|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Commission for Social Development
6th & 7th Meetings (AM & PM)
commission for social development hears briefing by rapporteur as it focuses
on persons with disabilities, situation of youth, older people
Stressing the importance of integrating the rights of disabled persons into the development agenda, speakers addressing the Commission on Social Development today shed light on efforts to help people around the world with hearing, physical, developmental and psychosocial disabilities live full productive lives while enjoying the respect of their fellow citizens.
Outlining her work in that field over the past six years, Sheikha Hessa al-Thani, Special Rapporteur on disability, told the Commission, as it continued its general discussion, that her office had conducted workshops to educate Governments and civil society groups about the disabled, in addition to launching a letter-writing campaign to encourage countries that had not yet done so to sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
She said she had also lobbied the United Nations and local organizers of the recent follow-up International Conference on Financing for Development to mainstream the right of the disabled to development into international programming and financing. However, there had been no mention of disability in the Conference working document, and the reluctance to incorporate disability rights into the outcome was proof that they had not yet found their rightful place on the world agenda.
The rights of the disabled in times of war, which left many people with permanent disabilities, had also gone unfilled, she said. In Khartoum, capital of the Sudan, there was a high level of awareness of the rights of the disabled and their need for accessible, adequate and appropriate services, but that awareness was sorely lacking in the refugee settlements of Darfur. As for the plight of the Gaza Strip where the already disabled had been unable to reach shelters and safe havens during the recent conflict there, there was a need to rebuild the local rehabilitation centre and a children’s hospital destroyed by Israeli bombing, as well as funding for newly disabled people. The Global Survey on Government Action on the Implementation of the Standard Rules for the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities revealed that 11 per cent of nations worldwide had not implemented the rules governing medical care.
Echoing those concerns, the representative of the Philippines warned that current efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 would likely not benefit persons with disabilities. Improving the plight of the disabled must be made an integral part of the Millennium targets, and countries worldwide must work to implement both the Convention and the Standard Rules.
Most disabled people were among the poorest of the poor, he said, adding that one way to empower them was to ensure they reaped the benefits of national economic development, international development cooperation and the sharing of knowledge and technology. The Philippine Government was working to do just that through various policies and programmes, and by setting up the National Council on Disability Affairs to coordinate Government efforts with those of the private sector. It had also ratified the Disabilities Convention and had participated in the first meeting of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention held last November.
Also concerned with the need to integrate the rights of disabled people into the social contract, Michael Sedlacek, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Affairs of the Czech Republic, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said equal access to those rights was the linchpin of European Union disability policy. All European Union member States and the European Community had signed the Disabilities Convention and last year the European Community had published its first annual progress report on implementing the treaty. The 2004‑2010 European Disability Strategy aimed to improve prospects of employment, accessibility and independent living for citizens with disabilities.
Haiti’s representative said a national awareness‑building campaign was under way to guarantee the disabled full productive lives and full rights, stressing that the real handicap of persons with disabilities was often the discrimination they faced in society. Haiti’s Secretary of State for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities, working with various civil society actors and international agencies, had made the building of awareness a central focus of his policy of working to change societal attitudes towards the disabled for the better and to eliminate the obstacles they faced in finding jobs.
Also today, the Commission wrapped up its debate on promoting full employment and decent work for all, with several representatives of Member States, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations taking the floor to present their views on that subject in the context of the Millennium Development Goals, the World Summit for Social Development and the Copenhagen Declaration.
The Commissions heard statements by the Minister for the Family, National Solidarity, Women’s Entrepreneurship and Microfinance of Senegal; the Deputy Minister for Health of the Russian Federation; and the Minister for Persons with Disabilities and the Elderly of Malawi.
Also making statements were an Adviser to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Argentina; the Director of Social Security in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security of Jamaica; the Director of the Division of Rights Protection for Persons with Disabilities of the Republic of Korea; the International Labour and Social Policy Director-General in the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family of Slovakia; and the Director-General of the National Institute of Older Persons of Mexico.
Also contributing to discussions today were the representatives of Iran, Angola, Kyrgyzstan, Zambia, Nigeria, Israel, Guatemala, Japan, Bangladesh, Monaco, Qatar, Italy, Malta, China, Kazakhstan, Bolivia, Cape Verde and Jordan.
Youth delegates from Switzerland, Republic of Korea and Romania also spoke.
A representative of the Permanent Observer for the Sovereign Military Order of Malta also made a statement.
Representatives of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), International Organization for Migration (IOM), Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) also made addressed the Commission.
Also speaking today were representatives of the Sisters of the Presentation, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and the AARP.
The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 9 February, to continue its general discussion.
The Commission for Social Development continued its forty-seventh session today.
Briefing by Special Rapporteur
SHEIKHA HESSA AL-THANI, Special Rapporteur on disability, noting that her tenure had been extended for six months, summarized her work over the past six years and said the full report on her activities through October 2008 was available on the website of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
She said she had continued monitoring implementation by Governments of the Standard Rules for the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities through surveys and research, which depended heavily on Government reports and testimony by organizations for the disabled, as well as on country and field visits. The Global Survey on Government Action on the Implementation of the Standard Rules was conducted in partnership with the South-North Centre for Dialogue and Development. It was distributed to all Member States, one Government body and two organizations for persons with disabilities in each country. Responses were received from 114 countries.
During Phase III of analysing the Global Survey, experts had looked at three main areas, she said. They included the level of spending and differences in funding among the disabled-persons organizations that had responded; how the availability of resources affected the level of implementation in each country, regardless of the region in which it was located; and how disabled-persons organizations evaluated implementation of the Standard Rules depending on the type of disability they represented, such as visual, hearing, physical, developmental and psychosocial. For the most part, Governments had responded that they had implemented more measures than the disabled acknowledged. In terms of medical care, a pre-condition of the Standard Rules, 11 per cent of the countries had not implemented any measures.
She said that, in visits to nearly 40 countries to assess the situation of persons with disabilities living in poverty and in difficult conditions, she had met with high‑level Government representatives to ensure that commitments undertaken by all Government sectors were included in national budgets; visited rehabilitation and field service centres; and met with organizations and councils representing disabled persons. Visiting Kuwait in December, she had recommended that the Government continue its efforts to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, called for an expansion of the number of organizations and programmes to integrate disabled persons into all aspects of life, and encouraged the media to play an active role in raising awareness about the effective contributions of disabled persons to society.
A visit to the Sudan had revealed a high level of awareness in Khartoum of the rights of persons with disabilities and of the need for accessible, adequate and appropriate services for them, she said. In other areas of the country, however, there had been far less awareness and programming for disabled persons. Darfur lacked services in refugee settlements, where there was a complete lack of awareness of the needs of persons with disabilities. The Human Rights Officer with the African Union-United Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) had informed her that it had no specific programmes for the disabled, and that the “City of Hope”, an independently funded area for persons with disabilities, provided rehabilitation services at a hospital, in addition to a physical therapy unit, a prosthetics department, vocational training and a psychosocial support unit.
Describing activities to fulfil the Commission’s resolution on expanding the Special Rapporteur’s mandate to include raising awareness of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, she said her office had organized a workshop in Doha to educate civil society groups and relevant Government departments. A letter‑writing campaign had been initiated to encourage countries that had not signed or ratified the Convention to do so. The United Nations and local organizers of the recent International Conference on Financing for Development had been lobbied to mainstream the right of disabled persons to development into the international agenda at the programme and financial levels. The absence of any mention of disability in the Conference working document, and resistance to the incorporation and mainstreaming of disability rights was further proof that they had not yet found their rightful place on the world agenda.
