8 February 2008
Economic and Social Council
SOC/4740

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission for Social Development

Forty-sixth Session

6th & 7th Meetings (AM & PM)


IN SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION, SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR REPORTS ON IMPLEMENTATION


OF STANDARD RULES ON EQUALIZING OPPORTUNITIES FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES


Also, Panel Discussion Focuses on Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing;

Discussion Concludes on Theme:  Promoting Full Employment and Decent Work for All


The Commission for Social Development today examined the status of relevant United Nations programmes and plans of action drawn up to promote the well-being of social groups -– specifically, persons with disabilities and older persons –- furthering its mandate to monitor global efforts to ensure sustainable, people-centred development.


At the outset of the meeting, the Commission’s Special Rapporteur for Disabilities, Sheikha Hessa Al-Thani, presented her annual report on actions taken by States to implement the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.  The Rules touch on four priorities -- preconditions for equal participation; target areas for equal participation; implementation measures; and the monitoring mechanism -- and cover all aspects of the social and economic lives of people with disabilities.


Highlighting the results of a two-year global survey of relevant Government initiatives, she said responses indicated that, 14 years after the adoption of the Standard Rules, cumulative implementation of no more than 50 per cent of the actions needed to bring about equal opportunities had been achieved.  “Will it take another 14 years to achieve full implementation?” she asked.


To counter lagging implementation of the Standard Rules, she drew attention to the importance of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 2006 and opened for signature this past March.  It enumerates the civil and political rights of disabled persons, as well as rights-related issues, such as accessibility to education, health and employment.  Political will, national strategies and detailed procedures for monitoring were needed, she added, noting that, in almost every country around the world, political will was far greater than action implemented on the ground.


The Survey unearthed a striking finding:  the discrepancy among the regions, and countries within each region of implementation of the required actions.  Among the five regions, the highest implementation rate was 319 actions; the lowest 4.  Beyond the problem of funding to address such issues was political will.  Without thinking of disability issues as “part and parcel” of poverty reduction and quality education programmes, or mainstreaming them in priority action agendas, the desired results would not be reached.


On a positive note, Sheikha Al-Thani said participation of disabled persons’ organizations in planning and evaluating conditions was “far better” than originally thought, and there was a growing recognition among Governments that organizations for disabled persons had the best understanding of the true needs.


She outlined several recommendations for bringing the deserved attention to disability issues, saying first that the Standard Rules remained applicable.  The Rules were clear guidelines which perfectly complemented the Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons, and thus, should coexist alongside the Convention in all activities concerning the exercise of the rights of persons with disabilities.


On national monitoring mechanisms, she recommended all State parties to the Convention to immediately begin, upon ratification of the Convention, establishing systems to monitor implementation and remedy violations.  Further, those systems should include persons with disabilities who themselves were the best experts of what constituted violations of their rights.


The Commission’s afternoon meeting featured a panel discussion on the “Review and Appraisal of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing:  Regional Perspective”, moderated by Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.


He noted that the Madrid Action Plan included a unique monitoring mechanism, which envisaged a participatory “bottom-up” approach that called on Governments to launch their review processes at the grass-roots level, for instance, by consulting older persons and their organizations and local government officials to get a true picture of what was happening on the ground regarding implementation.  


The panellists were:  Abdoulie Janneh, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA); Marek Belka, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE); José Luis Machinea, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC); Noleen Heyzer, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); and Francois Farah, Chief of the Social Development Section of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).


While the panellists spoke regionally, they shared similar concerns.  They noted that, in almost every country, the proportion of people aged over 60 years was growing faster than any other age group, as a result of both longer life expectancy and declining fertility rates.  The demographic change was seen both as a success story for public health policies and for socio-economic development, but also as a challenge.  The speakers noted that some societies were struggling to adapt, especially in the developing world, to maximize health care and the functional capacity of older people, as well as their social participation and security.


Also today, the Commission concluded the general discussion on its priority theme:  “promoting full employment and decent work for all”.  Participating in that discussion were the Project Manager for the Social Dimensions of Globalization in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, the Minister of Manpower and Migration of Egypt, and the head of the United Nations Section of the Department of International Organizations of the Ministry for External Relations of Angola.


Also speaking on the subject were the representatives of Peru, Romania (youth delegate), Iran and Colombia.


Participating Observer delegations were the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and Inter-Parliamentary Union.


The Senior Policy Specialist, United Nations Volunteers, also spoke, as did the Director, Information, Executive Board and Resource Mobilization Division of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).


Opening the general discussion of the situation pertaining to social groups were State Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs of Slovenia (on behalf of the European Union), and the representative of Argentina (on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR)).


