Older people call for a convention on their rights at the UN


By Sarah Gillam

This week, older people around the world are calling for a convention on the rights of older people, as their governments convene at the UN for the sixth meeting of the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWG).

An older man in his shop in Pakistan. A convention would better protect the rights of older people. (c) HelpAge International

With numbers of people aged 60 and over rising rapidly worldwide, we believe that a new international convention on the rights of older people is the most effective way to ensure that all people, now and in the future, enjoy their human rights in older age on an equal basis with others.

Older people's rights remain invisible

"In Zambia, older people are subjected to degrading and humiliating conduct, repeated insults, ridi-cule and name calling. Accusations of witchcraft cause them emotional pain and, simply because they have grey hair and red eyes, they may be torched or axed to death," said Mwiche Vincent Siwale, 81, a founder member of the Senior Citizens Association of Zambia and a former civil servant.

"The time has come for a convention on the rights of older people, so that governments, especially African governments, can take action to protect older people," he added.

"Older people's rights remain invisible in the international human rights system," said Bridget Sleap, Senior Rights Advisor with HelpAge International.

"Only four out of more than 38,000 recommendations in the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review have specifically addressed discrimination against older people.

A convention will better protect older people's rights

"A new convention will change this. And this week in New York, those governments supporting the convention will outline exactly what they want to see in it, what rights need to be protected and what governments need to do to make this happen," she added.

"Approval of the Convention by the Inter-American region strengthens the case for a UN convention on the rights of older people, so that all of us, no matter where we live, enjoy the same protection of our human rights in older age," added Sleap.

In Vietnam, Pham Tuyet Nhung, 64, from the Vietnam Association of the Elderly, representing 8.4 million members, will be among several older people meeting government representatives in at the OEWG.

Older activists at the UN

They will make interventions and speak at an event on older people's experiences of ageism and discrimination. She said a convention would make a huge difference to the lives of older people in Vietnam:

"An international convention on the rights of older people would provide a legal framework for member states to commit to and implement, meaning that the rights of older people will be much better protected."

In Pakistan, Khalid Saeed, 68, a retired psychology professor from Multan, who will also be attending the New York session, is keen to flesh out strategies older people can use to help them become productive and proactive citizens.

"There is a dire need to identify the problems of older people all over the world and to make proper recommendations for their empowerment," he said.

Holding governments accountable

Esther Wamera, 75, a retired banker from Kenya, who now works for All Saints Cathedral Senior Citizen Association, has led activists to various ministries advocating for the rights of older people.

"Older people are not taken care of properly. Doctors don't want to touch them. They are mostly given painkillers rather than appropriate medication," she said.

"With a convention, governments and regional agencies will be obliged to ratify our global call for older people to be brought to the centre of government policy, provided for in budgetary allocations and factored into all social issues," she added.

Toby Porter, HelpAge Chief Executive said: "Older people themselves have been at the heart of this process, through Age Demands Action, last year delivering their petition signed by 300,000 people, to Mateo Estrémé, the chair of the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing.

"It is critical that older people have an opportunity to be part of and influence a process that is about their human rights."

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