During war, many people ended up with permanent disabilities and without the support needed to live independent, productive and dignified lives, she said. The latest war in Gaza had resulted in an excessive number of persons with disabilities of all kinds. During the 22-day conflict, she had drawn attention to the plight of the injured and the situation of already disabled people facing grave dangers due to their disability and their inability to reach shelters and safe havens. Since the end of the war, she had been lobbying and campaigning for reconstruction of the Gaza rehabilitation centre destroyed by Israeli bombing, rebuilding of the children’s hospital, urgent psychosocial rehabilitation for the local people and for earmarking a percentage of aid funding to newly disabled people.
Questions and Answers
In the ensuing exchange, there was broad agreement on the need to integrate persons with disabilities into society, with many delegates indicating that their Governments had signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Several highlighted the need to promote awareness‑raising campaigns, especially in the media, and to increase services, particularly rehabilitation, to allow disabled persons a role in political, social and economic life. Speakers pointed to the numerous civil society and private sector organizations in their countries working with persons with disabilities, sometimes hand in hand with the Government. Many welcomed cooperation with the United Nations in that respect, especially in carrying out projects to improve conditions for persons with disabilities.
Speakers generally agreed that gaps in services and awareness remained. Questions revolved around the Commission’s future role in protecting disability rights, including the rights of disabled persons in conflict zones or living under foreign occupation. One speaker drew attention to recent events in the Gaza Strip, asking about the Special Rapporteur’s plans to address the needs of women, children and elderly people who had become disabled as a result of the conflict. Another speaker asked whether the Special Rapporteur had made any inquiry about the situation of people disabled by terrorist attacks in southern Israel, who faced daily rocket attacks. In 2008, 3,000 rockets had been launched into southern Israel, or 100 rockets a day; a child had 15 seconds to reach safety from the road -- 15 seconds between life and death.
In response, the Special Rapporteur said her office had partnerships with countries at the national level, but there were numerous obstacles in the Arab world, where the culture of human rights was insufficient at present. While positive trends were becoming increasingly evident, particularly with regard to promoting the Convention, people in the region exhibited “a feeling of pity” towards persons with disabilities and resources in some countries remained inadequate. However, Qatar had played a major role in maintaining disability rights.
As for the situation of disabled persons in times of conflict and war, she called for an approach that would facilitate detection of rights violations through reports submitted by the countries concerned. Such reports should be submitted to the United Nations to ensure the adoption of appropriate measures.
Pointing out that her activities depended on invitations from other parties, and partnerships with them, she said her work was unlike that of other Special Rapporteurs, but she did try to promote her contacts in order to become aware of situations in different countries. In 2008, her office had taken up the theme of war and disabilities and the ensuing awareness‑building campaign had dealt with all individuals affected by armed conflict in all regions and States. As for Gaza, women and children there had suffered more than others, including already disabled civilians and whose disabilities had resulted from the conflict. The Special Rapporteur was open to information from any State.
The Committee then took up its review of relevant United Nations plans and programmes for action pertaining to the situation of social groups.
MICHAEL SEDLACEK, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Affairs of the Czech Republic, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said equal access to rights was the linchpin of European Union policy in the field of disabilities. The most important part of the 2004-2010 European Disability Strategy was the Disability Action Plan, by which the European Commission would strive to improve prospects of employment, accessibility and independent living for citizens with disabilities. All European Union member States and the European Community had signed the Disabilities Convention and were cooperating closely to implement it.
He recalled that in 2008 the European Community had published its first annual progress report on implementing the Convention, prepared by the European Union High Level Group on Disability. The European Union remained committed to the Madrid Plan and the Berlin Regional Implementation Strategy to mainstream issues of ageing and older persons into all relevant policy fields, and to adjust its societies and economies to demographic change. Those challenges and priorities must be addressed in a comprehensive and integrated manner through policy action in health, education, training, labour and social integration. Increasing the overall employment rate and productivity were key measures and adequate responses in meeting ageing- and longevity-related economic challenges.
Emphasizing that the European Union continued to support the World Action Plan on Youth and the Supplement of the World Programme of Youth, he said that in 2005 it had agreed on the European Youth Pact as one of the instruments to achieve the goals of the revised Lisbon Strategy, while supporting growth and more and better jobs. The Pact’s three pillars were employment and social inclusion; education, training and mobility; and reconciliation of family and work life. The 2007-2013 Youth in Action Programme continued to provide opportunities by promoting international exchange of young people, the European Voluntary Services and other youth activities and initiatives.
The Commission then took up its agenda item on promoting full employment and decent work for all.
ESHAGH AL HABIB ( Iran), noting that social integration was inseparable from poverty eradication and full employment, said there was a mutually reinforcing relationship between economic growth and social well‑being and inclusion. Poverty and unemployment would lead to social exclusion, and the other side of the coin was equally correct -- social integration was an important factor for poverty eradication and full employment for all. Extreme poverty persisted throughout the world and the international community was lagging behind in terms of meeting the Millennium Declaration commitment to eradicate poverty.
The Millennium Goals started with poverty eradication due to its overall impact on other aspects of economic growth and social development, he pointed out, adding that full employment, the other pillar of social development, was equally important, especially in light of the abrupt increase in unemployment brought about by the current financial crisis. The Copenhagen World Summit had recognized employment and productive work as central to development. Indeed, unemployment generated poverty and social exclusion.
Protection of family was also of key importance to social integration, he said, recalling that, since 1994, the international community had undertaken several activities in support of the International Year of the Family. Iran reiterated the call by the “Group of 77” developing countries and China that the Commission consider preparations for the observance of the twentieth anniversary of that International Year in its future sessions.
He said his country had designed various programmes to support the family, including the Centre for Women and Family Affairs, which was affiliated with the Office of the President, and mandated to monitor implementation of family policies at the highest possible level. Social groups, such as the older persons, youth and persons with disabilities, were receiving appropriate Government support. Respect for the well‑being of older persons was deeply rooted in Iranian culture and guaranteed by law. Social development required a favourable international environment, but the current global crisis impeded national efforts. Moreover, unilateral coercive measures negatively affected social development in many developing countries. Those negative international trends should be addressed accordingly.
ANDRE NKULU ( Angola) said his Government was committed to the outcome of the Copenhagen Summit and the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly, in particular to fulfilling all three pillars of the Social Development Agenda and mainstreaming them into its national policies and programmes. The Government also recognized that achieving the Millennium Development Goals, in particular those related with poverty eradication, job growth and social cohesion, was fundamental to Africa’s socio-economic development. It welcomed the Common Position on Social Integration of the African Union Conference of African Ministers in charge of social development, and called on the international community to support that initiative, as it could address in concrete ways the issues of social exclusion and vulnerability, as well as job creation.
He said that, since 2002, the Government was working to create an environment where all Angolans must be ready to participate in the peace consolidation and reconstruction process, no matter their race, sex, religion or status. It had successfully integrated, socially and economically, more than 4 million Angolans to consolidate the country’s great achievements in peace, social stability and economic growth. Tangible action had been taken to diminish inequalities and reduce social gaps and exclusion. Since 2006, massive public and private civil construction projects had created thousands of jobs every year, with emphasis on youth and persons with disabilities. His country clearly illustrated that peace, security and good governance were essential for development, poverty eradication and social integration at all levels.
NURBEK JEENBAEV (Kyrgyzstan), noting that the 2007 Constitution made his country a social State, said it allowed for decent living conditions and social-protection guarantees while making social development a priority. It involved efforts to reduce poverty, increase employment, and expand opportunities in all areas of social and public life. Economic growth in the last three years had increased the Government’s capacity to address social issues by providing higher salaries and pensions.
One in every ten citizens received social welfare payments, 90 per cent of which went to children from disadvantaged families, he said, adding that programmes were also in place to protect orphans. Poverty had been reduced by 6 per cent, but in mountain and remote areas, education and living standards remained low. The working-age population continued to grow, but the current economic difficulties and migration had caused a brain drain.
The country’s population continued to be concentrated in the interior, making it difficult to develop rural areas, he said, noting the uneven development between regions. The Government’s priority was to provide targeted social assistance to needy groups. Some 15.5 per cent of the population received State assistance, and more than 90 per cent of the beneficiaries were children.
