Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged governments to institute measures to provide greater support to a growing number of older people, saying they played an important role in society as leaders, caregivers and volunteers, yet they faced discrimination, neglect and abuse.
“The key interventions are well-known: granting universal access to social services; increasing the number and worth of pension plans; and creating laws and policies that prevent age and gender discrimination in the workplace,” Mr. Ban said in a message to mark the International Day of Older Persons, the 20th year that the day is being observed.
“With five years left before the 2015 MDG [Millennium Development Goals] deadline, it is time for governments everywhere to institute the financial, legal and social protections that will lift millions of older persons out of poverty and ensure their rights to dignified, productive and healthy lives,” the Secretary-General said.
The global population of older persons is expected to rise to two billion by 2050, a significant shift in the world’s demographic profile, Mr. Ban said.
He said the United Nations has long fought for the rights and well-being of older persons, and to make their voices heard.
“On this year’s observance, we celebrate hard-won achievements, especially those related to the Millennium Development Goals. In many countries older persons have benefited from reduced rates of poverty and hunger, improved access to medicines and health services, and greater education and work opportunities,” Mr. Ban said.
Yet, he added, progress has been uneven, as it has been for the MDGs overall in all countries and regions.
In countries hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, it is often grandparents who are left to care for AIDS orphans, the Secretary-General said.
In sub-Saharan Africa, he added, 20 per cent of rural women aged 60 and older are the sole supporters for their grandchildren. They take on added and often unexpected responsibilities, typically with little or none of the necessary resources and desperately need social services, especially social pensions.
Observing that two-thirds of the world’s older people live in low- and middle-income countries, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on Governments to introduce social pension schemes for older people and to adopt adequate measures in areas such as housing, health, transport, access to water and personal security to ensure that they are not discriminated against or left unprotected.
“We must all accept the inevitability of ageing,” she said in her message. “What we do not have to, and must not, accept is that old age brings with it lesser access to, and enjoyment of, the full range of human rights.”