The Commission for Social Development will meet again at 10 a.m. Monday, 11 February, to continue its general discussion of the “review of the relevant United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups”.


Background


The Commission for Social Development met today to conclude its general discussion on the priority theme:  promoting full employment and decent work for all, and to begin its discussion on the review of relevant United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups.  It was also expected to hear the report of the Special Rapporteur for Disabilities.  In the afternoon, the Commission was to hold a panel discussion on the 2002 Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing.


Statement by Special Rapporteur for Disabilities


Sheikha HESSA AL-THANI, Special Rapporteur for Disabilities, delivered her annual report on the state of disability in light of the implementation of Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.  In that role, she had conceptualized her work along four parallel tracks:  monitoring implementation of the Standard Rules; raising awareness of the rights of persons with disabilities; supporting the work of disabled persons’ organizations; and fostering interregional and intraregional cooperation to achieve the full participation of persons with disabilities at all levels.


She carried out that work in various ways, and notably through the development in the last two years of a Global Survey on Government Actions on the Implementation of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.


She provided a glimpse of the Survey’s results, explaining that complete results would be released at a conference later this year.  The Survey asked about 324 actions pertaining to the 22 Rules; those actions represented what Governments were required to do to achieve full equalization of the rights of persons with disabilities in all aspects of life.  Responses indicated that, 14 years after the adoption of the Standard Rules, cumulative implementation of no more than 50 per cent of the actions needed to bring about equal opportunities had been achieved.  “Will it take another 14 years to achieve full implementation?” she asked.


To speed implementation, she drew attention to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, stressing that political will, national strategies and detailed procedures for monitoring were needed.  In almost every country around the world, political will was far greater than action implemented on the ground.


The Survey unearthed a striking finding:  the discrepancy among the regions, and countries within each region of implementation of the required actions.  Among the five regions, the highest implementation rate was 319 actions; the lowest 4.  Beyond the problem of funding to address such issues was political will.  Without thinking of disability issues as “part and parcel” of poverty reduction and quality education programmes, or mainstreaming them in priority action agendas, the desired results would not be reached.


On a positive note, she said participation of disabled persons’ organizations in planning and evaluating conditions was “far better” than originally thought, and there was a growing recognition among Governments that such organizations better understood the true needs.


Among her numerous other activities carried out in 2007, she noted country visits; awareness raising, through participation in various events; advocacy, by promoting legislation to protect disabled persons’ rights; and support for interregional and intraregional cooperation, notably through support for international and regional disability organizations.


She outlined several recommendations for bringing the deserved attention to disability issues, saying first that the Standard Rules remained applicable.  The Rules were clear guidelines which perfectly complemented the Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons, and thus, should coexist alongside the Convention in all activities concerning the exercise of the rights of persons with disabilities.  Regarding statistics on disability, she emphasized the importance of having accurate, disaggregated information on the size, scope, types, and causes of disability, classified by age, gender and socio-economic conditions, among other things.


On national monitoring mechanisms, she recommended all State parties to the Convention to immediately begin, upon ratification of the Convention, establishing systems to monitor implementation and remedy violations.  Further, those systems should include persons with disabilities who themselves were the best experts of what constituted violations of their rights.  To deal with rights violations, she urged Governments and disabled persons’ organizations to view Stockholm’s Office of the Ombudsman as a model for establishing similar structures within their societies, to ensure an efficient way to address violations.


Discussion


Following Sheikha AL-THANI’s presentation, the floor was opened for questions and comments from members of the Commission and representatives of non-governmental organizations.  Delegations praised the work that she had accomplished, particularly the sensitivity with which she carried out her mandate.


Several speakers wanted to know what could be done to boost international and local-level recognition of, and compliance with, the Standard Rules, as well as to ensure that all States signed the recently adopted Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Others asked about the status of the Rules now that the Convention had been adopted.  Would the role of the Special Rapporteur change in any way?  One speaker asked the Rapporteur if she felt she had been provided with adequate resources to carry out her duties.


Responding, Sheikha AL-THANI said that the Standard Rules and the Convention were complementary:  the Rules would not be superseded by the Convention.  Moreover, there was a need for rules and norms for the international community to follow, just as there was a need to provide a legal basis for work carried out in the field.  The Convention set out the legal obligations.


She also believed that properly monitoring implementation of the documents required two dedicated rapporteurs.  If the tasks were combined, the mandate of a single expert might be unwieldy, as it would likely have to be reconfigured or expanded.  Further, there was a role to be played in the area of promoting awareness of the Convention.  On the important issue of resources, she said that States and their Governments must support the work of all United Nations special procedures.  Finally, she urged all States to support both documents.