More than 90 per cent of children in rural areas lacked access to preschools, and more than 23,000 children were working and did not attend school, he said. Despite the effectiveness of projects already implemented, the Government remained concerned about the slow development of social services and the lack of specialists and people interested in the development of children in rural areas. The unemployment rate among young people stood at 57 per cent.
SIMON M. KAPILIMA, Assistant Labour Commissioner of Zambia, said in his country’s quest to attain full social integration, it had acknowledged that relevant interventions could not be left to the Government alone and should involve the wider international community, including social partners such as trade unions, civil society groups and employer’s associations. Social integration was a central feature of Zambia’s development strategies and policies designed to reduce inequality, promote access to basic social services and increase the participation of all social groups. He added that, in line with the current theme of the Commission’s work, the Government had launched a national decent work programme covering the period 2007 to 2011, aiming to promote policy coherence towards realizing decent work for all in Zambia.
Continuing, he said the Government was continuing its effort to create jobs as an effective and sustainable solution to poverty in the country and, to that end, had put in place pro-employment policies and programmes, such as the employment and labour market policy, which demonstrated the need for job creation for women, young people and persons with disabilities. A national labour force survey was also under way to determine the number of people employed in both the formal and informal sectors, their earnings and working hours.
He also highlighted an action plan developed to promote the creation of an enabling environment for investment and infrastructure development through public-private partnerships. Finally, he noted that, in all Zambia’s efforts, it strove to protect children and, to that end, had worked with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to create district child labour committees to combat the scourge of child labour exploitation at the community level.
RAFF BUKUN‑OLU WOLE ONEMOLA( Nigeria) said that, given its relationship to poverty eradication and full employment and decent work for all, social integration was both a goal and a process which could advance social and economic development. The role of youth, women and girls, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and the family could not be overemphasized. Those and other vulnerable or marginalized people, including those living with HIV/AIDS, bore the greatest burden of social exclusion. The ever-complex impact of globalization had fuelled new forms of marginalization and inequality, including migration and threats to traditional family structure.
It was, therefore, important to set up workable social policies and evolve new policies, he said, noting that his country had established a Ministry for Youth Development. The Government had also initiated a draft national policy on ageing, which provided for broad‑based and inclusive issues for mainstreaming ageing in national development, and developed a draft national framework and plan of action to provide for safety nets to protect vulnerable and needy families while strengthening them by harnessing their energies and potential for self-sustenance.
The current Administration’s seven‑point agenda emphasized wealth creation, qualitative education and employment generation, he said, describing food security as another key aspect of the policy framework, geared towards providing food and jobs. The Government had guaranteed farmers a minimum price for produce and opened up access to credit facilities through the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency of Nigeria. It also sought to improve access to primary health care delivery for rural dwellers. Nigeria was particularly concerned that the situation of youths remained precarious, particularly in developing countries.
MEIRAV EILON SHAHAR (Israel), noting that gender inequality was among the world’s most prevalent forms of social exclusion, said that was no less true in Israel, where women earned 84 per cent of men’s pay. While that was less extreme than in many other nations, the Government was determined to close the gap. Towards that goal, high-level Government bodies in the Knesset [Parliament] and the Office of the Prime Minister were drafting legislation and initiating programmes aimed exclusively at promoting gender equality. In addition, the Labour Ministry’s recently formed Equal Employment Opportunities Commission was tasked with supporting legal recourse for all types of employment discrimination.
Meanwhile, Israel faced some unique challenges in the area of income integration among its Arab people, who comprised about 20 per cent of the country’s population. Israeli Arabs enjoyed equal rights, but still lagged behind much of the rest of the country in economic indicators. The Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab, Druze and Circassian Sectors, which was based in the Prime Minister’s Office, was working to encourage economic and business activity within those populations and to integrate them into the national economy. In the area of employment, the labour participation rate among Arabs was far lower than in the general population, a trend that was especially pronounced among Arab women, although that was partly due to tradition. The Government had adopted an affirmative action plan to promote the hiring of Israeli Arabs in the civil service.
Migrants were increasingly in the spotlight as civil conflict, economic collapse and even climate change created unprecedented waves of human movements around the globe, she said. In many countries, migrants were especially vulnerable because of abusive working conditions, coupled with a lack of legal protection and knowledge of their rights. Israel had distributed a handbook on workers’ rights, both within the country and in the migrant workers’ countries of origin. Israel also had a well‑established set of institutions to work with recent arrivals. Israel had been an early signatory to the Disabilities Convention. Member States had a vested interest in promoting social integration, as social exclusion and insecurity led to civil unrest, which, in turn, could spill over borders and create regional instability.
NICOLE ROMULUS ( Haiti) said her country had installed a campaign to build national awareness among young people and persons with disabilities. It focused on education in order to ensure that the disabled enjoyed a full life and full rights. According to the National Association of People with Disabilities, the real obstacle facing persons with disabilities was not their handicaps, but the discrimination they faced in society.
She said the Secretary of State for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities, working with various civil society actors and international agencies, had made awareness building a central focus of his policy. It focused on changing the way in which disabled people were perceived and eliminating the difficulties they faced in getting jobs. Additionally, with only 3 per cent of children with disabilities attending school, the Government was trying to change that by designing and assessment new national policies and programmes.
The “I love Haiti” Fund and the Haitian Society for Assistance to the Blind regularly assisted many people with disabilities, she said, adding that the Human Rights Section of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) was helping to counteract the marginalization of people with disabilities. In 2008, the Little Brothers and Sisters organization had set up a rehabilitation centre to provide therapy, warm meals and other services. It was staffed by 16 doctors, nurses and therapists to help 400 children annually, and provided short‑term assistance to thousands of other children. Haiti was also drafting laws to end discrimination against persons with disabilities.
The Commission then reverted to its consideration of social integration.
AWA N’DIAYE, Minister for the Family, National Solidarity, Women’s Entrepreneurship and Microfinance of Senegal, associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said her country had undertaken important political measures towards good governance and poverty eradication, with a view to enhancing job security and protecting the most vulnerable in society. It had developed a positive framework for social development, ratifying various instruments and establishing space for ongoing dialogue on central issues. For example, the Government had recently held a national conference on social action and designed a social policy aimed at fighting poverty, promoting social services and access to employment and education, and the promotion of justice. Vigorous efforts had also been made to defeat inequality in the labour market and to provide vulnerable groups with access to credit.
However, social inclusion depended on a favourable global macroeconomic situation and the ability collectively to implement a proactive social policy, she said, stressing the importance of international support to accompany all national efforts. The President of Senegal had set up a proactive policy to create jobs and wealth. A significant portion of the national budget was earmarked for basic education for all, and a national fund had been created to promote youth employment. Major projects were under way to improve the status of women, young people, and persons with disabilities. Other important Government efforts involved women’s health and health care for children and the elderly. Social integration was also important in mechanisms to fight underemployment and unemployment.
The delegation of the Russian Federation then took the floor to make a statement on the review of relevant United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups.
YURI VORONIN, Deputy Minister for Health of the Russian Federation, stressed the importance of assessing the progress made and designing plans for future action to implement the goals of the World Summit for Social Development, underscoring also that the prevailing global economic trend must not have a negative effect on social goals set by the United Nations. Improving the quality of social life would be a priority for the Russian Federation.
The social and moral well‑being of a society would depend on how it treated its most vulnerable people, he said, noting that his country had implemented many national programmes to promote social integration in such areas as population and development, as well as health care over the last two years. Thanks to those programmes, there had been a significant reduction in maternal mortality and an increase in the birth rate. The Government had created programmes to support family values since investing in the family was a long‑term investment in the future. In 2008, the Russian Federation had marked the Year of the Family by staging programmes involving the Government, civil society and political and religious groups at major social, academic, cultural and sporting events.
