Commission for Social Development
Acting as Preparatory Committee for
Second World Assembly on Ageing
2nd Meeting (PM)
IN WAKE OF GREAT ADVANCES IN PROLONGING LIFE, RESPECT FOR LIFE HAS BEEN LOST,
PREPARATORY MEETING FOR SECOND AGEING ASSEMBLY TOLD
Just as the world was beginning to make great advances in prolonging life, a reverence and respect for life had been lost, the Commission on Social Development acting as the Preparatory Committee for the Second World Assembly on Ageing, to be held in Madrid, Spain in April 2002, was told this afternoon.
Meeting through 2 March for the first of two sessions, the Preparatory Committee plans to revise the International Plan of Action on Ageing, first adopted in Vienna in 1982, beginning with negotiations on the portion entitled "Strategy for a society for all ages". Amid growing concern over the intensifying speed and scale of global ageing, the Committee’s aim was to advance the global ageing agenda beyond the 1982 Plan of Action and address the dramatic force of population ageing and its impact on development and institutions, particularly in the developing world.
During the general discussion today, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See said that the taking of life had become, in some places, an acceptable option. For many older persons, such changes in legislation or medical practice, or the threat of those changes, had become a new source of fear and anxiety. Living longer must never be seen as an exception, a burden or a challenge. Rather, it must be recognized as the blessing that it was. Older persons enriched society. For its part, the United Nations must help all people, especially older persons, build upon the past and advance into the new millennium. Indeed, “a society of and for all ages” must be the goal of the family of nations, now and for the future.
The challenge was to “add life to years -– not just years to life”, the United States representative asserted. The task was complex. The developed countries must address the challenges of societies that were already old; the developing ones must find ways of meeting their special circumstances. For countries with economies in transition, there must be solutions for the elderly who had borne the heavy weight of change. The world had never known the challenges and benefits associated with so many people living so long. Much needed to be learned and defined, beginning with “what is old” and what constituted an ageing society. The draft revised action plan not only reflected recent complex and myriad changes, but showed a sensitivity to development issues. Particularly welcome was the shift from an illness and dependency model to one of wellness and independence, with an emphasis on productive and active ageing.
2nd Meeting (PM)
The representative of the Russian Federation stressed the need for a new attitude towards old age. The later period of life should be viewed as yet another stage in an individual’s development. Older people had the right to choose their way of life and continue to work and master new skills. In the Russian Federation, older people were not treated as second-class citizens. Nor were they expected to create an extra burden for the working population in the near future, as the number of working-age people was expected to grow until 2015. The members of the older generation were seen as the carriers of valuable life experience and keepers of cultural and moral values
Representatives from four non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also addressed the Committee today: the International Federation on Ageing; HelpAge International; International Federation of Associations of the Elderly; and International Longevity Centre. The representative of the International Federation of the Associations of the Elderly said that bold scientific and technical progress had fostered the development of a new approach to ageing. In particular, people should not be “catalogued and parked” according to their age. A flexible approach would permit people to choose their way of life. The NGOs were prepared to offer practical solutions during the preparatory process.
Among the key concerns was the need to integrate ageing into the wider development agenda and to ensure that the updated action plan was linked firmly to that agenda, the representative of HelpAge International, a global network of some 200 mainly southern-based NGOs, urged. New policy frameworks were needed, which defined older people as a resource and recognized their substantial and often undervalued contributions to families and societies around the world. Indeed, older people formed an essential part of rights-based development schemes.
Statements were also made by the representatives of Chile on behalf of the Rio Group, Guatemala and Sudan. A representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) also spoke.
The Preparatory Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 1 March, to conclude its general discussion.
Preparatory Committee Background
The Preparatory Committee for the Second World Assembly on Ageing, to be held in Madrid, Spain from 8 to 12 April 2002, met this afternoon to continue its general discussion aimed at revising the 1982 International Plan of Action on Ageing.