Statements on Productive Employment, Decent Work


THORALF STENVOLD, Project Manager for the Social Dimensions of Globalization in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, said that ensuring decent work, full employment, respect for workers rights, and promotion of social dialogue had been essential for the political, social and economic development of Norway.  Decent work was a bridge to economic growth and sustainable development, he added.  At the same time, it was necessary to recognize that economic growth did not necessarily guarantee job creation.  It was also clear that, often, such growth eroded worker protections.


It was, therefore, necessary to build on political momentum to put the decent work agenda at the heart of the work of the United Nations.  Indeed, Norway agreed with the call many delegations had made yesterday to put matters related to productive employment on the annual agenda of the General Assembly.  To that end, the Secretary-General should compile a report on Member States’ efforts to meet the goal of full employment for all, and the subject should be regularly reviewed by the Assembly.  In all that, he added, it would be necessary to ensure coordinated and cooperative action among all relevant United Nations plans, programmes and bodies.


AISHA ABDEL HADY, Minister of Manpower and Migration of Egypt, aligning herself with the statement made on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said her country had taken several measures to achieve a more positive social environment conducive to full employment and decent work for all.  Those efforts included signing and ratifying all major labour conventions; reaching a better functioning market mechanism by encouraging national and foreign investments and through microcredit initiatives; adopting progressive polices for employing youth; developing social protection schemes and social security systems for the largest number of workers possible; initiating tripartite dialogue between workers, employers and the Government; and signing the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.


Egypt has recognized the importance of the role of women in social development and was eliminating all forms of discrimination and violence against them, she continued.  It had recently undertaken a pilot project aimed at developing and enhancing the concept of equality of men and women at work.  A comprehensive education reform plan had also been implemented to restructure vocational training and education to serve women better.  She highlighted the important role Egyptian non-governmental organizations had played in creating a better environment for women.  Still, her country faced many challenges, particularly the overwhelming effects of globalization, lack of technology transfer and more progressive technical science and telecommunication skills and immigration and integration issues.  Finally, she suggested that the Commission for Social Development still needed a follow-up mechanism for implementing its decisions and connecting its work with the overall development architecture of the United Nations.


LUIS ENRIQUE CHÁVEZ BASGOITIA (Peru), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, and the Rio Group, said people continued to suffer exclusion as a result of unemployment, gender inequality, a lack of representation, disability and old age.  Among the unemployed, about half were youth between the ages of 15 and 24.  Decent work required the integration of:  labour rights; employment; social protection; and social dialogue.  Decent employment should be at the centre of economic policies, and the United Nations should incorporate more effectively the concept of full employment in its policies and programmes.


In Peru, the struggle against poverty was a priority, and the Government had implemented various programmes to ensure equality, he said.  In that context, he described programmes to promote small enterprises and their formalization in the economy, to encourage public and private investment.  Such national efforts required a favourable environment.  Internal efforts were not sufficient and international cooperation was needed to open markets and eliminate subsidies, among other things.


In that regard, he drew attention to an “emerging labour market” and increased labour mobility, saying that half of all migrants were economically active individuals.  In the coming decades, the number of people who migrated would increase and, in light of that, it was essential to respect migrants’ rights.   Peru encouraged countries to view migrant flows positively, and to recognize their contribution to the economy.  He promoted an “integrated vision” for examining the phenomenon fully, in which acknowledgement of their rights was a fundamental step.  That question should be discussed openly and frankly in the United Nations.  However, much work remained, and the political will of States would be decisive in that regard.


MÁRIO DE AZEVEDO CONSTANTINO, Head of the United Nations Section of the Department of International Organizations of the Ministry for External Relations of Angola, aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, highlighted the Secretary-General’s report recommendation to increase spending in public works, including infrastructure, to generate jobs.  As a country in a reconstruction process, Angola expected that, by year-end, 400,000 jobs would be created in all areas, including the oil industry.  Agriculture was the main employer, due to the reintegration and resettlement of 4.5 million inhabitants.  With the goal of consolidating peace by improving living standards for the most vulnerable, revival of the agriculture sector was a priority.


He discussed various national programmes for promoting full employment, saying that all of them had provided important practical lessons.  The major challenge was to ensure support for rebuilding the livelihoods of the rural poor.  Implementation capacity was extremely weak and required external support.  Project design should be adapted to ongoing changes in the country, and monitoring systems were needed, including gender-sensitive baseline surveys.