A new national “Parental Medal” award encouraged citizens to do more to strengthen families, he said. Last September, the Russian Federation had signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and efforts were under way to ratify in 2010. Measures were also being undertaken to employ people with disabilities and ensure their access to housing, social services and transport. A council on persons with disabilities, set up under the Office of the President, comprised members of Parliament and social groups who would help people with limited means live a full life. In 2009, a presidential decree had created the Year of Young People, which would involve a wide range of events to promote healthy lifestyles, development, activism and patriotism.
CECILIE GOLDEN, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said that UNESCO had several programmes and activities relating to social integration and inclusion. Among other things, UNESCO had set up the International Coalition of Cities against Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia and Intolerance following the 2001 Durban Conference on the issue. Among the organization’s activities contributing to gender equality were the promotion of research on the issue and supporting networking and advocacy for women’s rights and gender equality. Violence against women would be one of the main issues for the new Women’s Research and Documentation Center for the Great Lakes Region in Kinshasa.
She said UNESCO was the lead agency in the coordination of the Education for All Programme, focusing on: early childhood care and education; universal primary education; meeting the lifelong learning needs of youth and adults; adult literacy; gender parity; and quality. As poverty was a form of exclusion, UNESCO’s activities towards a human-rights-based approach to poverty eradication included capacity-building and development of human-rights-based decision-making tools for aid negotiation. UNESCO’s Medium-Term Strategy for 2008‑2013 emphasized the needs of Africa, gender equality, youth and the most vulnerable segments of society. Because a number of countries had called for assistance to curb the impact of youth violence in the Central American region, UNESCO had implemented innovative projects regarding violence prevention and youth development.
UNESCO also addressed ageing in Europe through its Management of Social Transformations Programme (MOST), she said. It also gave high importance to the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons. The organization was also developing activities in the context of the global crisis and its impact on social development. Because the task of social integration was not the responsibility of Governments alone but should be shared by all sectors of the economy and society, she proposed to include a new paragraph under the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s report which reads as follows: “Governments should actively cooperate with all relevant stakeholders, including civil society and researchers, in their pursuit of achieving social integration.”
LUCA DALL’OGLIO, Permanent Observer, International Organization for Migration (IOM), said the current financial crisis and widening global economic slowdown had the potential to deeply and severely impact the social integration agenda. While the depth and extent of the crisis might be difficult to predict and the ultimate impact would likely vary from one region to another, especially regarding employment sectors, it was clear that the social protection of vulnerable groups was becoming increasingly strained. Indeed, the Secretary‑General’s report had spotlighted the challenges facing migrants and other social groups in developed and developing countries alike, in the current climate.
He went on to say that, as the current economic uncertainty spread and the recession deepened, there was a greater danger that any adverse effects would profoundly impact immigrants’ integration into society, their welfare and that of their families. He said that practitioners and researchers seemed to agree that, since immigrants were overrepresented in low-skilled occupations that were generally hit the hardest during economic downturns, and since some immigrants, especially undocumented persons, were ineligible for welfare benefits, they might suffer particular hardships during a recession.
Continuing, he cited some negative trends that were already being observed or likely to occur, including a decline in remittance flows to developing countries; the adoption of more restrictive immigration policies to protect local labour markets; and the risk of discrimination and xenophobia against migrants perceived as taking jobs from local workers. The IOM was certain that market mechanisms would not produce social and economic inclusion in such circumstances. It also continued to believe that human mobility made economies more dynamic and efficient.
Indeed, he continued, migration could be a positive force in alleviating various aspects of the financial crisis and, therefore, flexible, coherent and comprehensive migration management policies were needed to maximize the benefits of migration, promote economic recovery, protect migrants and take their needs into account in measures addressing the crisis. Paramount in that context was the careful monitoring of the impact of the financial crisis on migrants to ensure their rights were upheld and that they were not wrongly stigmatized for causing job losses. He said that a strong degree of solidarity between countries of origin and destination was required to ensure that proper safeguards were in place and the benefits of migration were maximized.
FREDERICO NETO, Chief, Social Development Division, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), said the Commission was spearheading new and innovative work on the application of integrated social policy in the region and it had begun to build a body of knowledge on social policy instruments. ESCWA’s definition of integrated social policy was one in which social issues were not considered residual or secondary to economic processes, but rather where social equity and human rights concerns informed public policy at every stage. It was an inseparable element of economic policy formulation and an integral pillar of all social contracts. Over the last five decades, countries in the region had experienced unprecedented human development, but overall average indicators of social progress sometimes masked wide disparities both between and within countries, and did not reflect the considerable backlog of human deprivation. The absence of a clear social policy was a key factor in obstructing equitable and sustainable development. Social policy was not just a tool to address the needs of the poor, but an instrument to improve the overall well‑being of all citizens. In today’s political, economic and financial climate of uncertainty and insecurity, that paradigm shift took on added urgency.
BERTRAND DE LOOZ KARAGEORGIADES, Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said the social integration process involved the establishment of a consensus, based on solidarity, by which exclusion must be minimized and all underprivileged people assisted by society. Exercising solidarity with all those threatened with exclusion was stipulated in the Constitutional Charter of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Poverty, the elimination of exclusion and the restoration of dignity had been at the very heart of the Order’s activities for more than 900 years -- to assist all those in distress, without distinction. Human dignity was all that mattered.
In all its activities, the Sovereign Military Order supported social development and the objective of a society for all, he said. The Order was always at the service of the poor and disadvantaged, acting in more than 120 countries enjoying diplomatic relations around the globe, and comprising 59 national associations. Since the Second World War, the Order had constantly increased its contributions to the international community, and its international branch had developed pilot projects in many developing countries. It was also very active in creating new projects to help the ill and excluded regain their place in society. In the final analysis, the Order’s activities aimed to help every person assume and regain their dignity.
MICHAEL CICHON, Director, Social Security Department, International Labour Organization (ILO), said “social integration” was much more than a fashionable policy concept for the current economic and financial crisis; it was a concept that allowed the international community to address social deficits and gaps that had lingered for decades and had banished more than 2 billion of the world’s people to lives of poverty and exclusion. Indeed, such widespread marginalization was a powerful indicator that global economic and social systems were failing long before the onset of the current socio-economic crises.
Noting the ILO’s appreciation at the Economic and Social Council’s renewed interest in the decent work agenda, he said decent work at an honest wage, and where rights were respected and social dialogue and protection were guaranteed for all, were vital for social integration. Decent work was the easiest way to overcome poverty, inequality and social inclusion, he said, adding that it was much more than earning an income; it created a sense of self‑respect and respect for others, dignity and belonging.
The ILO had adopted in June a landmark Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization, which explicitly recognized, among other things, that the agency’s objectives were interrelated and mutually reinforcing and efforts to promote them should be part of an ILO global land integrated strategy for decent work. He went on to say that the conceptual core of the ILO’s rethink on the matter was to find coherent ways it could help to effectively link employment and social protection policy concepts to ensure the simultaneous achievement of more decent employment, high income levels and better social protection, while realizing standards on fundamental rights at work through an inclusive process of social dialogue.
“This amounts to no less than the definition of a new coherent economic and social development policy paradigm,” he said, stressing that it was obvious that a society needed to invest in a basic social security mechanism to ensure that people could become productive. Once basic employability was achieved, higher levels of social security could be afforded, as economies grew and fiscal space widened. The ILO, therefore, supported recommendations in the Secretary-General’s report that stressed the necessity of establishing a “social floor” -- a minimum set of social security guarantees that should be available to all.
THELMA KAY, Chief, Social Development Division, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), said that in April 2008 the regional United Nations body had provided technical assistance to help Cambodia formulate a national youth policy. Next week ESCAP was organizing an Expert Group Meeting on the Regional Follow-up to the World Programme of Action for Youth for the Year 2000 and Beyond: Ensuring Regional Youth Development. The event would focus on the regional priorities of education and information and communications technology as development tools for youth and employment, and for youth and their well‑being, including health. ESCAP was also conducting projects on youth health and substance abuse in the Greater Mekong subregion, which focused on community‑based interventions and community participation.
