HelpAge research reveals diversity of discrimination against older people around the world

On 10 December 2013, Human Rights Day celebrates 20 years of the United Nations' achievements – highlighting for the first time on this landmark day the rights of older people. HelpAge International is marking the occasion with new research that reveals the wide range of human rights violations experienced every day by many older women and men around the world.

We surveyed older people in Mozambique, Peru and Kyrgyzstan about their experiences across the human rights spectrum. Information on the extent to which older people enjoy their human rights in these countries is rarely available. A majority of respondents said they had experienced at least one form of abuse or discrimination because of age including:

  • Violence and abuse – emotional, financial, physical and sexual
  • Neglect and malicious accusations
  • Detrimental, humiliating and degrading treatment
  • Denial of the right to health care
  • Discrimination in employment and access to financial services
  • Denial of the right to social security with no access to a pension or other social security
  • Denial of everyday essentials such as food and water

The findings capture the experiences of 100 older men and women in each country:

Not treated with dignity:

Across the board older people report a lack of dignity in the way they are treated (Mozambique: 47%, Peru: 43%), humiliated (Moz: 51%, Peru: 45%), pushed around (Moz: 47%, Peru: 31%), and many felt that what happened around them was beyond their control (Moz: 29%, Peru: 31%).

Barriers to healthcare:

Respondents in all three countries reported experiences of discrimination in or barriers to accessing healthcare - with the Peruvian respondents facing particularly severe challenges:

  • No healthcare within 30 minutes travel time (Peru: 56%)
  • Denied treatment because of age (Peru: 30%)
  • Given worse healthcare because of age (Peru: 41%)

Pensions are not enough:

Even though 86% of respondents in Kyrgyzstan receive a pension, 79% of them reported a lack of access to everyday essentials such as food, water, shelter, clothing and heating with 39% claiming this is because of their age.

Access to work:

In Peru, 43% of the older people surveyed had been refused work because of their age.

Feeling unsafe:

In Mozambique, 61% of respondents did not feel safe from crime – 74% of respondents have experienced one form of crime, violence or abuse since the age of 50.

Financial most experienced form of abuse:

In Peru, 68% of the older women and men surveyed had faced financial abuse.

Tony Palomino, runs a drop-in centre for senior citizens in a low-income district in Lima, Peru:

"Older people in Peru face discrimination in many different areas: in work but also in health, abuse and denial of food and water. People want to see real progress in wages and job security and not only hear that Peru is the best economy in the region or will be a first world country in 10 years. There are families that have been living off of soup kitchens and other assistance programs for 20 years and usually the mother and father both work. This has to stop. There need to be changes that allow for concrete improvement."


The survey shows that negative, ageist stereotypes are prevalent across all different social, economic, and cultural contexts. The research dispels a number of myths:

  • Discrimination on the basis of old age is not just confined to things such as employment: The results of the survey suggest that discrimination cuts across every aspect of older women and older men's lives.
  • Ageist discrimination is not limited to any particular culture or society: regardless of where they live, older women and men can be subjected to negative, prejudicial attitudes because of their age.
  • Elder abuse is not just a private, family matter but a public concern: Whilst the vast majority of older women and men in the survey reported experiencing violence and abuse at the hands of family or community members, very few are reporting this to the authorities or getting any support. This makes it a public concern.

Bridget Sleap, Senior Rights Policy Adviser at HelpAge International, who oversaw the research:

"Governments have responsibility to protect women and men wherever they chose to live whether in their own homes or in private or public institutions. Just like with domestic violence against women and child abuse, States have a responsibility to change harmful, prejudiced stereotypes against older women and men that result in violence and abuse, and to provide the support and access to justice for older women and men who have been subjected to different forms of violence and abuse.

"This does not seem to be happening as the vast majority of older women and older men who reported experiencing forms of abuse did not tell the authorities or seek redress for it. This suggests that the perpetrators are acting with impunity."

Tackling discrimination – solutions

HelpAge International has a number of innovative projects and initiatives to combat discrimination and to ensure a fairer society in which older people can flourish. In Mozambique, HelpAge has developed activities to address the issue of elder violence:

  • Theatre of the Abused: Based on the Theatre of the Oppressed, interactive plays drawn from local experiences and performed in schools, at festivals and campaign meetings to lobby Government and Parliamentarians. At the end of the play the audience is invited to say what should happen next.
  • Volunteer paralegals trained and recruited to educate people on human rights and older people's rights and to support people to resolve conflict or to seek redress.
  • Photo exhibitions of older women who have experienced abuse chronicling their stories of accusations of witchcraft, theft, abandonment by their families, physical abuse from family members, expulsion from their homes and abuse by health staff.

Age Demands Action campaign: Over 200,000 older people across 60 countries each year are challenging age discrimination and fighting for the rights of older people. On 1 October on International Day of Older Persons, almost two thousand people took part in ADA across Mozambique. 500 older campaigners attended an Old Age Forum with guest speakers from the Ministry of Women and Social Action and the Provincial Government of Maputo-Province. In addition, a series of workshops took place in schools theatre sessions performed at community level, and health fairs. As a result of the campaign, the Mozambique government made a commitment to a new law for the promotion and protection of the rights of older people.


Notes to editors

1. Available for interview:

  • Bridget Sleap, HelpAge International
  • Janet Duffield, Mozambique
  • Tony Palomino, Lima, Peru
  • Nader Al Farra, HelpAge International, Gaza

2. Download the research:

3. Civic awareness:
The study also highlights a Low awareness of rights: 58% of the respondents in Peru had no knowledge of the Universal declaration of Human Rights.

4. A new Independent Expert: The Human Rights Council has created the new position of Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, to take up the post in March 2014. This appointment of an independent expert who can assess the situation of older people's lives from a human rights perspective is long overdue. It is also recognition by Member States and the Human Rights Council that the existing international human rights framework has not adequately addressed this area of human rights. The new mandate will deepen our understanding of the unique challenges that older people face in relation to their rights and the measures needed in both law and practice to effectively respond to these challenges.

The creation of this mandate does not, however, preclude other much needed measures to strengthen the protection and promotion of the rights of older persons in the future, including a new legal instrument.

5. Age Demands Action for Rights ( now in its seventh year, this global grassroots campaign is calling for a UN convention on the rights of older people. With a combination of political influencing, public awareness and petition signatures, older people are making leaping steps forward towards a new convention.

Gaza: On Human Rights Day, at least 150 older people will be demonstrate outside the office of representative of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East, Robert H. Serry, presenting evidence of violence against older people. A campaign activist will hand over a petition to the UN Coordinator, calling for the UN convention on the rights of older.

6. Sign the ADA petition for a new UN convention on the rights of older people here ( Older people have the right to protection from all forms of violence and abuse as well as from all forms of discrimination. However, the human rights obligation on governments to protect people from elder abuse is not explicitly articulated in existing international human rights law. A patchwork of national legislation, policies, strategies and plans that differ from country to country undermines the universality of human rights and every woman and man's right to freedom from violence and abuse throughout every stage of their lives. For this reason, the adoption of such universal standards within a new UN convention on the rights of older people would provide every government with guidance on how to improve their domestic legislation and practice, including around elder abuse, so that it is in line with international human rights standards.

About HelpAge International
HelpAge International helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives. Our work is strengthened through our global network of like-minded organisations - the only one of its kind in the world.

Contact Bharat Azad ( or Attila Kulcsar at HelpAge International's office in London on +44 (0) 20 7148 7623 (mobile: +44 (0) 7713 567624 or email

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