phenomenon will ensure that agriculture will no longer be a means of subsistence, but a major agro-industrial development that will be an important factor in the poverty alleviation which is necessary for the well-being of older persons. Programmes being implemented to assist older persons include: provision of free food and nutrition, care and protection; provision of free medical treatment and shelter; legislated care and protection for older persons; and income security. We are, however, constrained by the lack of resources to support them in income-generating activities and appropriate educational and training programmes. Developing countries need financial assistance, and Zimbabwe welcomes the outcome of the Conference on Financing for Development.

    XINIA CARVAJAL, Minister for the Status of Women of Costa Rica: Over the last decade, demographic changes in my country have occurred, and older persons over 60 now make up 9 per cent of the population. We have been transforming the historic reality of older persons, which in the past has been characterized by poverty and difficult conditions. We believe this transformation can come about if there is political will at all levels in countries around the world. The plans and strategies we have drawn up will allow our good intentions to become real, permanent change. One should encourage the participation of older persons in society, and then work out a multidisciplinary strategy.

    We have drawn up a concrete programme of change in several sectors. In education, we have developed programmes for the training of health personnel, developed a plan for the accreditation of care facilities to ensure their high quality of service, and supported training for medical persons. We are now providing health care for 65 per cent of older persons. Regarding transport, we have reduced the cost of tickets for older persons, and encouraged their participation in civil society. We are establishing a forum to prevent the abuse of older persons. Older persons need commitment and support from the State, which must coordinate actions with the private sector. People grow older and their needs change and certain rights must be respected.

    HANSJORG FRICK, Minister of Social Affairs of Liechtenstein: Poverty, social exclusion, poor health, physical and mental disability, and increasingly unaffordable costs cast shadows over society as a whole. However, while the ageing of populations is no doubt a challenge, it is too often perceived exclusively as a threat. We should not come here merely to add to the list of complaints about the historic demographic transformation we are witnessing.

    Individual and societal problems brought about by ageing must be addressed and analysed carefully. To find solutions to numerous challenges posed by ageing, however, it is necessary to pay more attention to the positive aspects of longevity. The resources that older people have in store for society, their knowledge and practical experience need to be explored. Prejudices against older persons should be reduced, and opportunities created. Our goal must be a society in which all ages not only fit in, but form a whole, characterized by inter-generational interdependence and solidarity.

    My country is in the fortunate position of being able to offer its older generation a healthy environment and good living conditions. A dignified existence for those who did not achieve prosperity during their working life can be guaranteed thanks to the existing social security system, including guaranteed access to medical care and social services. Among the issues that require attention are the needs of immigrants who go into retirement. With the foreign-born population amounting to over 30 per cent of the entire population, Liechtenstein is naturally expecting a substantial number of retired immigrants.

    KRYSTYNA TOKARSKA-BIERNACIK, Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy of Poland: Society cannot be truly democratic if age is used to divide people into "haves" and "have-nots", and into those who are provided with care and those who are deprived of it. In 2000, over 16 per cent of the Polish populations was aged 60 and over. Thirty years from now, that percentage will be 26 per cent. In view of the approaching demographic peak of the elderly, the Government has been pursuing policies to ensure social security for the present and future older generations. The realization of a society for all requires not only the elimination of any discrimination based on age, but also taking positive action towards a society of solidarity. These two principles should be applied together with the principle of individual diligence and responsibility for one’s life.

    Senior citizens should enjoy adequate social security and should be empowered to fully participate in society. Combating poverty in the older generation should progress in two directions simultaneously: assisting those who have already fallen into poverty, and enabling the young and the middle-aged to secure an adequate income for themselves once they retire. Men and women should equally share in the opportunities society offers to provide for one’s economic security in old age. The most difficult task in this regard is the effective eradication of two main sources of inequality: the lower earnings of women, which in turn result in lower retirement benefits; and the shorter working life of women, mainly caused by their need to combine family and professional roles.

    Government policies should create incentives for the elderly to continue employment beyond retirement age. Furthermore, the retirement age should be the same for men and women and early retirement should be reduced, if not eliminated altogether. Work is presently under way on an act on volunteer service to encourage greater activism by and for senior citizens.

    GILBERT OUE’DRAOGO, Minister for Social Action and National Solidarity of Burkina Faso: This conference is important for our country and developing countries in general, who are working to achieve sustainable human development. In our country, progress in health has allowed us to increase life expectancy levels. In the past, ageing has not been a particular problem, because older persons were cared for within family groups. Now, however, economic and social changes have given rise to poverty and marginalization, particularly in the older population.

    Reports resulting from two studies conducted in Burkina Faso show that those without the necessary social networks suffered from exclusion. The lack of a care network leads to deficiencies in health, food, housing and recreational activities. We have developed social promotion and development strategies, which will be adopted in May. They will promote healthy and sufficient food, cooperation, grain banks and other necessities for older persons. They will also encourage physical fitness through walking, the development of recreational areas and the strengthening of income levels through training. The strategies will also work to combat social exclusion and strengthen structures for income-generation, as well as social insurance structures.

