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Should we push for a UN Convention for older people?

06 May 2010

Louise Cripps, HelpAge's Rights Policy Intern, writes about the impact of UN conventions and whether this justifies a push for a convention on older people's rights:

Today, Kenya is reporting in their first Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations. HelpAge is urging the Human Rights Council to address older people's rights, which currently, they do not consider in the Universal Periodic Review Process. However they do consider and address the rights of women, children and persons with disabilities. Why? Could it be because there are existing conventions for these groups?

What is the impact of UN conventions?

So, with this in mind we can ask: what impact do UN Conventions actually have? When thinking about how best to protect and promote the rights of older people is a convention the necessary next step?

Older people are often the most vulnerable and marginalised within society and their rights are being violated across the world. Should organisations such as HelpAge International spend time pushing for a UN Convention on the Rights of Older People? Or, should we be focusing on other ways to enable older people to be treated equally; with dignity and respect.

Luckily, there have been previous conventions established to emphasise the rights of other groups of people discriminated against. We can, therefore, look to these to see what impact they have had on the groups of people they are trying to protect.

Past conventions have mainstreamed women's issues

Looking to The Convention on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women adopted in 1979, we can see that it has affected women's rights in a variety of ways over the past 30 years. According to the UN it "defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination."

By introducing this convention on women's rights more States have set up new laws protecting women's rights and outlawing discrimination. For example, Kenya has introduced a new Employment Act, which prohibits discrimination and harassment based on sex. Kenya has also refined and redrafted various bills such as the Family Protection Bill which addresses domestic violence in the family setting.

This convention has brought acceptance of women's rights into the mainstream of most societies. The UN Development Fund for Women stated "women's human rights are now becoming national standards." It is this widespread acceptance of rights on the national level that would be so desirable for older people.

We can also look more recently at The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was adopted in 2006. This convention also enforces the rights of an often looked down upon and sometimes disregarded group of people within society. This convention is still in its infancy, but is already affecting current legislation.

The European Disability Forum highlights the fact that "Disabled people are no longer considered as victims or patients; they are persons with rights and a full role to play in society." This recognition and international acceptance empowers the group of people involved, which would clearly be a desired consequence for older people too.

A convention on older people rights?

A convention on older people's rights would recognise the rights of older people and lead to international acceptance of the importance of the role older people play within society. Perhaps most significantly, it would lead to the revision of existing discriminatory legislation, and the implementation of new legislation enforcing older people's rights.

At this stage we can only envisage the advantages such a convention could bring to the lives of older people across the globe. But on the evidence of the conventions that have gone before, the benefit to the lives of older people would be great, and certainly great enough to continue to advocate for the creation of a convention.

Read more about HelpAge's work on older people's rights

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Author profile

Bridget Sleap
Country: UK
Job title: Senior Rights Adviser, HelpAge International

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.