1 March 2001


Press Release

Commission for Social Development

Acting as Preparatory Committee for

 Second World Assembly on Ageing

4th Meeting (AM)



The foremost challenge, particularly for the developing countries, remained the achievement of secure ageing, the Commission for Social Development acting as the Preparatory Committee for the Second World Assembly on Ageing was told, as it concluded its general debate this morning.

Marking the twentieth anniversary of the First World Assembly on Ageing, the second Assembly will be held on 8-12 April 2002 in Madrid, Spain. The focus of the current -- first -- preparatory session is the revision of the 1982 International Plan of Action on Ageing, beginning with the segment entitled "Strategy for a Society for all Ages".  The Preparatory Committee is also considering the modalities of non-governmental organization participation in the event and its preparatory process, as well as the format and the rules of procedure of the Assembly.

Speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the representative of Iran said that the theme of the Assembly’s outcome document should be “The Achievement of Secure Ageing –- Equality, Participation and Dignity”.  The text must fully reflect the challenges of the developing countries in the context of their social, economic and developmental situation.  Securing resources for development and the continuing contribution of older people to society should also be included.

The Secretary of State and Welfare of Brazil said that the text must be fundamentally inspired by the human rights of the older persons, which were increasingly threatened by poverty, especially in the developing countries.  In that connection, actions to combat poverty were of particular importance.  Significant demographic changes in the world must be matched by sufficient budgets, adequate social policies and production processes.

Also today, a representative of the Dominican Republic introduced a draft decision, by which the Commission would ask the Secretary-General to submit to it at its second session, in 2002, a comprehensive report on discrimination, vulnerability and abuse against older persons.  Questions were raised by delegations and Secretariat officials concerning the cost and exhaustive nature of the report.

4th Meeting (AM)

The Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, John Langmore, said he would try to advise the Committee tomorrow of the cost of preparing such a report. The sponsors of the draft said that no action plan on ageing would be complete without such a report.

Also speaking in the debate were the representatives of Israel and Cameroon.  A non-governmental organization -– International Association of Gerontology -– also addressed the Committee.  Representatives of Mexico, United States, Uruguay and Sweden (on behalf of the European Union) took part in the discussion of the proposed draft decision.

The Committee is expected to conclude its fist session tomorrow, 2 March, at a time to be announced in the Journal.

Preparatory Committee Background

The Commission for Social Development, acting as the Preparatory Committee for the Second World Assembly on Ageing, was expected to conclude its general debate this morning.  The discussion is focused on the “strategy for a society for all ages” portion of the revised action plan to be adopted by the Assembly.

During the Committee’s one-week session, it is expected to agree on the accreditation and participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the World Assembly and its preparatory process.  Also to be negotiated are the draft provisional rules of procedure of the event and its organization of work.  For background information, see Press Release SOC/4568 of 23 February.


Speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries, BAGHER ASADI (Iran) said that, since the first Assembly, the phenomenon of ageing had become a development priority in most countries.  In the new century, the majority of old people would be found in the developing countries.  Therefore, the Group of 77 welcomed the convening of the Second Assembly to urgently address their concerns and needs.  The document should take into account the review and appraisal process of the implementation of the International Plan of Action on Ageing and build upon the United Nations Principles for Older Persons of 1991.  Furthermore, it was important to mainstream a gender perspective throughout document. 

The Group hoped that Assembly participation would be at the highest political level, he continued.  It was equally important to facilitate effective and meaningful participation of the developing countries in the event.  For that reason, he strongly opposed the proposed multiplicity of committees, which would, in effect, deprive many developing countries with small delegations from such participation.  Instead, he proposed that there should be a plenary supported by the Committee of the Whole, which could also listen to contributions from United Nations agencies and NGOs.  It could also establish working groups to assist it.  A parallel NGO event should also be held.

The proposed outcome document before the Committee provided a good basis for work, he said, for it contained important information and recommendations on the new challenges of an ageing society.  The foremost challenge, particularly for the developing countries, remained the achievement of secure ageing.  The theme of the document should, therefore, be “The Achievement of Secure Ageing -– Equality, Participation and Dignity”.  It was important that the document fully reflected future and present challenges in the developing countries.  Moreover, the social, economic and developmental situation of the developing countries must be highlighted in the document.  Increasing concern for securing resources for development should also be reflected.  The continuing contribution of older people to society should be recognized and fostered.  It was necessary to project a positive image of the older people. 

As for the structure of the revised plan of action, it should be shorter, more focused and action-oriented, he said.  The Group proposed that the revised text be summarized in a manner that highlighted the main concerns and specific policies needed.  The language should be clear and concise.  He looked forward to early negotiations, and he supported holding a number of intersessional meetings before convening the second preparatory session. 

BEN Z. KEREM (Israel) said “we live in the age of ageing”.  The rapid ageing of the world’s population was now a common denominator among all regions, particularly among the “oldest old” over age 80.  That was resulting in an increased support burden on the primary caregivers, as well as concern about how to address the needs of the more disabled elderly.  There were two major challenges -– dealing with the exceptional levels of ageing in the developed world and determining how the developing world could find its way in facing those challenges in the context of cultural, economic and social differences.