During its first of two sessions, the Committee will focus on revising the action plan, adopted in Vienna in 1982 (document E/CN.5/2001/PC/2, annex) and on beginning negotiations on a portion of the text entitled "Strategy for a society for all ages (document E/CN.5/2001/PC/2, annex, sect.I).
Among its other objectives, the Committee hopes to decide on the accreditation and participation of non-governmental organizations in the World Assembly and its preparatory process. Also to be negotiated are the draft provisional rules of procedure of the World Assembly, as well as on a draft decision on the Assembly's organization of work. (For further details see background Press Release SOC/4568 of 23 February.)
RICHARD LEETE of the Population and Development Branch of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said everybody was aware of the demographic imperatives the world faced and their attendant challenges. Population ageing had become a phenomenon of major significance to all societies at the dawn of the twenty-first century. The large proportions of older persons in the more developed countries attracted a great deal of supportive concern. By contrast, relatively little attention had been directed to the rapidly changing population structure in less developed countries. In the past, preoccupation with rapid population growth had overshadowed age composition, but the scale and extent of population ageing in developing countries was beginning to shift the focus. In fact, most of the elderly lived in the less developed regions now.
Significant policy challenges had emerged regarding meeting the needs of people, he continued. Among those challenges were the needs to promote lifelong education and training and healthy and active ageing; support for the older people providing care for their grandchildren orphaned by HIV/AIDS; and strengthening support systems, welfare coverage and social services for the elderly. It was also necessary to examine the role of governments in providing a supportive framework for fostering responsible media, improving societal perspectives on ageing, and promoting informed public debate.
A consistent objective of the United Nations approach to population ageing had been to reorient thinking about individual and population ageing, and to identify the opportunities for integrating ageing into a broader development framework, he said. The UNFPA’s strategy on population and ageing was guided by the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the recommendations endorsed by the General Assembly at the time of that Conference’s review in 1999. Currently, the UNFPA was actively involved in the preparatory activities leading to the Second World Assembly on Ageing. It was planning an expert group meeting on ageing later this year, in collaboration with the United Nations Programme on Ageing of the Division for Social Policy and Development of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).
Speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, EDUARDO TAPIA (Chile) said that
20 years had gone by since the international community had adopted the International Plan of Action, an important step forward in setting the general principles of policies towards older persons. The international reality had undergone significant changes since then, and the revised Plan of Action needed to take that into account. New challenges needed to be met in an integrated manner, together with development and eradication of poverty.
It was important to improve the living conditions of older people, avoiding turning them into a burden to society, he said. Older people should be allowed to provide an active contribution to social life, and efforts needed to be made to respond to the needs of all members of society. Maintaining development in a world that was getting older and ensuring the well-being of older people were among the priorities before the international community today.
The recommendations before the Committee established a proper basis for future work, he said, but further debate was needed on the scope and framework of the revised text. New international realities needed to be assessed in order to undertake appropriate measures. In that respect, it was important to take into account the needs of the developing world. Also, participation of civil society, including the private sector, should be emphasized. The structure of the World Assembly should combine broad participation of government actors and representatives of civil society.
LUCRECIA de SCHIPPERS (Guatemala) said the national goal concerning the ageing population was to promote volunteer work through self-help groups and social services and facilitate actions and projects at the departmental, national and local levels. Her Government had identified the following paths of action, among others: awareness-raising and training; and inter-institutional coordination and participation. In order to create the right environment for all ages, the Government’s basic strategy had been to transform the population’s view of ageing into a positive phenomenon and to create solidarity among the generations. “Spaces of communication” should also be evolved to make it possible for the family, community and society in general to reap the benefits of its older members.
BETTY KING (United States) said the draft of the revised Action Plan not only reflected recent complex and myriad changes, but showed a sensitivity to development issues -– issues that were not dealt with in the original Plan. In particular, she supported the shift from an illness and dependency model to one of wellness and independence, with an emphasis on productive and active ageing. The care and security of the vulnerable, frail and dependent members of society would be an essential part of the Committee’s deliberations and plans. Meanwhile, technological and medical advances enabled many older citizens to contribute to society well into their eighties. The challenge was to “add life to years –- not just years to life”.
