Ageism is a world-wide problem and negative attitudes towards older people are pervasive in many cultures and societies, including our own. Older people are all too often stereotyped as ‘has-beens’ with no aspirations or future and even as threats to the opportunities of younger people. The direct effect of this ageism is that older people are at major risk of experiencing discriminatory treatment globally and across a wide range of situations; from undignified and inadequate care in the household, hospitals and residential homes, to unequal treatment in employment and inadequate responses in emergency and humanitarian situations.
The UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) adopted in 1948 explicitly prohibits discrimination on a wide range of grounds; ‘race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status’ (UDHR, Art 2). Arguably the most glaring omission from this list is ‘age’, the result of which is that very little attention is given to the human rights of older people by international human rights mechanisms.
While international conventions exist to protect the human rights of other groups that face discrimination such as the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), there is no corresponding instrument articulating the rights of older people. It has long been Age UK’s position that a new convention that explicitly prohibits age discrimination and articulates the full range of state obligations towards older people is urgently needed. In our view only such a convention can bring about the necessary paradigm shift from older people being considered as passive recipients of welfare to the recognition of older people as active rights holders.
Earlier this month the sixth session of the UN Open-ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWGA) was held in New York. The working group was set up back in 2010 to consider how the gaps in the existing international framework on the human rights of older persons can best be filled. What was clear from the discussions at this year’s meeting was that issues relating to older people and ageing are finally beginning to rise up the international agenda. Support for a convention is now building, with strong support being voiced from many Latin American countries, some African countries including Ghana, Kenya and also an increasing number from Asia including Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Nepal. The main source of opposition continues to be from the EU member states, USA and Canada.
The new Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons that was approved by the Organization of American States in June was much referred to throughout the session and was viewed in many quarters as a potential ‘game-changer’ in this process demonstrating that there is real determination to push the older people’s rights agenda forward.
At the session Age UK made a formal statement putting forward our view that the time has firmly arrived when we need to shift our attention from the question of ‘if’ there should be a convention to the question of ‘when’. As the debate over how best to secure older people’s global rights intensifies over the next few years we are calling on the UK Government to support a convention and play a leading and influential role in its development.