He agreed that, with equal emphasis on employment, rights at work and social protection and dialogue at all levels, countries could achieve policy coherence and integrate the decent work agenda into global policies.  No national in Angola should suffer discrimination with regard to employment, education or social benefit.  Men and women were equal within the family, and disability issues were among the top national priorities.  The country also had incorporated into its legal framework most international conventions relating to human rights, including the International Labour Organization conventions.  While Governments were responsible for creating full employment, sustainable financial resources through increased official development assistance and debt cancellation were also needed.


ANDREI MEHEDINTU, youth delegate from Romania, said that a lack of adequate employment affected a substantial share of the young people of his country.  As the report of the Secretary-General pointed out, the problem was due to many changes in the labour market, including the increased existence of informal forms of employment.  Many young people, particularly in transitional economies, forgo social protection in the effort to earn a bit more money.  The right to decent work was fundamental, however, and compromises should not be made when young people were willing to devote their best efforts to their work.


In Romania, he said, youth employment policies had become a major component of the Government’s development strategies, anticipating integration with European structures.  Long-term solutions, however, should also include partnerships between Government and the civil and private sectors.  Such partnerships had already generated job fairs, websites and counselling offices to help people find adequate jobs.  But, the participation of more universities, technical schools and private companies was needed.  In closing, he pointed out that young people could contribute valuable input on the current topic and he advocated inviting more youth representatives to future discussions.


MOHSEN EMADI ( Iran), noting that a central pillar of the 1995 Copenhagen World Summit was to promote full employment as a basic priority of economic and social policies, said, given the existing levels of unemployment, the commitments faced considerable challenges.  At present, unemployment was high in many regions worldwide; low-paying, insecure jobs were becoming the norm; and worker protections were eroding.  Further, young people without privilege or access to wealth were struggling to find a way into the labour market, while older persons were enjoying fewer benefits -- and even less security -- for a lifetime of work.


“Unemployment generates poverty, while full employment and decent work are important channels for poverty alleviation,” he said, stressing that the Commission should be focusing on how it could promote the goal of full and gainful employment for all, and on improving the lives of individuals and families in all sectors of society.  The outcome of the Commission’s work should be action-oriented and aim to make a real difference in people’s lives, particularly people in the developing world.  He noted that the ministerial declaration adopted by the high-level segment of the 2006 substantive session of the Economic and Social Council had provided a platform for concrete action to that end.  He called on the Commission to contribute to the implementation of that declaration and to ensure greater coherence of its work in that regard. 


CLAUDIA BLUM (Colombia), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, and the Rio Group, said the generation of employment and decent work were essential goals for building societies with improved equity.   Colombia had incorporated those goals in its national development strategies, and the plan for 2006-2010 strengthened Government actions in that regard.  Interdependent policies had helped Colombia reduce its high unemployment and increase the equality of employment.  In that context, she highlighted plans in the areas of democratic security, macroeconomic and fiscal policies and infrastructural development plans.  Implementation of such initiatives had generated impacts consistent with sustainable growth.


For Colombia, it was clear that socio-economic development policies were decisive, and it was important to carry out targeted policies to address the needs of the most vulnerable, she said.  Further, it was essential that policies to generate wealth addressed ways to reach the poorest segments of the population, including through initiatives to help them generate their own income.


To promote decent work, the State had expanded social security coverage, cut informal employment levels, protected labour rights and expanded social dialogue, she claimed.  At the end of 2006, almost 38 million Columbians had health insurance, half of them associated with a State subsidized regime.  That coverage should be universal by 2010.  To contribute to the formalization of employment, Colombia had developed a bank instrument to support microenterprises and small enterprises.  The national training service institution had offered 4.2 million educational coupons to people in 2007.  Her country also valued the social responsibility of enterprises.


All actions should be viewed in the context of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, she said.  Challenges were still great and addressing them would require:  increasing international cooperation; acknowledging the impact of trade and investment; expanding technological transfer; and strengthening the support of the United Nations to countries in carrying out employment policies.


BERTRAND DE LOOZ KARAGEORGIADES, Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said that a close study of the reports before the Commission made it clear that productive employment and decent work were far from being the focus of social and economic policies.  Indeed, poverty was deepening in many regions and unemployment was omnipresent.  The Sovereign Order believed that, without decent work, people would be trapped in a cycle of poverty.  Without dignity and hope, they risked exclusion from society.


To that end, he recalled that this year marked the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and said that it would be appropriate for all delegations to bear in mind that historic document’s call for the promotion and protection of everyone’s right to full employment, decent work and safe working conditions.  He said that the Order was active in close to 200 countries –- from the Balkans to Africa -- working on the behalf of the poor and disaffected.  And while it did not claim any expertise, it did recognize that people needed to be at the centre of development and that productive employment was a key path towards achieving that goal.


