By Navdha Malhotra
© Frederic Dupoux/ HelpAge International 2011 HelpAge is at the World Economic Forum this week where our Chief Executive, Richard Blewitt, will be speaking about the rights of older people at sessions on "New Models for Ageing Societies" and "Healthy Brains, Bright Economies".
Lack of protection for older people's rights
Despite the undeniable reality that older people are the world's fastest growing population group, there are still not enough legal instruments to ensure that their rights are adequately protected. In fact, there is only one international human rights convention that mentions age discrimination.
While laws mitigating age discrimination do exist in some countries, they are often limited to employment and do not extend to vital areas such as healthcare and access to other social services.
A rapidly ageing population has a wide range of ramifications and will alter the way in which developed and developing societies function. It is essential that policy-makers and leaders at Davos take this opportunity to plan adequately for the changes ahead.
To facilitate this planning, a report entitled Global Population Ageing: Peril or Promise, by the Network of Global Agenda Council on Ageing Society, will be launched at the World Economic Forum this week.
Stronger legal frameworks needed
Richard Blewitt and Dr Alexandre Kalache, Senior Advisor at the New York Academy of Ageing and HelpAge global ambassador, have contributed to the report. Their chapter, Human Rights in Older Age, highlights existing legal frameworks for protecting older people's rights and the need to strengthen them.
To strengthen older people's rights at an international level, various instruments such as the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) and the Open Ended Working Group on ageing (OEWG) have been set up.
A result of the United Nations Second World Assembly on Ageing in 2002, MIPAA is the first global agreement which recognises older people as contributors to their societies. It commits governments to include ageing in all social and economic policies. However, MIPAA is not a legally-binding instrument and its reviews have pointed to the need for a "hard law", rather than an optional mechanism.
The Open Ended Working Group was established in 2010 to reinforce the protection of the human rights of older people. The 2011 OEWG meetings highlighted gaps in relation to older people's rights in four key areas: norms, monitoring, implementation and data collection.
At the OEWG, along with calls for a human rights convention protecting older people's rights, the creation of a Special Rapporteur was explored. HelpAge believes that a Special Rapporteur's mandate would need to be strong, and human-rights based: he or she would make country visits, receive complaints, and report on violations of older people's human rights directly to the Human Rights Council.
Realising the benefits of the ageing trend
In the preface to the Global Population Ageing report, Klaus Schwab, the Founder and Executive Chairman World Economic Forum, says:
"This report is a part of the council's long-term work on the issue and will provide a background for its activities over the next few years.
"If we act now, in a creative and proactive manner, we will have the greatest chance of realizing the potential benefits of the ageing trend - such as utilizing the immense social capital of older people - while avoiding its perils."
We hope that our contribution to the report and our presence at the World Economic Forum will highlight the need for decision makers to do more to realise the rights of older people. It is also a major opportunity to raise awareness of the positive contribution older people make to society.