Strengthening Older People’s Rights : Towards a UN Convention

Vijay Naraidoo

We resume this year with our advocacy campaign in favour of a UN Convention for the Rights of Older People. How far are we near a defining moment in this endeavor? Optimistically, we are not far from reaching interesting landmarks through the commitment and engagement of many more State Members at the forthcoming 11th UN session of the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing in April next. Our country has in very clear terms stood for this Convention to come at the last two Sessions of the OEWGA. We once more appeal to the Government to reaffirm this stand at the UN in April, which would go far in giving force to the campaign we have been undertaking in Mauritius and to those undertaken by our sister organizations abroad. The major part of this article is borrowed from a document produced by nine human rights organizations listed below.

Older People’s Rights

We start with the premise that human rights are rights people are entitled to for the very fact that they are human beings, irrespective of age, citizenship, nationality, race, ethnicity, sexuality or abilities. When these rights are respected, people are able to live with dignity and equality, free from discrimination.

Human rights are universal, widely accepted and indivisible.

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’. Older people do not lose this equality with age as they keep having the same rights as people of any age group.

The rights of older people are embedded but not specifically in human rights conventions, for example, on economic, social, civil, cultural and political rights.

Older people’s rights include right to equal protection before the law, right to justice, right to own property, the right to education, the right to work and the right to participate in government, in other words from, in our case, local, regional to national level.

There are rights which are of utmost importance for older people: Right to social security in the form of a pension accompanied by a host of services, inter alia, access to appropriate health, of which palliative care and social services.

Promotion and Protection

We recognize that our older people benefit from a host of services ranging from old-age pension improved recently,  free medical care also  improved recently with increase in the carer’s allowance, free bus and tram transport, electricity bills paid, elderly care centers, Elder Watch committees, recreational centres, and activities.

However we have challenges to face: if we participate in protecting older people’s rights it will help them to lead dignified, secure lives, as equal members of society. This includes avoiding ageism which encompasses a set of negative attitudes towards our older fellow citizens. With rapid population ageing, age discrimination escalates and we should therefore address the fundamental causes of discrimination.

We have the obligation of treating older people with respect so that they can participate in and contribute to their own development. And to the socio-economic development of the country. Older people should feel that the importance given to them is genuine and not a ‘make believe affair’. We have to keep in mind that today’s younger people are tomorrow’s older people.

Ageism and Age discrimination

‘Ageism is the stereotyping of, prejudice against, or discrimination against a person because of her or his age’. Discrimination occurs when someone is treated differently because of her or his age. If we adopt an ageist attitude and discriminate against a person because of her older age ,we are violating the rights of these older persons, be they men or women. Unfortunately, ageism and discrimination continue to be tolerated by individuals and institutions: The National Human Rights Commission had to organize a one-day workshop in December last to denounce and make people reflect on injury, psychological and physical, inflicted by the public bus transport system on older bus users.

I learn in the media there is a reserved compartment for persons with disabilities in the tram. We opine that persons with disabilities, many of whom are older persons, should have access to any of the compartments eased by a low level in-built system and so ensure inclusiveness as it is in Europe. Every passenger on an equal footing. Remember the theme for the International Day of Older Persons in 2019 was “The Journey to Age Equality”. (pls see my article online)

Older people are not a homogenous group. They are different in gender, ethnic origin, the place where we live, ability and disability, poverty (socio-economic situation), sexuality or literary levels.

Apart from access to services, like physical access to a Court of Justice or to a stadium, many are denied access to jobs. Otherwise, the salary is not commensurate with the nature of the job. On the 28th of December last, among those who had not yet been paid their end-of–year bonus were security guards, and we know many older and retired men are employed as security guards.

Violence and Social Security

Far from saying there has been an escalation in the number of older persons being victims of violence, the cases of older people being ripped of their old age pension by their close ones has been alarming in December. Otherwise older people are victims of verbal, sexual (yes) and psychological abuse.

The increase in old-age pension is a means to make do for the inadequacy it was subjected to. The question as to the maintenance of disability pension when a disabled person reaches 60 is pertinent. An older person, for that matter, is in need of adequate income to prevent them and their family fall into poverty.

Right to Health

In many countries, older people may be denied appropriate health care because of their age. Such is not generally the case in Mauritius. The sooner palliative care is provided at the sick person’s home or in a specialized hospital the better.

Property and Inheritance Rights

An older person has the right to inherit, buy and dispose of her or his rights as far as their lucidity permits.

Sharing what follows is important: ‘In many parts of the world, inheritance laws, both statutory and customary, deny women of all ages the right to own or inherit property when their husband dies. Family members often force widows off their land or seize their property which is a violation of their right to equality of ownership, management and the disposition of property.’

We do not have this social or legal regime in Mauritius but we solidarise with our colleagues who want to get rid of this system so that older people can live in respect and dignity.

The way ahead

A convention for the rights of older persons will address all the issues raised in this article.

Vijay Naraidoo
President of the Commission for the Rights of Older People of DIS-MOI

Source: INPEA, IFA, ILC-US, IAGG, IASHA, HelpAge International, GAA


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