Also in 2008, she recalled, ESCAP had approved a resolution on regional implementation of the Biwako Millennium Framework for Action and Biwako Plus Five towards an Inclusive, Barrier-Free and Rights-based Society for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific. Reflecting the spirit of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the resolution urged all ESCAP members to mainstream their disability perspectives into development initiatives, including achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, and asked them to join the Convention. ESCAP had organized training sessions on capacity-building for Governments, non-governmental organization and the private sector. In May 2008, ESCAP established strong working relations with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
CONNIE TARACENA SECAIRA ( Guatemala), endorsing the statement of the Group of 77 and China, said inequalities in her country were further compounded by the high percentage of young people and indigenous populations. Each segment of the population had its own social problems, and while Guatemala faced serious impediments to more inclusive development, it acknowledged the need to reduce the high level of marginalization and social exclusion.
Following the signing of the peace agreements in 1996, Guatemala had devoted increasing attention to social development, she said, noting that the current Government had endeavoured to make combating poverty and exclusion a central tenet of public policy. The Council for Social Cohesion, established in April 2008, catered to the poorest people in the country’s remotest regions, with the aim of dignifying individuals through a process of realigning social institutions in a way that allowed them to meet needs that had long been ignored. Another aim was to establish a solid system of more equitable growth in parallel with social justice.
In addition to social policies, she said, the President had introduced a rural development plan aimed at integrating social activities and strengthening the agriculture sector to raise the living standards of those small and medium producers most in need. A family-centred programme assisted 32 municipalities, a number that would rise to 46 in 2009. The Government had developed a system of grants to benefit the neediest families under the condition that they sent their children to school and used services provided by the Ministry of Health. School attendance had increased by 47 per cent since 2008 and new classrooms were being built throughout the country. Another goal was full employment, with particular attention to older persons and indigenous groups.
Argentina’s delegation then took the floor to make a statement on the review of relevant United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups.
MARCELA BORDENAVE, Adviser to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Argentina, described social integration as a priority and a challenge for her country, saying it was working in a coordinated manner within the framework of a global strategy to reverse the serious exclusion affecting major sectors of the population due to the 2001 economic crisis. Social exclusion was caused not just by macroeconomic and microeconomic phenomena, but also by cultural barriers and stereotypes, which Argentina was committed to combating in order fully to integrate everyone into society without discrimination.
The Families for Social Inclusion programme protected and socially integrated families facing social risk through health care, education and skills development so that they could exercise their fundamental rights, she said. A labour and training insurance scheme helped people find adequate jobs and improve their work skills. A national work development plan aimed to achieve economically sustainable social development through job creation and community participation. The National Plan for Food Security focused on families living in unfavourable social conditions and at risk of malnutrition. A key component of State policy, the Families programme promoted values leading to coherent, harmonious family and social life.
Stressing that employment was at the core of her country’s social and poverty-reduction policies, she said Argentina had adopted policies specifically oriented towards education, sports and productive jobs for the young. Argentina was working towards full gender equality, the elimination of gender stereotypes and equal access for women to education and employment. The National Board of Women was promoting public gender policies that helped to overcome discrimination against women and girls. Last September, Argentina had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol.
Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations
JOY PETERSON, International Presentation Association of the Sisters of the Presentation, said that, as the financial and economic crises intensify, millions of women and men were losing their jobs, houses and livelihoods. The crises worsened the social, ecological, cultural and political situation of the majority of people worldwide. Despite the foreseeable failure of the current economic model, world leaders had so far responded by trying to preserve the system that was responsible for the crises. Governments had been quick to bail out bankers and their shareholders, while the workers, the jobless, the poor had received almost no support in their daily struggle, and now they were supposed to pay the bill. The need to transform the economic system was clearer than ever. A system should be built that worked for people and the environment, a system based on the principles of public benefit, global equity, justice, environmental sustainability and democratic control. Lack of social economic policies could lead not only to excessively high social costs, but also to the failure of the economic policies themselves. Moreover, social security for all should be a priority of all Governments. The current crisis required an unprecedented global response.
A representative of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur said her convent was active in 21 countries in the areas of development, education and protection, particularly of women and girls. She drew attention to the fact that the numbers of migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons were growing rapidly due to political conflicts, economic crises and environmental disasters. It was, therefore, critical that both national Governments and local communities work for the inclusion of migrants and their families in society.
She said that establishing such venues at workplaces and community organizations, where migrants could interact and collaborate with the local leadership in an open and meaningful dialogue, would lead to the building of a better community for all. A key requisite of inclusion was that those affected by decisions must be welcomed as active participants in the decision-making process. Inclusion of migrant workers in planning and implementation of projects would contribute much to effective policies and promote social development in the communities they served through their work.
JENNIE CHIN HANSEN, President of AARP, strongly urged the Commission to pay special attention to the rapidly ageing population worldwide and carefully consider intergenerational approaches when discussing policies that sought to increase the participation and integration of social groups, reduce inequalities, and promote access to basic social services, education and health care for all. AARP would, in cooperation with the United Nations programme on ageing, host a series of briefings on global ageing during the Commission’s session that would bring together Government delegates, non-governmental organizations, foundations and academics to discuss social integration and its relation to older people.
She reiterated the importance of the Madrid plan, which called on Governments to translate the plan’s objectives into national policies and practices that positively impacted the lives of older people. In order to address the information needs of all stakeholders in the review process, AARP was collaborating with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs to identify significant trends in ageing, as well as provide the necessary information on the qualitative techniques for the plan’s implementation.
Review of Action Plans Pertaining to Situation of Social Groups
CLEMENT K. KHEMBO, Minister for Persons with Disabilities and the Elderly, Malawi, said the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy recognized the importance of the social inclusion of vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, persons with disabilities, orphans and vulnerable children, as well as destitute families, in their fight against poverty, hunger, malnutrition, and unemployment, and in the promotion of the enjoyment of their rights and freedoms. In collaboration with its development partners and civil society, his country was developing a social protection policy to enhance the welfare of the poorest, particularly the vulnerable groups. It was implementing a social cash transfer scheme in seven districts, in order to reduce poverty and address the broader development challenges hampering rapid social development and economic growth. The pilot had been instrumental in informing the formulation of the social protection policy.
He said that a conditional cash transfer scheme provided cash to people who participate in various designated jobs. The Government was also implementing a school meals programme in selected schools, and it had formulated a national policy for older persons. Given the role of the family in socio‑economic development, the Government was currently reviewing family-related laws to ensure that the family was at the centre of national development. Outdated laws would be replaced by legislation that prohibited all forms of neglect, exploitation, and gender-based violence. The review would also address issues of marriage, divorce, child maintenance, custody and adoption. Engaging youth in development was not a matter of choice, but an imperative for national development, and the Government had put in place strategic programmes for that purpose. In the areas of skills, training and employment creation, Malawi had a youth economic empowerment programme to address issues of unemployment and poverty among out-of-school youth.
TAKASHI ASHIKI ( Japan) said the goal of development was to improve living standards through balanced economic growth and fair distribution of resources. To do that, it was not only necessary to devise comprehensive economic development plans covering poverty elimination and the provision of basic necessities such as clean water and sanitation, but also to construct social safety nets that would protect socially vulnerable individuals and groups while closing gaps in development progress.
He said the United Nations had adopted various relevant instruments aimed at improving the situation of vulnerable groups, including the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and recently through the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Yet, people around the world were still living in poverty and the current financial crisis and economic downturn were only worsening their plight. Tackling that problem called for protecting the dignity of individuals in need and pursuing development from the perspective of human security -- in other words, heeding the Copenhagen Declaration’s call to “put people at the centre of development”.