He said that five major points emerged in a review of policies in the developed world:  lack of knowledge; missed opportunities to prevent disability, and failure to integrate social and medical factors and models; diversity across countries; diverse national reform efforts; and dramatic developments at local levels.  Those trends and new demands on how care was delivered posed a considerable challenge to organized systems and their ability to meet those demands.  There had been much discussion about the degree to which the family, as the basis of such support, was weakening, as well as the consequences of migration.  Few studies were available, and those had not confirmed a serious change in family roles.

Basic questions revolved around whether the developing world would reverse the pattern of priorities of the developed world, he went on.  Could it succeed in putting universal primary care providers at the front line, placing an emphasis on knowledge, understanding and concern for the family as a whole?  Could it place health promotion at the forefront, rather than acute care?  Could it avoid institutionalization through community care and support for families?  Finally, could it emphasize social models and avoid the pitfalls of costly over-medicalized services? he asked.

He outlined the network of services in Israel, which emphasized the provision of home care as opposed to overemphasizing homemaking services, which was the case in many countries.  The strong family structure had been evident in the non-emergence of intergenerational conflict.  Overall, however, a dichotomy of perceptions had existed between viewing the elderly as an age group and viewing them as parents and grandparents.  As a group, they were burdensome and competed for resources.  As parents, they had loved and cared for the younger generation.  Also as parents, they placed the welfare of their children above their own.  Every member of the younger generation had had a parent, even if every elderly person had not had a child.  Pursuing independence to avoid interdependence and mutual concern would make losers of all age groups.

MARIE-MADELEINE FOUDA (Cameroon) said the problem of ageing was affecting both the developed and developing world.  The situation of the elderly must be rethought by taking into account their contributions to society.  Strategies must be found to make it possible for them to participate in community life.  It was up to governments and other national forces to improve the lives of those citizens and help them combat poverty and become productive and self-supporting.  All persons had a right to employment and education, without discrimination, and to experience the links between the generations.  The Secretary-General’s report was a kind of bible, from which ideas could be elaborated for the happiness of the elderly. 

Until just a few years ago in Cameroon, she said, caring for the elderly was assumed by the rest of the family.  The older members had been considered the depositories of ancestral wisdom and had participated in the daily life of the family and clan.  Their role was to hand over that knowledge to new generations -- ideas considered to be full of wisdom and culture.  The special place of elderly people should be protected.  Moreover, respect for the elderly should be fostered among the children of a family.  The older family members had cared for the youngsters and had avoided the anguish of modern life.  Now, with the degradation of family solidarity, their way of life had been eroding.  In Cameroon, the mobility of society, its development, the exodus of young persons, and the integration of various cultures had changed the situation for older persons. 

The situation of the elderly was now a matter for the Welfare Ministry, which had provided a system of solidarity that took into account the isolated older persons, she said.   Nonetheless, it was very difficult to harmonize cultural policies, and too few people worked in geriatric departments.  Despite such shortcomings, due legislative and administrative consideration had been given to ageing issues.  Everyone should strive to improve the living conditions of the elderly, including the family, State, NGOs, civil society, and so forth.  She expressed her sympathy and deep respect for all of those people worldwide who were disadvantaged, in general, and elderly, in particular.  Solidarity based on ethics would enable all people to live in peace and harmony.

WANDA ENGEL ADUAN, Secretary of State and Welfare of Brazil, said the report before the Committee would serve as a good basis for future work, providing a conceptual background for adopting a revised plan of action.  The text must be fundamentally inspired by the human rights of the older persons, which were increasingly threatened by poverty, especially in the developing countries.  In that connection, actions to combat poverty were of particular importance.  Significant demographic changes must be matched by sufficient budgets, adequate social policies and production processes.  The international community, governments and civil society must evaluate the changes in the age structure of society.

Her country had adopted measures to increase minimum income of the older people and to improve their standard of living, she continued.  Social policies for the maintenance of older persons within the family were being introduced, and a public campaign against discrimination against older persons had begun.  It was important to eliminate inequality and provide access to social and medical services.  The revised Plan of Action should emphasize care, access to services and participation, both in urban and country areas.  It must also guarantee cultural and social opportunities for older people and ensure their well-being and health.  The Plan must include particular recommendations to guarantee development and combat poverty.

Reinforced international cooperation was needed, she said, and the proposed text was too schematic in that respect.  Concrete actions must be detailed.  Reinforcement of international cooperation was particularly important in view of existing inequality in the world.  One of the central aspects of national and international strategies had to do with education of older persons to make them aware of their new role in society, allowing them to adapt to the changes.  It was also important to fight illiteracy, particularly in the developing countries.  Participation of media and public-awareness campaigns were of fundamental importance.  The document should be concise and focused on the realities of the developing world.