He said that the Sovereign Order attached particular importance to the idea that obtaining skills and training should be part and parcel of polices aimed at ensuring productive employment, as well as social development as a whole.  Such training was particularly important for poor workers, he added.  The Sovereign Order would continue its day-to-day contact with poor and marginalized communities, just as it would continue to support and promote human dignity for all, while respecting the decisions and recommendations of the international community.


ALESSANDRO MOTTER, Liaison Officer of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, said his organization was working to create common ground among parliamentarians on the important issues of full employment and social development.  In that pursuit, the Union’s 117th Assembly in Indonesia had produced a resolution which contained recommendations that closely mirrored those of the Secretary-General.  Among its salient points, the resolution stated that social partners must work in concert with Governments to ensure that decent work was at centre of national policy agendas.  An important objective should aim at a more balanced development of rural and urban areas.


Social dialogue was essential to curb the harmful effects of labour market flexibility, he said, adding that flexibility should not equate with precariousness.  To make it work, States must strengthen safety nets, workers training and education.  Education remained essential in every country, and more investment in it was needed.


Ending discrimination in labour policy and practice was also important.  Women must be given equal pay for equal work, and receive attention in skills development programmes.  Legislation should universally guarantee property rights for women, including their right to inherit land.  The Inter-Parliamentary Union resolution called for more proactive legislation to help balance family responsibilities, and encouraged a focus on the disabled.  It also encouraged strengthening corporate social responsibility among companies, as it was more important than ever that they assume greater responsibility for workers and the environment.


The Union would work to support the resolution with concrete action.  One recommendation to emerge from the International Labour Organization Forum on Decent Work for a Fair Globalization last November was to establish an advisory group to monitor proposals for Inter-Parliamentary Union activities.  The group would be part of a larger cooperation effort with the International Labour Organization.


ROBERT LEIGH, Senior Policy Specialist, United Nations Volunteers, said that the relevant reports before the Commission not only highlighted the importance of polices to ensure decent work for all, but also that such measures should emphasize training and skills enhancement to increase employability.  The reports also underlined that special attention should be given to social groups in need of core skills to enable them to participate in the labour market.


“Employability is about possessing basic, relevant job-related skills, work experience, and social and behavioural characteristics to obtain paid employment,” he continued.  He added that, while many of those attributes would need to be acquired through formal training and education, there were additional avenues to securing them, “and volunteering is one”.  More and more Governments were accepting that volunteerism played a role in national development and were providing funding, eliminating legal and other obstacles, and generally promoting a culture in which people, and increasingly youth, were motivated to volunteer.


For young people in particular, volunteering was often a first contact point for a “real” workplace environment and an introduction to people skills, such as teamwork, leadership and communications, all of which could increase chances of landing a decent job.  He said that employers needed to recognize that job applicants with volunteer experience were likely to possess the initiative, motivation and commitment, as well as the basic skills, to make them an asset.  At the same time, civil society organizations employing volunteers must ensure that they were trained thoroughly and that their assignments were meaningful.  “And young people themselves need to recognize that volunteering can bring lifetime benefits,” he said.


SAFIYE ÇAĞAR, Director, Information, Executive Board and Resource Mobilization Division of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), called for a comprehensive framework to address the multidimensional issue of extreme poverty, which deprived people of services, resources, opportunity and income.  The goals of full employment and decent work were central to social development and personal empowerment.  Investing in women was essential to ensure their exercise of political, social, cultural and economic rights.


Turning to young people, she said the current generation was the largest in world history.  Young people in the Middle East and North Africa faced one of the highest unemployment rates in the world:  over 25 per cent.  In sub-Saharan Africa, one in five young people was unemployed.  Making youth a priority was necessary for creating a more stable world.


Sound social investments must be based on the thorough analysis of sound population data and trends, she stressed.  Today, the world was experiencing unprecedented ageing, and that issue should be at the forefront of the development agenda.  Development frameworks must address their concerns.  Older women, especially widows and those who were childless, were particularly vulnerable.


The Fund was committed to mainstreaming disability in its work, and studies had shown that they were up to three times more likely to be victims of physical and sexual abuse.  An equitable society required the empowerment of women and youth, as well as protection for the elderly and persons with disabilities.  “Investing in people is key to achieving our development goals,” she said.


Statements on Situation of Social Groups


ROMANA TOMC, State Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs of Slovenia, speaking on behalf of the European Union, reaffirmed the Union’s determination to ensure full implementation of commitments made at the 1995 Copenhagen Summit and the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly.  Since the Summit, the Union had developed policies in the areas of employment, poverty and social integration, and recognized that, despite such progress, the situation in developing countries required continued attention, particularly through partnerships with African nations.