    In the future, we will be establishing a national council for older persons, and upgrading expertise in the field of ageing. The experiences we have exchanged in the last few days will help each country in its approach to the problem of population ageing.

    BELA HEJNA, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of the Czech Republic: A key aspect of current demographic trends in the Czech Republic is the shrinking population, due to natural decline and a sharp drop in the birth rate. In the last five years, the post-productive segment of our population has been larger than the pre-productive segment.

    A significant consequence of population decrease is the gradual ageing of the population, which in future will be the greatest demographic problem faced by the Czech Republic. The percentage of the population aged over 60 is expected to rise, and there will be a long-term shrinking of the population group aged 15-59. We have not managed to avoid problems associated with population ageing -- problems other developed countries also face.

    In December 2001, our Government approved the draft fundamental principles for the National Programme of Preparation for Ageing as a binding framework for elaborating the Programme. The document has now been completed, and once it has been supplemented to include the conclusions of the Second World Assembly on Ageing, it will be submitted to the Government and approved during the first half of this year. The Programme will be in effect for 2003-2007. The National Programme aims to create a favourable social climate to tackle the problems of ageing and change attitudes and approaches at all levels, resulting in a "society for all ages". Population ageing must be understood not only as an objective reality, but also as a challenge for society, which must be ready to tackle its problems. Necessary conditions must be developed in all areas of society, and individuals must be responsible for their own preparations for old age. The National Programme is therefore aimed at society as a whole -- the young and middle-aged, and older persons themselves.

    BUBACAR RACHID DJALO, Minister of State and Representative of the President of Guinea-Bissau: In our ages-old African culture, we honour older people and recognize their important contribution to society. This international meeting is an excellent opportunity for me to voice my concern over the conditions of poverty, in which millions of older people live in developing countries, their solitude and despair, as well as over the retirement homes where people in developed countries are "stashed away". We are duty-bound to seriously consider the needs of those people, putting an end to their dehumanization.

    We also need to think about the plight of older Palestinian people, and we need to adopt a resolution of solidarity with them. Measures also need to be taken to support developing countries and our programmes to address the needs of vulnerable groups of population, including older people. In my country, we are adopting programmes to ensure good living conditions for them. Let us all work to ensure that our elders may live -- and live well.

    CHRISTINA CHRISTOVA, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Policy of Bulgaria: Ageing affects all spheres of economic and social life in my country: health care, employment, labour markets, social protection and economic growth. In countries in economic transition, like Bulgaria, this process is accompanied by a decrease of the income of the population, which requires special measures to adapt to the situation. Our policies should encourage social integration of ageing persons and their active participation in economic and public life. Special attention and efforts should be directed towards meeting the needs of the elderly people living in rural areas.

    In 2000, Bulgaria undertook a profound pension reform, making the pension insurance system obligatory for all employed and self-employed persons. Various legislative acts have been adopted to develop the system. To supplement the compulsory State system, voluntary social insurance is also available to people. The country is also undertaking a reform of its social services system, which aims at creating a new approach to care, shifting it from institutionalized towards community-based services. We have a good tradition in home-care services, which will be further developed.

    A working group has been established within the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy to examine the best practices of European Union member States as far as ageing is concerned and analyse the United Nations strategy in this respect. A national report is being prepared on Bulgaria’s policies towards elderly people, covering all aspects of life, including social insurance, possibilities for employment, life-long learning, health care, social services, culture and recreation.

    U HLAING WIN, Deputy Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement of Myanmar: Our society is made up of extended families comprising senior relatives who traditionally receive care from their children, grandchildren and relatives. According to our religious teachings, cultural traditions and social code of conduct, Myanmar people have a high regard for older people. Therefore, the affairs of older people do not constitute a serious social problem in Myanmar. For those older people who require special care for various reasons, homes for the aged have been established by religious and voluntary social organizations. The State provides rice, funds for food and clothes and salaries for the administrators of those homes.

    The country’s elderly health-care project is aimed at increasing the accessibility of geriatric care services. At present, the project covers 34 townships, providing the needed equipment and offering basic health-care training courses for medical personnel and the elderly themselves. In collaboration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), various other activities are also carried out, including the collection of data on the elderly and recording their health-care status.

    Government servants in Myanmar may serve until the age of 60, which is the age of retirement. Afterwards, they are entitled to gratuity and pension under the relevant rules and regulations. The State may, if necessary, continue to employ retired skilled and experienced personnel or appoint them as advisors. Apart from the Government service, retirees also serve in other capacities. A large number of elderly persons are now serving in important positions in NGOs, voluntary organizations, companies and business firms. Under the social security act, workers covered by the scheme are entitled to free medical care and cash benefits.

    ANDRES TOMASBERG, Estonia: Estonia is one of the most rapidly ageing nations in Europe. At the beginning of 2002, 15 per cent of the population was 65 years or older, compared to 11 per cent in 1989. At the same time, the percentage of young people under 14 had decreased by more than 20 per cent.

