A UN Convention on the Rights of Older People: from deliberation to action

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.

Find out more about our international work through our partner Age International



2 thoughts on “A UN Convention on the Rights of Older People: from deliberation to action”

  1. Age UK are calling on the UK Government to support a convention and play a leading and influential role in the development of the existing international framework on the human rights to fill the gaps regarding ageism.
    Do you honestly think they would have any genuine interest in this having recently shelved the Care Bill?
    By their actions, the Tories would rather send all over 65’s to Switzerland, it would appear, and we know for sure that their words are meaningless.

  2. Thank you for your blog on ageism. I would like to add the following comment on ageism within the NHS hospital system:


    OK: So on paper and according to my notes I am a 74 year old female, widowed, living along and with some not particularly exciting co-morbidities (to use NHS speak):
    1. Hypertension – hopefully sorted with a highly experimental surgical intervention.
    2.Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) – unresolved causing unrelenting restless legs.
    3. Early cataracts – but I can still see – just an irritant at present.
    4. Insomnia – caused by (2) above.

    So where is the problem?
    Well, if I am admitted to the local hospital for any reason – I will automatically be classified as ‘elderly’ or ‘old’ and will be sent into an ‘older person’s’ ward. I won’t be classified according to my ailment or disease – I will be classified according to my age.

    That may be OK by 30, 40 or 50 year old clinicians (but just remember that to a 15 year old anyone over 20 is old). But why, oh why, should I be labelled by my age? It is just a number. I don’t need a geriatrician. I don’t have dementia.

    I regularly walk at least 20 miles a week – if not double that.
    I sometimes work more than 5 days a week – occasionally until past midnight.
    I still do mathematical calculations in my head – that’s what we were taught to do before calculators and computers were invented.
    I help care for a 100 year old relative.
    I run a family business.
    I do voluntary work.
    I am a voracious reader, enjoy theatre, travel and socialising.
    I can boogie with the best of them.
    I campaign for the underdog, underprivileged, bullied, illiterate etc.
    I am considering taking up an offer to study for my PhD (in my spare time?)
    Wrinkly (probably) Shrivelled (definitely not) Bent (not in the physical sense).
    Paragon of virtue – definitely not according to my children.

    So where is the old?
    DO NOT DEFINE ME BY MY AGE !!!!!!!!!!

    Please don’t define me by my age,
    I am not grey, and I’m not beige.
    I’m not yet at the ga ga stage
    Nor have I written my last page.

    I’ve got my life filed in my head,
    I remember most of what I’ve read.
    I’m not yet confined to bed;
    I’m a bit past young, not nearly dead!

    At twenty five I’ve learned to drive.
    At thirty five, still rave and jive.
    Graduate at forty five.
    Develop land at fifty five.

    Travelled the world by sixty five.
    And now that I’m seventy five?
    I’m pleased to say I’m still alive
    With every intention to survive.

    Age is only in the head –
    I’ll not grow old, I’ll just get dead!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s