Regarding disability issues, she said the Convention was a “powerful” instrument, and its implementation would be high on the European countries’ national agendas in the coming years.  The World Programme of Action concerning the disabled was at the core of social development efforts, and the Special Rapporteur should be active in promoting such United Nations mechanisms.  Disability issues must be mainstreamed in all relevant community policies, and the European Union was fully committed to promoting related policies, particularly through sharing of experience and good practice among Member States.


On ageing, she urged redefining paradigms and policies, as changing proportions between generations called for new social protection frameworks and rules to be developed for social cooperation and respect for human rights.  The European Unionhad adopted measures to reshape policies, including the 2005 Green Paper on the New Intergenerational Solidarity, and had incorporated guidelines put forward at the Second United Nations World Assembly on Ageing, held in 2002 in Spain.  Thus, her delegation supported a review of progress achieved in other parts of the world five years after adoption of the Madrid Declaration and, where necessary, to redefine objectives.


Turning to youth, she discussed various initiatives including the European Youth Pact, adopted by the European Council in 2005, which aimed at improving education, training, mobility, employment and social inclusion of young people.  The Lisbon Strategy was also relevant for young people, and, during the Slovenian Presidency of the European Union, a special emphasis would be placed on intercultural dialogue.  Regarding families, she said the decent work agenda was an intergenerational issue linked directly to the economic and financial security of a family through the employment of parents.  She called on States to ensure the respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all family members, and work to prevent interfamily violence.


MARIA LUZ MELON ( Argentina) spoke on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) and associated herself with the Rio Group.  A little over a year after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol, she was proud to say that almost half of the 120 signatories and 15 ratifying States had come from the Latin American and Caribbean region.  It was fair to say that the perspective of persons with disability had translated into progress, and it was important that interest be maintained.


MERCOSUR fully supported the approach of the Convention, respectful of the close relation between protecting the human rights of the disabled and incorporating those rights into development agendas and the work of the United Nations.  The renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate would help States in the analysis and implementation of inclusive development policies, using as a framework the Standard Rules.


Indeed, States were faced with a weighty process for signing, ratifying, incorporating and implementing the Convention and its Optional Protocol.  She called for Governments, national and regional organizations, funding agencies and the media, among others, to work in tandem to create opportunities for all.  In that process, she supported the Special Rapporteur’s advocacy role.  It was essential for existing structures and mechanisms for creating equal opportunities to start from a perspective of coherence and convergence.  The Special Rapporteur could contribute to such efforts, notably by participating in the Working Group and Inter-Agency Task Force.


Panel on Madrid Action Plan on Ageing


The panel discussion was moderated by SHA ZUKANG, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.  Opening the discussion, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa ABDOULIE JANNEH said Africa was facing the complex challenge of a rapidly ageing population, while trying to achieve economic and social development.  The continent had achieved a 5.8 per cent growth rate in 2007, up from 5.5 per cent a year earlier, yet social inequalities were widening.  The number of persons aged 60 years or older had grown from 31.6 million in 1990 to 50.5 million in 2007, and it was estimated that it would reach 64.5 million in 2015, the year for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  Noting that ageing was more rapid in northern Africa, he said sub-Saharan Africa’s ageing population had been impacted by HIV/AIDS, poor health and poverty.


Urgent action was needed, and policy actions for ageing persons were complicated by the fact that most lived in rural areas with scant infrastructure.  He discussed two complementary instruments to guide Africa’s actions at the national and regional levels:  the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, and the African Union Policy Framework and Plan of Action on Ageing.


National responses to the Madrid Plan across Africa to date had been uneven, he continued.  African Governments had acknowledged the challenge of ageing populations.  Engagement, however, was influenced by competing budget priorities.  While efforts had been made to adopt national policies, formal social security coverage was limited to civil servants and formal-sector employees.  Informal systems of social protection in the form of “cash and kind” from family and community sources had dropped.


Among the challenges, he noted the low level of implementation of the Madrid Plan and the African Union Framework, and low awareness of the link between the ageing and development agendas.  Future priorities included a scaling up of regional and country reviews of the Madrid Plan and African Union Framework; strengthening institutional capacities; integrating ageing concerns into development plans; supporting research; and introducing mechanisms for all stakeholders.  African Governments would undertake future activities in close collaboration with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the African Union and the African Development Bank.  International funding was needed, as was international cooperation to support countries’ engagement in the Madrid Plan review process.


MAREK BELKA, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), said the fact that different regions were ageing at different speeds and at different levels was a sign of a global problem.  Given such differences, the follow-up to the Madrid Plan should take place at the regional level.