GARY ANDREWS, of the International Association for Gerontology (IAG), said his global NGO was concerned with research, education and knowledge about ageing.  In the past 20 years, there had been extraordinary transformation in the age profiles of the world’s major regions and nations.  A series of experts’ consultations had contributed to the preparatory process, which should not, however, stop there.  The research agenda was an ongoing exercise.  In the past two decades, astonishing advances had been achieved in the understanding of ageing.  That research must continue, drawing upon experience of the ageing persons themselves, as well as that of their families.  To contribute to the expert input, the IAG was prepared to hold an event in Valencia, Spain, focusing on research, education and best practices collection.

JULIA TAVARES DE ALVAREZ (Dominican Republic) introduced the draft decision on discrimination, vulnerability and abuse against older persons (document E/CN.5/2001/PC/L.4).  By that draft, the Commission for Social Development acting as the preparatory committee for the Second World Assembly on Ageing would ask the Secretary-General to submit to it at its second session, in 2002, a comprehensive report on the topic to contribute to the elaboration of the revised action plan to be adopted by the Second World Assembly.

The draft decision was sponsored by Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guyana, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, Republic of Korea and Zambia.

She said thatas long as the Commission could not document, understand and evaluate the characteristics and magnitude of the vulnerability and abuse of the elderly, as well as the level of discrimination against them, it would not be justified in mobilizing the international community to protect and guarantee those persons’ fundamental rights.  That was the intent of the text, which would, hopefully, receive universal support. 

JOHN LANGMORE, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, asked the representative of the Dominican Republic how much research should be undertaken and whether it would cover all three distinct areas -– vulnerability, discrimination and abuse -– in all regions of the world.  Also, would it be presented in all six United Nations languages?  Did she imagine it would involve fresh research or a compilation of existing material?  It would be helpful to have a clearer perception of how she understood the preparation of the report called for in the text?

Mrs. ALVAREZ (Dominican Republic) said she knew that the draft raised a broad multifaceted theme and an important question.  If one used the analogy of violence against women, for example, nothing could be done to combat it without knowing the full extent and location of the problem.  She had understood that if it was an exhaustive examination, it would be long and costly.  With the new technologies and the studies already done, it would be a matter of compiling all of the material.  She had also understood that the existing studies on abuse of the elderly were sufficient to be able to compile one report.

LUIS JAVIER CAMPUZANO (Mexico) said that, as an author of the draft decision, he supported the remarks made by the representative of the Dominican Republic on the intent of the text.  It was now a matter of integrating existing knowledge in the context of ageing.  Such a contribution to future discussions would lead to the formulation of recommendations to be included in the revised action plan.

DAVID HOHMAN (United States) said that the draft had clearly addressed extremely important issues which were appropriate for the Commission on Social Development, if not for the Preparatory Committee, but it would be helpful for delegations to have some more information, perhaps from the Secretariat, about the content of the report.  Discrimination and abuse were specific topics, which could be addressed without being considered under the vast topic of vulnerability.  He also sought information on the budgetary implications of preparing the report.

Mr. LANGMORE said that the United States representative had raised the same question as the Secretariat.  He had not had the chance to carefully plan how such a comprehensive report could be written and, therefore, could not, with any precision, discuss the budgetary implications.  Clearly, the four professionals in the unit working on ageing had, as their principal priority, the elaboration of a revised action plan.  The new report could only be written if additional staff and financial resources were made available.  To take on a major additional report would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, using only existing staff.  Engaging consultants would be expensive; exactly how much and how many would have to be estimated.

Mrs. ALVAREZ (Dominican Republic) said that an action plan that did not consider the fundamental human rights of the elderly person would be incomplete.  The rights of the person should not be abused simply because of age.  Resources should not be wasted on an incomplete plan, especially one that was supposed to provide direction for the next 25 years.  It was surprising that the Secretariat had said it would be an exhaustive study when various reports from a number of regions had already been done.  The draft sought only a succinct compilation that addressed whether there were abuses and, if so, what kinds, and the ways in which older persons were vulnerable or discriminated against?  She offered to drop the word “comprehensive” from the text.

Mr. BLOMGREN (Sweden) said that the European Union shared the concern expressed by the United States.  It would be difficult to cover all the proposed areas of study in the report.  All questions needed to be answered before the discussion of the draft proceeded any further.

The Committee’s Chairman, FELIPE PAOLILLO (Uruguay), said the delegations would have time to assess the proposal by tomorrow.  No action would be taken on the text today.

Mr. CAMPUZANO (Mexico) inquired about the cost of producing such a report.  It was true that it would be a compilation of existing information, and it was

necessary to take advantage of modern technology to prepare it.  Would it be necessary to invite expert participation for the preparation of the report?  What else could influence the cost?

Mr. LANGMORE said that, normally, a report of the Secretary-General was prepared with participation of experts from every region.  To do the job adequately would require outside assistance.  It would take several months to draft the document.  He would try to prepare a cost estimate by tomorrow. 

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For information media. Not an official record.