A famous Chinese proverb says: "An elderly person at home is like a living golden treasure." This proverb deserves to be interpreted in connection with the fact that our world is in a process of ageing rapidly. People aged 60 and older make up 12.3 per cent of the current 7.5 billion global population. In accordance with the United Nations (UN) assessment, by 2050 more than 20 per cent of the world's population will be 60 years of age or older, and the increase in the number of older people will be the greatest and the most rapid in the developing world. Asia will be the continent with the largest number of older persons.
Beyond these predictions, scholars believe that something unprecedented is going to happen: more and more centenarians are coming. Indeed, even if we limit the examples to the USA, it appears that the number of Americans aged 100 and older has gone up by 44 percent since 2000.There were 72,197 centenarians in 2014, compared with 50,281 in 2000, while in 1980, they numbered no more than 15,000.
Specialists in demography seem highly impressed by this remarkable evolution. However, at the UN level it is realistically recognized that in many parts of the world awareness of the ageing phenomenon remains limited or non-existent. Experts are permanently warning that even developed countries are unprepared to successfully cope with this phenomenon, especially as the life expectancy of senior people continues to rise.
Ageing is not a problem, but an achievement. The revolutionary demographic challenge of the current century, in both developed and developing countries, demands that concerted and strong efforts be made for putting ageing policies at the top of the social agenda during the irreversible process of globalization. All people in all countries from every sector of society, individually and collectively, are invited to join in a universal dedication to a shared vision of equality for persons of all ages.
The World Health Organization (WHO) adopted relevant recommendations for enabling the rapidly growing number of older persons in both developed and developing countries to remain in good health and maintain their many vital contributions to the well-being of their families, communities and societies. But the WHO cannot deny that many health systems are not sufficiently prepared to respond to the needs of ageing population, including the need for preventative, curative, palliative and specialized care. In addition, the situation of older persons in many parts of the world has been negatively affected by the world financial and economic crisis.
What is to be done?
Year by year the UN invites its 193 Member States to continue to share their positive national experiences in developing and implementing policies and programs aimed at strengthening the promotion and protection of the human rights of older persons.
Governments are encouraged to actively address issues affecting older persons and to ensure that the social integration of senior citizens and the promotion and protection of their rights form an integral part of sustainable development policies at all levels.
The key challenge confronting our globalizing world is "building a society for all ages." All countries are requested to overcome obstacles to the implementation of the UN Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing (the most important document in this field, adopted by consensus in 2002) by devising strategies that take into account the entirety of the human life course and foster inter-generational solidarity in order to increase the likelihood of greater success in the years ahead.
It is also frequently recommended to advance a positive public image of older persons and their multiple contributions to their families, communities and societies. Appropriate measures are necessary for changing negative stereotypes about senior citizens.
More specifically, appropriate reference is being made in UN documents to the crucial importance of inter-generational family interdependence, solidarity and reciprocity for social development and the realization of all human rights for older persons in order to prevent age discrimination and provide full social integration of senior citizens. In this context, it is emphasized that more opportunities have to be created for voluntary, constructive and regular interaction between young people and older generations in the family, the workplace and society at large. More attention has to be paid to the psychological and physical aspects of ageing and the special needs of older women.
A significant task highlighted in many international documents is to adequately address the issue of the well-being and health care of older persons, as well as any cases of neglect, abuse and violence against senior citizens, by implementing more effective prevention strategies and stronger laws and by developing coherent and comprehensive policy frameworks to solve these problems.
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