Discussing recent developments in Europe, he said the results of the Madrid Conference had been translated into a regional implementation strategy, which contained 10 commitments.  To monitor progress, ECE had partnered with the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy Research in a project that developed indicators, collected data and created a website to post information.  To share experience, a network of national focal points was created.  Those focal points met in 2006, one year before the review conference, to prepare a summary of the implementation process.


At a 2007 ministerial conference organized by the Government of Spain, States presented country reports describing their activities taken to fulfil the 10 commitments, he explained.  Some 24 States were represented at the ministerial level.  The Leon Declaration was adopted, which, among other things, outlined future ageing-related actions.


Among the priority commitments most frequently mentioned by the 35 reporting Governments were social protection systems, quality of life, labour markets and participation of older persons in society.  In the field of social protection systems, States had raised issues relating to women, public pension plans and health care.  Regarding the commitment to mainstream ageing into policies, Mr. Belka underlined the need for those representing older peoples’ interests to have a platform, and he highlighted the creation of an office on age discrimination.  He also said 20 countries had flagged the commitment on participation as a significant priority.


Summarizing reporting country results, he said actions were focused in the area of adjusting social protection systems.  Financial sustainability was emphasized as an aim, and pension reform represented that concern.  Most reporting countries had created programme documents on ageing, and collaborated with civil society in developing them.  The Leon Declaration called on countries to move beyond fiscally-motivated adjustments to pursue a “life course approach”.


JOSÉ LUIS MACHINEA, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said that his region was characterized by rapid and uneven population ageing.  In 1950, there were just over 9 million persons in the region over 60 years of age, about 5.6 per cent of the population.  But just 50 years later, by 2005, the number had risen to 50 million, or 9 per cent of the total population.  He said that, if current trends continued, in just 40 years the Latin American and Caribbean region would face a similar challenge to the one Europe was now facing -- persons aged 60 and over would make up more than 24 per cent of the total population.


He went on to say that the population was ageing at widely different rates from one country to another.  By example, eight countries and territories were at the incipient stage of the process -– Belize, Bolivia, Guatemala, French Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Paraguay.  The countries and territories where the ageing process was most advanced were:   Barbados, Cuba, Martinique, Puerto Rico and Uruguay.  The countries with the largest populations, Brazil and Mexico, were among the 15 nations where the ageing process was considered at a “moderate stage”.


As a result of those twin demographic challenges, there was, however, a “demographic bonus” in the region, he said, noting that, during the time when a large proportion of a country’s population fell within the working-age group, the added productivity –- and low dependency -- of that group had produced a window of economic opportunity in some areas.  At the same time, he cautioned that the region’s dependency was expected to rise from 2025 onwards.  And from 2040, it could anticipate that there would be more older persons than children under 15.


He said that, while ECLAC expected demographic changes to continue, there was time to implement the reforms needed to address some of the challenges facing the ageing population.  At the same time, any delay in implementing relevant reforms might put social protection systems at risk.  There was also a need to ensure that increased numbers of elderly persons did not result in socio-economic tension that could negatively impact social cohesion.  He said that areas for priority action in that regard included, among others, labour markets, health-care systems and pension systems.


To overcome some of the limitations that would be caused by the region’s ageing, ECLAC had suggested that countries facilitate formal employment, promote policies that reconciled labour flexibility with social protection, and create solidarity mechanisms to provide equitable access to health services, irrespective of peoples’ level of income and risk.  Those and other ECLAC proposals were directly related to the adjustments needed to bring public policies in line with the realities of population ageing.


NOLEEN HEYZER, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), said that ageing was not a disease; it was a part of living.  There had been a very high fertility rate in the 1950s but that rate dropped significantly in the following decades.  Unlike in Europe, where fertility transition had been gradual, it had been extremely rapid in the Asia-Pacific.


By example, she said that, in just the period 2000-2005, the fertility rate had dropped below the replacement rate in 18 countries.  If current trends held in the region, the number and percentage of persons over 60 years of age would jump from 410 million (10 per cent) in 2007 to 1.3 billion (25 per cent) by 2050.  She said that decreases in potential support ratios and feminization of the elderly population were among the consequences of the dramatic demographic swing.  With all that in mind, the countries of the region had actively undertaken efforts to prepare their societies for old age, chiefly by implementing the Madrid Action Plan.


She went on to highlight the outcome of a regional review of the Madrid Action Plan, held last year in Macao, China.  Participants had called for the creation of institutional mechanisms, plans, strategies and monitoring for an ageing society, as well as stronger relations between Government and non-governmental organizations, intergenerational solidarity programmes and “ageing-in-place” initiatives.  Some of the anticipated obstacles that could hamper implementation of those objectives, and the targets set at Madrid, included changing family structures, increases in chronic disease, a decline in family income and support, and difficulty in mobilizing the requisite resources.


