This Day marks the twentieth anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons. Older persons play an invaluable role in all societies — as leaders, caregivers and volunteers – yet are also vulnerable to discrimination, abuse, neglect and violence.
The United Nations has long fought for the rights and well-being of older persons, and to make their voices heard. On this year’s observance, we celebrate hard-won achievements, especially those related to the Millennium Development Goals. In many countries older persons have benefited from reduced rates of poverty and hunger, improved access to medicines and health services, and greater education and work opportunities.
Yet, progress has been uneven, as it has been for the MDGs overall in all countries and regions. For example, in those countries hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic, it is often grandparents who are left to care for AIDS orphans. In sub-Saharan Africa, 20 per cent of rural women aged 60 and older are the sole supporters for their grandchildren. These caregivers, who take on added and often unexpected responsibilities, typically with little or none of the necessary resources, desperately need social services, especially social pensions, so that they and their families have a chance for life beyond mere survival.
The number and proportion of older persons is growing rapidly. In the past three decades their numbers have doubled. By 2050, the global population of older persons will total two billion– a significant shift in the world’s demographic profile, with implications for us all.
On this International Day, I call on governments to do more to address the needs of older persons. The key interventions are well-known: granting universal access to social services; increasing the number and worth of pension plans; and creating laws and policies that prevent age and gender discrimination in the workplace. With five years left before the 2015 MDG deadline, it is time for governments everywhere to institute the financial, legal and social protections that will lift millions of older persons out of poverty and ensure their rights to dignified, productive and healthy lives.