News / USA

UN Panel Meets on Global Aging

Elderly Chinese men relax in park, Beijing, China
Elderly Chinese men relax in park, Beijing, China

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Joe DeCapua

This week, a U.N. panel opens a three-day meeting on the ageing of the global population. It’s part of a process that could lead to a new international treaty to protect the rights of older persons.

Listen to De Capua report on a global ageing treaty
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This is the fifth session of the Open-ended Working Group on Aging. Its focus is on human rights, the care of older persons, violence, abuse and legal and financial issues. Its work could lead to a U.N. Convention on the Rights of Older People.

One of the groups driving the process is HelpAge International, which began its Age Demands Action Campaign in 2007.

HelpAge Chief Executive Toby Porter explained why he believes a convention is needed for those 60 years of age and older.

“Elder people around the world still suffer a lot of discrimination, a lot of abuse. There really is a sort of feeling that there have been decades of various commitments, plans of action on ageing, international agreements that more needed to be done for the world’s older people, but it hasn’t really delivered enough change.”

He said when such a U.N. convention was approved for the disabled it brought dramatic changes for the better.

HelpAge has collected nearly 300,000 petition signatures – from 112 countries – in support of a convention for older people. The movement has gained the support of Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu of South Africa. In a statement, Tutu said, “This is not a minority issue. We are all growing older.”

Porter said it’s important that people’s rights are protected as they age.

“By protecting people’s rights and ensuring they’re not discriminated against in health services, in the work place, holding property, et cetera, by law, it’s going to benefit society as a whole. Because it’s going to make sure that the contribution of older people can be maximized and to make sure that older people aren’t ignored,” he said.

Porter called the campaign a “real grassroots movement” that includes many people “who’ve suffered a lifetime of poverty, exclusion and discrimination.”

“The world is rapidly ageing. It’s a triumph. It’s an unconditional triumph of international and national development that people are living longer lives. The average age of the population is rising significantly and this is a trend that will increase. It won’t decrease. Older age is hopefully everybody’s future,” he said.

The HelpAge chief executive said society faces the challenge of moving beyond negative stereotypes of aging.

“Older people are actually massive contributors to society, massively contributing to their families. And so I really do feel that population aging is going to become one of the most important themes in the world,” he said.

The U.N. Open-ended Working Group on Aging meets in New York from July 30 through August 1. 

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