Turning to some of the future priorities for action that had been underscored by the participants, she said that the Macao review meeting had called for the establishment of multi-pillared social security schemes; increased levels of integration and mainstreaming of ageing concerns in national policies and poverty reduction strategies; and the provision of affordable, accessible, good quality, age-friendly and culturally appropriate health, rehabilitation, palliative and social services. 


FRANCOIS FARAH, Chief, Social Development Section, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), discussing ageing in the Arab region, said that, between 1950 and 2000, the total fertility rate had declined, while life expectancy and the elderly population had increased.  A specific feature of the Arab region was that it had a very diversified ageing pattern, not only in terms of the numbers of older versus younger people, but also in terms of the ageing dynamic at play.  Between 2000 and 2050, the population of those aged 65 and over was projected to grow at a 4 to 5 per cent rate.  The percentage of the population between 25 and 64 years of age had grown from 32.9 in 1980 to 37.9 in 2000, and was projected to reach 45 in 2020.


Considering such trends in the context of the Madrid Plan review, he pointed out that the family was typically the main source of support for older Arabs.  However, that role was being eroded by various factors, at a time when State support for aged persons was still evolving.  “We want the care; we don’t want the charity”, he said, drawing attention to the need for public policy support that provided autonomy, and allowed people to age with dignity.


Arab countries had implemented recommendations from the Madrid Plan and the Arab Plan of Action on Ageing, one of them being to set up a national committee comprised of representatives from the private and public sectors, and headed usually by the Ministry of Social Affairs.  Moreover, countries had formed national plans of action and complementary legislation, increased services, and introduced family welfare programmes containing specialized channels for broadcasting on ageing issues.


Challenges fell into three categories:  social, economic and health.  Social challenges included the low education levels of older people, wide gender disparity, changing lifestyle and increased incidence of widowhood.  Economic challenges included the trend of older men working beyond retirement age.  Health challenges mirrored those in other regions.  In sum, he said ageing should be considered a serious challenge, and responsibility should be shared and pursued through a multisectoral approach.  Future regional priorities included achieving the active participation of older people in all aspects of the development process.  Legislative representation was also important, as was addressing negative stereotypes.  The United Nations should bring together all sectors and partners to ensure the goals were met.


Discussion


When delegations joined the discussion, the representative of China pointed out that income security was a major concern for many countries, and asked about measures for ensuring pension sustainability.


The representative of Jamaica wondered about a focus on national and regional solutions to problems that occurred in a global context characterized by global flows of capital, communications and people.


Responding, Ms. HEYZER described a multi-pillar pension scheme that harnessed different income sources to build social security.  The scheme looked at individual assets, employer contributions and the role of the public sector.  Highlighting the situation in Singapore, where many older people lived in public housing, she said the State encouraged older people to downsize and, in that process, generate assets as an income source.  Migration had changed provisions of the “care economy”.  In China, she had found that most young people had migrated to cities, leaving the very young and old in rural areas.  That created a gap, which required the State to play a more active role, especially with women entering assembly lines in the special economic zones.


Mr. MACHINEA, addressing the question on migration, said the issue should be looked at a global, rather than the regional level.  Migration changed active population growth, bringing people away from developing countries towards developed countries, where they contributed to host country pension systems.


In his response, Mr. JANNEH addressed ageing as a global -– rather than regional -- problem, as migration was a factor around the world.  Perhaps ageing in Europe had been impacted by migration from Africa.  He also touched on the advantages of migration, saying that remittances today were the second-biggest contributor to gross domestic product.


Mr. BELKA replied that there were examples of immigration attenuating low fertility levels and ageing.   Spain was one such example.  In the European Union, there was nascent talk of working out a common migration policy.  On pension systems, he described systems based on solidarity versus capital lifetime savings.  A “pay as you go” approach relied on intergenerational solidarity, and worked as long as the number of elderly people was low.  As that was not the case in many countries, there was a push to replace it with a “capital” system based on accumulating assets or savings throughout the work life.


Mr. FARAH said a well-to-do worker might age fairly well, have a pension and be in good housing.  A poor worker was likely to age poorly.  Ageing reduced the “cushioning affect” that might be drawn upon as an adult.  It added vulnerability.  Women become more vulnerable as they aged, because they had been more vulnerable throughout their lives.  A major focus should be to examine the social development approach in a way that brought together the “loopholes” of society.  On migration, he said it was important to address the policy environment for migrants upon return to their countries of origin.


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For information media • not an official record