    Population ageing results in significant changes in the society’s socio-economic and political situation. Needs and consumption structures change, and the burden on the public sector tends to increase. In September 1999, our Government approved the "Basics of Estonian Senior Citizens Policy". Its priorities include: offering assistance to ensure that older persons remain active; promoting opportunities for activity and creativity; creating opportunities to participate, decide and bear responsibility in different political levels; promoting the value of voluntary work; and assisting families to help in caring for members.

    The purpose of the programme is to prevent senior citizens from being socially excluded and provide them with equal opportunities to actively take part in social life. It also aims to improve the coping skills of older persons in a changing world, improve social welfare services and inform the general public about ageing issues. In future, greater emphasis will be laid on voluntary work, and the activities of various senior citizen organizations will be supported. Home care for older persons will be prioritized and nursing care will be improved. Considering the rapid ageing of the population, we have initiated pension reform, whereby the State pension system will be supplemented with private-funded pensions.

    TANTE-GNANDI ADJA (Togo): In Togo, some 240,000 people, or 6 per cent of its population, are 65 years or older. This figure could reach 10-12 per cent by the year 2025. Older persons in rural areas are mostly farmers, tradesmen and shopkeepers, without resources after completing their working lives, although another smaller group has some retirement pension. In rural areas, in particular, we are seeing changing attitudes that are harmful to older persons. These have led to reduced family and social solidarity, which has been exacerbated by the social and political upheaval of recent years.

    We need to promote conditions to ensure that the rights and freedoms of older persons are actually respected. Twenty years have passed since the First World Assembly on Ageing took place, and now is the time to take steps. Much has been achieved, but major challenges remain before we achieve a "society for all ages". Our Assembly should help us to identify the way to human and sustainable development.

    I would like to stress a phenomenon which has important consequences for ageing in general -- the policy of sanctions. Because of sanctions exercised against certain countries, those nations are having difficulties upholding the principles of social justice. We would invite the international community to review this policy.

    ANTONIA POPPLEWELL (Trinidad and Tobago): My country has been guided in its policies and programmes for older persons by the International Plan of Action and the United Nations Principles for Older Persons, which we view as blueprints for the development of policies and programmes that advance the cause of older persons, especially in light of statistics which indicate that the majority of older persons live in developing countries. In this regard, Trinidad and Tobago wishes to associate itself with the statement made by Venezuela on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, in particular to the reference made to the obstacles that prevent developing countries, including small island developing States, from fully participating in the global economy.

    In Trinidad and Tobago, persons 60 years and over account for 9 per cent of the population. By 2020, this figure is expected to increase to 15 per cent. My country has had a long history of providing social security for older persons, via public transfers to persons 65 years and over. Over the past five years, we have progressively increased the welfare grant to older persons. A task force has been established to review pensions. Free health care is provided for all citizens at the public health institutions. Improvement is needed in the delivery and quality of this service, and in the area of preventive and rehabilitative health care. In the area of housing and supportive environments, the Government has adopted a policy of making available to older persons apartments at a very low cost. A number of NGOs also provide care for older persons.

    On the issue of the family, we have not been spared the impact of industrialization and urbanization, as evidenced by the number of women entering and remaining in the labour force. This has affected the ability of the family to meet the traditional role of caretakers of older family members. The Government has established a geriatric adolescent partnership programme to train and sensitize young persons in care of the elderly. An area that requires further development is social and community care of older persons. The proposed Division of Ageing will facilitate this process.

    ANDEBRHAM WELDEGIORGIS (Eritrea): Eritrea is a young country risen from the ashes of a protracted war of liberation and one of national defence. Coping with the immediate challenges of daily survival remains the major preoccupation of our people. The dismal situation of wars and poverty has kept average life expectancy at 46 years, a figure that prevailed a century ago in the world at large. It is thus a very small proportion of our people who get to enjoy the blessings of a long life.

    The Government has launched a programme of emergency recovery and poverty reduction, with a wide range of all-inclusive social services, designed to uplift the human condition and nurture a society for all ages. Traditional culture holds the elderly in high esteem as the repository of experience, wisdom and moral authority. The extended family structure of society provides collective care and protection for the elderly. A preliminary needs-assessment indicates that, with improvements in adult education and basic public health care, the number of old persons is growing and that they have a variety of needs. The rehabilitation and reintegration of elderly refugees and deportees in particular, require coping with diverse psychological, economic and health needs.

    Eritrea, as a young nation, is faced with many challenges. It has made the strategic choice to build upon and strengthen the traditional roles of the family and the community to ensure a reliable and self-sustaining safety net for its older persons. State intervention aims to combine the integration of the elderly with income-generation so as to safeguard their self-esteem, respect and independence. Obviously, the country needs and deserves international support for its efforts to nurture a communal safety net that ensures economic security, social protection and human solidarity for its elderly.

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