She said the document emphasized older women and their special needs and concerns. Nevertheless, it was important to stress in greater depth the policy implications and potential solutions associated with the fact that women outlived men. Women were more likely to have a greater need for health care and other services and might be more likely to live in poverty. The results of the Committee’s work would hopefully have an impact on the work of the Commission on the Status of Women when it met next week.
The task was complex, she went on. The developed countries must address the challenges of societies that were already old. The developing countries must look for solutions that met their special circumstances. For countries with economies in transition, there must be solutions for the elderly who had borne the heavy weight of change. The world had never known the challenges and benefits associated with so many people living so long. There was much that needed to be learned and defined, beginning with “what is old” and what constituted an ageing society. The voices of older people must be heard in developing solutions that would enable them to live in dignity.
She said that the fastest growing segment of the American population was 85 years and older. In 1998, that segment was 33 times greater than it had been in 1990. In the United States, minority populations were projected to represent 25 percent of the older population by 2030. Those were some of the challenges facing her country. Indeed, the advent of an ageing society was a challenge that would be faced by all, sooner or later. The opportunity to work together to devise guidelines and strategies to assist in the long run was welcome.
RENATO R. MARTINO, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said that older persons wanted to have their voices heard and their specific concerns addressed. At the same time, they might not want to be seen as having come to the end of their lives. As Pope John Paul II has stated, “it remains true that the years pass quickly, and the gift of life, for all the effort and pain it involves, is too beautiful and precious for us ever to grow tired of it”. Why would so many older persons in the developed world end their days abandoned or forgotten in a care centre or nursing home while so many in the developing world viewed old age with reverence and respect? he asked.
He said it was horrible to think that just as the world was beginning to make great advances in prolonging life, a reverence and respect for life had been lost. It seemed impossible to believe that the taking of life had become, in some places, an acceptable option. For many older persons, such changes in legislation or medical practice, or the threat of those changes, had become a new source of fear and anxiety and could weaken the fundamental relationship of unconditional trust which they had a right to place in those whose mission was to care for them.
Living longer, he said, must never be seen as an exception, a burden or a challenge. Rather, it must be recognized as the blessing that it was. Older persons enrich society. For its part, the United Nations must help all people, especially older persons, build upon the past and advance into the new millennium. In its discussions, the Committee should bear in mind that older persons had simply reached a new stage in their lives; everyone must understand the significance of instilling an attitude of “a society of and for all ages”. That sort of society must be the goal of the family of nations, now and for the future. The United Nations must prepare the world to respect the human dignity of older persons and enable their full participation.
BABIKER A/RAHIM BABIKER, Member of the Board of Trustees of the Sudanese Society in Care of Older People, said that since the first Assembly on Ageing, the strategy concerning older persons had evolved. During the preparation process for the second assembly, it was important to see how the rights of older people fit in the greater scheme of things. Ageing should be addressed within the framework of development, and it was important to build institutions promoting family, health and education, guaranteeing the rights of older people.
In Sudan, older persons were traditionally respected, he said. Customs stressed the need to respect one’s parents and older people in general. Older people had the guarantee that they would be cared for by their families. Retirement homes were also available. Sudan was adopting its own strategy towards older people, making efforts to create employment opportunities, reduce taxes and ensure income for older people. The State made use of the experience of the older people, attaching great importance to the country’s ageing population.
ALEXEY CHERVONTSEV (Russian Federation) said policies towards the elderly had turned into one of the priorities for the international community. A new attitude towards old age was needed, which would allow for viewing the later period of life as yet another stage in the development of an individual. Older people had the right to choose their way of life and have an opportunity to continue to work and master new skills. The older generation could also volunteer to work for the good of society. A dialogue between generations was needed to overcome stereotypes towards older people.