Going on to highlight some of his country’s programmes and initiatives targeting social groups, he cited the Government’s 2008 decision to contribute, through the United Nations Human Security Fund, to a joint United Nations project in Bolivia focused on human security for adolescents. That project covered such issues as violence, early pregnancy, maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS, and aimed to help adolescents realize their full potential. The Government published an annual “white paper” on youth, and last December it had introduced a new national youth development policy featuring basic principles and guidelines for formulating medium- and long-term youth-related measures. Japan also attached great importance to the issue of ageing, among its own population and farther afield. It also supported projects at home and abroad to provide assistance to persons with disabilities.
TAREQ MD. ARIFUL ISLAM ( Bangladesh) said the issue of disability was increasingly taking its place on the global development agenda. His Government was realigning its activities to fully reflect the provisions of the Disabilities Convention. It had been unrelenting in its pursuit of mainstreaming the disability issue in the national development agenda. Additionally, it was introducing a paradigm shift nationally, by addressing the issue from a rights-based approach, rather than from the traditional medical and paternalistic approach. Civil society and non-governmental organizations were complementing the Government’s efforts. Awareness-raising programmes were seeking to change perceptions, remove stereotypes and create readiness at all levels of society to accept persons with disabilities, without prejudice. The Government increased the disability allowance every year, as well as the number of beneficiaries. It had hosted the Third General Assembly and Conference of the Asia Pacific Disability Forum last year, and election of an expert from Bangladesh to the 12‑member Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was recognition of his country’s contribution in that sector.
Stressing the need to tap the endless potential of youth, he said that Bangladesh’s national youth policy was designed to transform its youth into an organized, disciplined and productive force. The aim was to involve youth in national development and decision-making, while maintaining gender balance and ensuring non-discrimination. A campaign had been launched to raise awareness of drug abuse and sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS. Also important was to draw the critical link between ageing and development and to recognize the contribution people made to socio-economic development as they aged. The human potential of older persons should be nurtured. To achieve tangible success, their concerns should be mainstreamed into the relevant national policies. That could keep them in the labour force, according to their capacities and preferences. Elderly people were also important beneficiaries of Bangladesh’s poverty reduction schemes. Intergenerational cohesion generated positive outcomes in families, and the international community should take up the issue of family more seriously. The poor and the vulnerable had been the hardest-hit by the current global crises. Unless the situation of those vulnerable groups was ameliorated, the goal of social development would remain elusive.
RAPHAEL HERMOSO ( Philippines) said the Philippine Government was seriously committed to improving the lives of persons with disabilities and was continually looking for ways to empower them through resources, access and equal opportunities. The protection of the human rights of disabled persons and their participation in the development process had been mainstreamed into policies and strategies. The Government had set up the National Council on Disability Affairs to formulate policies and coordinate Government and private sector implementation of activities concerning disabilities. It had signed and ratified the Disabilities Convention and had participated in the first meeting of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention held last November. Implementation of the Convention and the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities would complement each other, and were essential to improving the lives of persons with disabilities, especially in developing countries.
He said that, since most people with disabilities were among the poorest of the poor, one way to empower them was to make sure they benefited from their countries’ economic development, international cooperation in the development field and in the sharing of knowledge and technologies. He expressed concern that efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 would not effectively filter down to persons with disabilities, who could least likely benefit from conventional development processes. Improving the plight of people with disabilities should be an integral part of the Millennium Development Goals. The World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons was an important tool to monitor and effectively address the situation of persons with disabilities.
GILLES NOGHÈS ( Monaco) said poverty and discrimination undermined social development. It was crucial to adapt national legislation to international instruments. People-centred development was the very foundation of States’ ability to ensure establishment of an equitable society, and at the heart of the efforts in Monaco. Whether retired or disabled, all citizens enjoyed an advanced system of social welfare. There were subsidies and social assistance in housing, education, health and employment. A system of subsidies had been adapted to such phenomena as ageing and, in that way, prevented exclusion. Monaco was working with other countries, through such programmes as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), to boost employment. It also took part in the project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “Web Cities”, aimed at reducing the poverty of vulnerable groups, particularly women, in towns and cities, through self‑managed credit schemes and management training programmes. Monaco worked closely with non‑governmental organizations to incorporate education as an instrument for development by strengthening the customary laws and identity of the Maasai people. Combating discrimination against and stigmatization of people living with HIV was also among Monaco’s activities.
COLETTE ROBERTS RISDEN, Director of Social Security, Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Jamaica, said the current economic situation spotlighted the need for the Commission and the wider United Nations system to encourage Member States to stay focused on the commitments made at Copenhagen towards the ultimate creation of a “society for all”. While some societies might be tempted to abandon or neglect the weak in times of crisis, the international community must ensure that the most vulnerable were protected and given the support needed to participate actively in society.
With that principled view in mind, she noted that the report on implementation of the Standard Rules on Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities showed that efforts to protect and fully integrate such persons lagged significantly behind commitments. However, Jamaica had been the first Member State to ratify the Disabilities Convention and the Government had subsequently moved quickly to raise awareness about the benefits of ensuring an inclusive society that recognized the human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons with disabilities, older persons and other disadvantaged groups.
Without broad social integration, Jamaica could not make progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, she said. In the coming year, therefore, the country intended to examine the nature and scope of all vulnerable groups so as to identify gaps in the social protection system. Given that Jamaica had set in motion a broad strategy to be classified as a developed country by 2030, the Government had implemented, less than a year ago, a free health-care plan that had significantly improved the health status of older persons, persons with disabilities and others who often lacked access to health services. There had also been an expansion of training initiatives targeting young people, at‑risk youths and persons receiving special assistance.
DANNY BUERKLI, youth delegate from Switzerland, stressed the importance of socially integrating disabled people, noting that many young people could not benefit from their own potential because of hunger, extreme poverty and sexual abuse. Such a loss of live energy jeopardized the Millennium Development Goals. The participation of Switzerland’s young people in political and social life was strong. The Swiss Council for Youth Activities had 1.5 million members in a country of 7 million people. Many national and regional youth councils had implemented a number of innovative youth projects. Switzerland invited all countries to include youth representatives in their delegations to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social Humanitarian and Cultural) and the Commission.
The Swiss example showed that involving young people in political and social life was in society’s best interest, he said, stressing that full and effective participation at all levels was necessary for social integration. Many young people were growing up with new information and communications technology that gave them considerable benefits such as rapid contact with other continents. But many young people in developing countries lacked access to such technologies. That gap put them at risk of misuse and abuse. The training of young people played a central role in social development. Censorship of websites was a violation of rights. Young people were the future.
JEONG-SUK IN, Director, Division of Rights Protection for Persons with Disabilities, Republic of Korea, noted that 10 per cent of her country’s population -– approximately 5.2 million people -- was 65 or older, a figure expected almost to double by 2026 in a dramatic demographic change often referred to as “compressed population ageing”. To address that phenomenon, the Government had enacted the Basic Act on Low Fertility and Aged Society in 2005 as a basis on which to draw up the first five‑year plan for ageing and population policy, which was being implemented at the national and local levels.
The Government had also been conducting a survey of the welfare service needs of older persons every three years in order to develop the necessary policies, he said. In 2008, it had introduced a pensions system to alleviate poverty among older persons. Regarding persons with disabilities, the Government had introduced new legal frameworks and ratified the Disabilities Convention. Prior to ratification, it had introduced the Anti-Discrimination and Remedies Act, aimed at advocating the full participation of disabled persons in society.
YI SULKI, youth delegate, Republic of Korea, called attention to the difficulties facing young people, saying that, while youth should be treated with care and respect, they were often abused and forced to work in poor conditions for lower pay. In some cases, they were exposed to forced prostitution, drugs, brainwashing and recruitment as child soldiers. Those difficulties would likely be aggravated by the global economic crisis, with the attendant risk of long-term harmful effects resulting from the deepening social exclusion of young people.
Greater attention should be paid to the hardships of youth, and the challenges facing them should be met with firm determination, he said. It was vital, for example, not to allow time or money constraints to hinder the promotion of education. There should be more active international cooperation to improve public education in developing countries. In terms of the participation of youth in society, their opinions should be a significant element in policymaking given that their lives would be affected by the policies devised and implemented today. Young people in the Republic of Korea had gained a much stronger voice and the ability to be heard through online networks.
MILOSLAV HETTES, Chairperson, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) Working Group on Ageing, and International Labour and Social Policy Director-General, Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family of Slovakia, said that, in light of the ongoing financial and economic instability and its myriad impacts on different societies and communities worldwide, it was clear that growth must never be seen as a final objective. “Growth is just a tool for achieving the objective, which is the welfare and sound physical and mental health of people at all stages of life.” With demographic changes and rapid technological advances, a new generation of older people was emerging, with fewer of the limitations traditionally considered obstacles to their active participation in society.
Beyond that, many cultures still held the experience and knowledge of their older generations in high esteem, he said. With the needs of ageing populations sure to increase in the coming years, a more open and integrated approach was necessary, not only to ensure that the elderly participated in society, but also to ensure that they were seen as irreplaceable sources of knowledge, values and experience. It was now unacceptable to “focus on our own needs forgetting the needs of the parents who have raised us”. Slovakia supported the appointment of a special rapporteur on the rights of older persons who would report regularly to the Commission.
Turning to the work of the ECE, he noted that the regional body’s members had given new impetus to implementation of the Madrid Action Plan and its Regional Implementation Strategy by joining forces in the Working Group on Ageing. The Group had held its constituents’ meeting in early December 2008, adopting an ambitious work programme to address the challenges of ageing societies in Europe, North America and Central Asia. The meeting had also revealed the existence of a good number of national programmes and good practices, and that Member States had stressed that capacity development would, therefore, be a priority over the next two years.
ADRIANA GONZALEZ FURLONG, Director-General, National Institute of Older Persons, Mexico, said the financial crisis would particularly impact disabled and older persons, who would likely move from a situation of vulnerability to one of social exclusion. The rapid growth in the number of older and disabled people worldwide had led to a greater focus on those two groups. At the end of 2007, the Brasilia Declaration, emanating from the Second Regional Conference on Ageing, dealt with ageing from a Latin American perspective.
She hailed the Secretary-General’s report for its reference to the application of the Madrid Plan on Ageing in helping States develop steps to implement it. Mexico’s national policy to enhance the dignity of older persons was based on the Madrid Plan and called for closer coordination with civil society organizations. That provided for an in‑depth profile of the national situation that would guide decisions based on needs of older persons. Mexico had also created an Inter‑Institutional Coordination Council on older persons comprising more than 40 civil society groups, academics, the media and older persons, which intended to bring together and actively promote public policy for older persons. The Council would work to provide the input necessary to generate relevant State policy.
Mexico’s 2002 Law on the Rights of Older Persons and the 2006 General Law on Persons with Disabilities had created the normative framework to protect older people and those with disabilities, she said. The 2008-2012 National Human Rights Programme fostered projects concerning physical access to infrastructure, public transport, communications, labour, health care and social security from a gender perspective. The National Institute for Older Persons had signed more than 20,000 agreements with service providers, giving older people discounts of up to 70 per cent.
ALYA AHMED SAIF AL-THANI (Qatar), stressing that the family had always been the essential social unit in all cultures, noted that since 1994, the International Year of the Family, many Governments and other actors had supported the well‑being of families through a range of policies, programmes and strategies. Qatar had participated actively in the preparations for and observance of the tenth anniversary of the International Year in 2004 and had since been diligently promoting global cooperation on family-related matters. Beyond that, the country had also promoted the importance of national capacity development in family-focused policymaking, and was proud to announce that a United Nations Expert Meeting on Family Policy, Social Protection and Intergenerational Solidarity would be held in Doha in April.
She went on to urge the Commission to give the objectives of the International Year of the Family more emphasis in its deliberations and future sessions, especially since the twentieth anniversary of the Year was only five years away. As such, the Commission’s upcoming work programmes should reflect the significance of that event and its importance to integrated development strategies. Further, family issues and family support were closely connected to the three themes that had emerged at Copenhagen: poverty eradication; full employment; and social integration. Also, support for families was vital in ensuring broad implementation of, among other things, the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing and the World Programme of Action on Persons with Disabilities, whether tackling youth unemployment or ensuring a supportive environment for persons with disabilities.
ROBERTO STORACI ( Italy) said his country provided a system of disability benefits based on the type and level of impairment. Regarding employment, measures were in place that obliged public sector and private enterprises to recruit a proportion of disabled people based on the total number of employees. In that framework, employers were given the opportunity to plan a work period for employees with disabilities. According to the latest national survey on working conditions for the disabled, some 700,000 people with disabilities were seeking jobs, mainly in the south of Italy, and there were still 200,000 jobs available among those reserved for those with disabilities. Though women with disabilities suffered multiple discriminations in the labour market, and the unemployment rate among them was higher than that of disabled men, women were underrepresented in targeted placements. There was a need for actions to develop not only new organizational structures, but also a broader employment culture.
Ageing policies were particularly important for Italy, he said, adding that Italian demographic projections clearly showed a further ageing of the national population owing to a combination of low fertility and longer life expectancy. That trend would further increase economic and social pressure on the working-age population. As of 2002, Italy’s priority had been to mainstream ageing policies into labour-market reform and the reorganization of the social security system. Efforts to make the pension system more flexible were aimed at widening workers’ choices, while addressing the need for financial sustainability and a more balanced system of benefits. That implicitly created incentives for people to remain at work longer. The reforms were meant, first and foremost, to increase the participation of older persons in the labour market, in keeping with the European employment strategy.
CLAUDE BONELLO (Malta) described his country’s national action plan for 2008‑2010, which identified the main challenges in combating poverty and social exclusion as: tackling school absenteeism, learning difficulties and illiteracy; increasing employment, particularly through the inclusion of older persons, women and vulnerable groups; adequate and affordable housing; combating the intergenerational transmission of poverty and social exclusion; addressing the social aspects of migration; and reforming the social protection system to ensure its sustainability, adequacy and comprehensiveness.
He went on to describe its national policies for integration of persons with disabilities; the elderly, noting that Malta had been the first to raise the question of ageing as a matter of international concern at the United Nations in 1968; and youth. He added that Malta had a multitude of services available for the family, including financial assistance, such as a children’s allowance, disabled child allowance, foster child allowance and social assistance for single parents. The Government encouraged gender equality by strengthening mothers’ participation in the workforce and encouraging fathers to spend more time in caregiving at home. It also provided social work service to adults and their children suffering abuse in the family.
ALEXANDRA MARTIN and BOGDAN COVALIU, youth delegates from Romania, said that while young people were now the main engine of development and the base of the social development pyramid, all youth must have equal opportunities to fulfil that responsibility. Young women and girls in rural areas were isolated and prevented from participating in any kind of decision-making or enjoying the opportunities offered by society. The World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond was a tool for reaching an international agreement on youth and their sustainable development. International efforts to advance the social integration of youth had largely expanded, but the risk factors for the social exclusion of young people still meant that policies were needed to combat discrimination, marginalization and other forms of exclusion.
Greater economic insecurity and inequality could result in disaster for young people and lead to delinquency, illiteracy and some of the worst forms of violence, they said. It was necessary to increase the level of unemployment and underemployment while ensuring decent work for all. A social dialogue and sustainable social programmes for youth were important for better social integration. Young people in rural areas still faced major difficulties in attending school or finding appropriate jobs. Uneven economic growth, inadequate infrastructure and retrograde mentalities contributed to the exclusion of youth. Romania had made great progress in past years and its young people had been fully recognized as key stakeholders in a modern, dynamic society.