In his country, older people were not treated as second-class citizens, he continued. In Russian labour legislation there was no discrimination on the basis of age. People were allowed to continue working while receiving their pensions. Tax regulations also did not discriminate against people of retirement age. It was important to create a favourable cultural environment for the older people to participate in public life.
In Russia, as in the rest of the world, the group of people over age
60 was the fastest growing one, he said. What was specific for Russia, however, was the fact that older people were not expected to create an extra burden for the working population in the near future, for the proportion of people of working age was expected to grow until 2015. The members of the older generation were seen as the carriers of valuable life experience and keepers of the cultural and moral values.
Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)
MARY MAYER, International Federation on Ageing, said her organization represented more than 50 NGOs. The Second World Assembly was an unparalleled opportunity to continue to meet the basic needs of older persons. It was also an opportunity to recognize that those persons were a valuable resource in the community and society. Many of the recommendations in the 1982 action plan had remained important priorities, including areas such as income security, employment, housing, health and education.
She said that new issues had emerged, including the removal of age barriers which excluded older persons from employment and income-generating activities. It was also important that human rights norms be applied to older persons. They should also be included in the planning and implementation of relevant programmes. Further, assistance should be provided to the grandparents around the world who had to assume primary responsibility for their grandchildren. Specific data on older persons was also needed. Finally, those involved in forced migration should be assisted.
The Second World Assembly must strive to link policies on ageing to issues of social and economic development, she said. Failure to do so would undermine any programme of action. Partnerships between governments and civil society should also be strengthened. Increasing longevity was a central issue, with women outnumbering men. The “oldest old” were predominantly women. Member States must therefore address the conditions they faced and formulate plans to assist them. Monitoring and implementation schemes for the action plan should also be developed. Finally, a simultaneous NGO forum to complement the World Assembly was most important, as was the credentialing of NGOs.
MARK GORMAN, HelpAge International, defined the organization as a global network of some 200 mainly southern-based NGOs. There were cogent demographic, economic and human rights arguments for integrating ageing issues into financing agendas and for responding to ageing as a modern phenomenon that cut across all boundaries. Among the key concerns was the need to integrate ageing into the wider development agenda, and ensuring that the action plan was linked firmly to that agenda. New policy frameworks were needed which defined older people as a resource and recognized their substantial and often undervalued contributions to families and societies around the world.
Indeed, he said, older people formed an essential part of rights-based development schemes. The action plan should strengthen their inclusion, participation and full protection under national and international law, and ways should be found to integrate their views into consultative processes. The issue demanded new thinking about the relationship between developed and developing countries, as well as those in transition. Poverty, poor health and social exclusion traversed all boundaries.
ALBERT MAGARIAN, of the International Federation of the Associations of the Elderly People, said the second assembly on ageing should propose achievable objectives, which should not be the same for the developed and developing
countries or countries in transition. Traditional and cultural peculiarities should also be taken into account. Scientific and technical progress in the new Millennium allowed the development of a new approach towards ageing. People should not be "catalogued and parked” according to their age. A flexible approach was needed, which would allow people to choose their way of life. The NGOs were ready to make their contribution to the preparatory process by bringing practical solutions to problems.
NORA O’BRIEN, of the International Longevity Center, said the second assembly could build on the theme of the 1999 Year of Older Persons. It was in the self-interest of the developed world to integrate the developing world in its development policies, for the world economy and marketplace could not function well in the face of extremes, crises and inequity. It was vital to promote peace, wealth and health throughout the world.
The pervasive socio-economic consequences of ageing had not been tackled yet, she continued. It was necessary to promote policies to advance the status and rights of older people. That required additional financial resources and a powerful partnership between civil society and international corporations. Such partnerships should specialize in fund-building, develop basic infrastructures, promote utilization of science and technology and wider availability of micro-credit. They should also use macroeconomic models to promote the understanding of ageing and encourage international cooperation to promote international research against major diseases. She also advocated creation of international volunteer cores on health and teaching, as well as the organization of cultural exchanges. Individuals should also participate in the discussion of the problems of ageing.
* *** *