XIAO CAIWEI ( China), noting that the world population was ageing at an accelerated pace, said the number of people over 60 in his country had now reached 153 million, which accounted for nearly 12 per cent of the total population. It was estimated that, by mid-century, the aged population in China would exceed 400 million, or more than 30 per cent of the total population. The Government had gradually established a comprehensive social security system, based on social insurance, social relief and social welfare. It was focused on basic old-age care, basic medical care and minimum life guarantee, supplemented by charity work and commercial insurance.
He said the Government was working to strengthen the function of the family in caring for the elderly, and promoting its socialized old-age care service, in which the community played the central role. It had actively encouraged cultural and educational activities by the elderly through the establishment of 670,000 cultural and sports facilities for them in addition to more than 26,000 universities for elderly students. It would continue to adhere to the principle of “people at the centre”, as it steadily improved its social security system and worked hard to safeguard the rights of the elderly.
China had also always been attentive to safeguarding the rights and interests of persons with disabilities, he said. Among several measures taken last year had been passage of an amendment to the law on protection of persons with disabilities. It made clear the Government’s responsibility in reinforcing social security for persons with disabilities and providing for the comprehensive development of rehabilitation, education, employment, culture, sports and public services on their behalf.
Recalling that his country had been among the first to ratify the Disabilities Convention, he said it had also hosted the thirteenth Paralympics last September. The Chinese Government also supported the development of youth organizations. The financial crisis had placed considerable pressure on the employment situation in China, making the employment of young people a more severe problem. To solve that, the Government had implemented the Employment Promotion Law, as well as proactive employment policies and measures. It was also working actively to promote the employment of college graduates and guide young migrant workers from rural areas to seek employment.
BYRGANYM AITIMOVA ( Kazakhstan) said the sharing of best practices among countries was important in ensuring social protection. Kazakhstan’s “Path to Europe” for 2009‑2011 included provisions for cooperation with European countries in the area of social support in employment, labour and other services for the disabled and other disadvantaged citizens. During its presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010, Kazakhstan would focus on stabilizing the macroeconomic environment in order to speed up the pace of social development. The Government had implemented programmes to maintain employment and increase incomes and social protection for vulnerable groups.
She said the Government was also working steadily to improve the well‑being of its citizens. Last year, it had increased the share of social spending in the national budget by 17.6 per cent to 32.4 per cent. Kazakhstan had created incentives for organizations and enterprises to increase employment and training for young professionals. To reduce unemployment, most of the country’s regions offered internships for professional development, as well as almost 1,000 job fairs, which had led to employment for almost 27,000 young people. The Government offered a pension system and social protections for older people, as well as benefits for families in general and extended families in particular with the aim of maintaining intergenerational bonds.
SIMON M. KAPILIMA ( Zambia) said his country addressed the problems of persons with disabilities with such strategies as: their inclusion in the Citizen’s Economic Empowerment Programme; involving them in the review of the Disability Act; appointment of disability focal point persons in most Government institutions; a higher tax credit for persons with disabilities; and increased access to antiretroviral treatment. As for its relatively young population, Zambia had revised a National Youth Policy; provided youth skills-training programmes; provided bursaries to vulnerable youths; and rehabilitated and reintegrated orphans and street children.
He said the Government was also considering a National Policy on Ageing and was implementing programmes providing financial support to old people’s homes, affordable medical services, and support for organizations working with older persons. The role of the family as a fundamental unit of society in promoting social integration remained very significant. The Government had, thereto, undertaken such initiatives as the Public Welfare Assistance Scheme and the Social Cash Transfers aimed at cushioning the family against socio-economic challenges such as poverty and HIV/AIDS. In the face of the global crises, he called on the international community to continue its support for many development programmes in countries such as Zambia.
INGRID SABJA DAZA ( Bolivia) said her country’s guiding concept was “living well” as opposed to that of most of the rest of the world, which could be described as “living better”. So many people sought more and more, no matter the cost to people or nature. That development model was one of capitalistic accumulation. Unless the structural causes of the problem changed, very little could be done about social concerns. Some measures could be developed locally but comprehensive solutions could only be built at the global level. The financial crisis, caused by a few countries, would have a greater impact on many, including Bolivia. Social integration required overcoming the asymmetries.
Noting that discussion of social cohesion and inclusion always focused on the poor, she asked why the talk could not be about the rich and limiting the concentration of power whereby a few controlled a vast amount of the world’s resources. Indeed, the challenge of the present century was to overcome the huge imbalances between nations, regions and cultures. It was imperative to rethink development, particularly in developed countries, to give thought to competitiveness, growth and expansion, and to start thinking more about balance, harmony and complementarity. Human beings must integrate into their habitat in order to survive. Industrialization and consumerism had exceeded the Earth’s capacity to replace its natural resources.
There could be no social integration unless people first integrated into their environment, she warned. In the absence of harmony with nature, there could be no harmony among individuals. According to indigenous cultures, human beings were not the only ones with rights; plants, hills and lakes also had rights and humankind was undermining the rights of other living beings. The United Nations must acknowledge that fact, as well as the essential need to restore balance on the planet and move towards genuine social integration.
ANTONIO LIMA (Cape Verde) stressed that his country was very vulnerable to external social factors, and the current crisis and its impact on others made social cohesion all the more important. The Government of Cape Verde was working hard to implement anti‑poverty programmes. It had made basic education available to all, and the national literacy rate was over 80 per cent. Since 2005, unemployment had been declined significantly and health care was available to all. Support for older persons was also being extended, and persons with disabilities were receiving increased attention from all sectors of society. Seventy per cent of Cape Verde’s families had access to electricity. However, much work remained to be done before persons with disabilities could live in a more favourable environment.
The Government was keeping a close eye on and working to create decent work, particularly for young people, he said. Given the financial crisis facing the world today, Cape Verde was all the more resolved to overcome numerous challenges. The financial crisis called into question the irresponsible ways in which the world was organized and the shameless attitudes of those responsible for it. It was important to remember that African children in particular continued to die in childbirth and from hunger and lack of health care. Financial aid to Africa and other parts of the developing world must continue. Global social solidarity could not be weakened. The challenge of building an inclusive society that benefited everyone was not an easy task for developing countries. The international community, particularly economic development partners, must play the primary role in that process.
MOHAMMED F. AL-ALLAF ( Jordan) said the fundamental objective of Jordan’s policies was comprehensive development through economic improvement. Proceeding from that view, Jordan had undertaken serious actions to prepare its citizens to achieve their potential. Particularly important in the economic and social field had been the elaboration of a strategy through 2011 towards further social integration and improving development opportunities for all. It was aimed at improving lifestyles for all by making the best possible use of social services and social development based on accountability and full social integration. The Jordanian approach to social integration was based on a number of fundamental elements. The first concerned balanced and equitable social security for all segments of society, through material security, food security, social justice, employment security and economic security. The focus was on the most vulnerable segments, specifically women, youth, children and persons with disabilities. A law had been drafted to help persons with disabilities integrate into society.
He said his country had also invested in its youth, which made up two thirds of its population. Seeking to integrate them into the country’s political, social and economic fabric, a national youth strategy (2005-2009) had placed youth at the centre of the national priorities. Combating poverty and unemployment also underpinned Jordan’s social integration policy. The aim was to improve quality of life by positioning the most disadvantaged segments towards self‑sufficiency and productivity. For that purpose, curricula were being reviewed and training and job opportunities were being increased. New funding sources were being provided, the agricultural sector was being promoted, health coverage was ensured, and urgent care was provided to the severest cases. Jordan was also tackling the deepest pockets of poverty throughout the country. Social integration was indeed a major national responsibility for the Government, as it worked towards a better present and future for all its citizens.
* *** *For information media • not an official record