Situation of older persons

Activities of, by, and for older persons were very abundant during the Year, bearing out an expectation of the International Plan of Action on Ageing, that "The slowly expanding lifespan of the population even in developing areas constitutes a hidden resource for national economies which, if properly stimulated and utilized, might help to ... ensure the status of [older persons] as active participants in national life and production, rather than as passive and vulnerable victims of development."

The situation of older persons is addressed comprehensively in the 62 recommendations of the International Plan of Action on Ageing, endorsed by the General Assembly in resolution 37/51, and in the 18 United Nations Principles for Older Persons, adopted by the General Assembly in resolution 46/91. The range of issues highlighted in these two historic documents are reflected in the activities below, including economic livelihood, human rights, participation, integration, and developmental potential of older persons, and the planning and implementation of multisectored social services.

National activities
Governments reached out to many organizations, including voluntary and private enterprises, to help plan and manage initiatives. Ethiopia established a focal point committee with a cross-section of members that included the national lottery and the postal service to ensure a variety of initiatives. China conducted a nationwide publicity drive on respecting older persons and held regional workshops on family support and community service and a large performance on the life of older people, with proceeds allocated to older persons in poverty. The Ukraine involved academia in addressing social and legal protection of older persons. Spain developed a comprehensive programme of activities that involved the participation of non-governmental organizations, private associations and older persons' organizations. Australia created a consultation process with local communities and organizations to gain knowledge of ageing issues and make recommendations for action. The Government also doubled its financial commitment to the Year by allocating funds towards combating negative stereotypes of older Australians. As a way to connect governmental and private entities, Japan created a network of over 30 organizations to further the Year's objectives. In the Russian Federation, the Party of Pensioners is exploring the precarious situation of older persons in transitional economies in a conference to be held in December 1999. Canada has encouraged all sectors of society, including corporations, to be responsible to a diverse and ageing population and to create initiatives that would target the improvement of services for older persons. Radio and television programmes in Denmark focused on dignity and the life of older persons during the Year.

Measures to promote economic and sustainable livelihood are included in several initiatives. Access to credit and training in the Philippines is permitting individuals, regardless of age, to start or maintain their own businesses. Ecuador is addressing the situation of income security through possible tax exemptions. Nigeria created a network with banks and insurance companies to broker the payment of pensioners' monthly stipends. Kazakhstan focused on practical outcomes by providing a one-time additional pension payment in 1999 to those who had reached the age of 70 and free dentures to those whose age exceeded 70 years. South Africa is promoting the involvement of organized trade and industry through special discounts on products for older persons. The "Jobs for elderly" initiative in Jamaica has been one way of addressing employment issues for older persons at a time when globalization is affecting the country's ability to adequately fund social services. Brazil is supporting projects of poverty eradication that hopes to benefit thousands of older persons.

The issue of human rights for older persons is drawing the attention of the international community. Inspired by the United Nations Principles for Older Persons, the Dominican Republic drafted and approved the Code of Rights of Older Persons as a contribution to the Year - a concerted effort to provide protection and defend the rights of older persons. Italy is proposing that the Principles be considered in the context of international humanitarian law and in proposals to implement the Statute of the International Criminal Court. The Czech Republic is hosting a conference, The Importance of Human Rights for the Older Generation, in October 1999, which is being convened by the European Federation of the Elderly (EURAG) and the Czech Republic. New Zealand removed the upper age limit in its Human Rights Act of 1993, which prohibits discrimination in the workplace. South Africa included the rights of older persons in its Declaration on Human Rights and other relevant legislation, and Colombia and the Gambia have addressed this issue with the aim to increase the participation of older persons in economic and political decisions.

Participation and integration of older persons in all levels of society is increasingly evident. Armenia implemented "Elder generation", a project to improve the integration of older persons in the economic and cultural life of the country, including the social welfare system. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Ladies Charitable Society is convening the country's first international conference on ageing. It will explore ageing in the twenty-first century. Argentina developed a research scholarship programme as an incentive for institutions to investigate the income security and social welfare of older persons and, in addition, drafted the National Law for Older Persons which will highlight the social role of older persons in society. Mongolia is implementing a system of measures to make appropriate use of the skills and wisdom of retirees. Hong Kong Province of China hosted an Asia/Pacific regional conference in April with the theme "Towards a society for all ages: integration, participation and care". Finland worked to promote the national theme "Adding life to years" as it encouraged the implementation of the Finnish Action Programme on Ageing, and Municipalities for People of All Ages. Sweden initiated "SeniorSurf Sweden", an Internet educational collaboration in which libraries throughout the country educate older persons on the use of the Internet. Belgium is working with various organizations to create a means of communicating and demonstrating the constructive roles older people play in society, including their role within the family, organizations, politics and welfare. Austria established several task forces to study the situation of older persons in areas that include a new culture of ageing and the social and political participation of older persons.

The developmental potential and diversity of late life is appreciated in Bangladesh, where older persons are involved in arbitration processes in the village communities, and in Thailand, where the experience of older persons is utilized in the area of environmental conservation and anti-drug campaigns. Nepal is encouraging the establishment of cooperative farms by joint efforts involving older persons and the operation of clinics by retired doctors which would provide services at subsidized rates to older persons. Italy has addressed measures to build a society for new generations of older people who reject a vision of old age as a state of dependence. In this regard, legislation is being proposed for organizing a civil and volunteer service of senior citizens. Luxembourg, too, is promoting volunteerism on behalf of a growing proportion of older persons, as is Norway in its exploration of senior citizen's councils and volunteers as agents for active ageing. The United States of America hosted numerous events that examined active ageing in diverse contexts, including the Fifth World Congress on Physical Activity, Aging and Sports, in August 1999. In addition, events occurring in New York City on 1 and 2 October 1999 highlighted an area that older persons traditionally do not lay claim to: clothing and design. The Changing Shape of Fashion educational symposium and the Generations of Style fashion show, sponsored by a group of diverse private-sector associations, added a new dimension to active ageing.

Numerous countries are giving formal recognition to older persons for their contributions to society, including Trinidad and Tobago, Zambia, China, El Salvador, Nigeria and Kuwait. Mozambique focused on the contributions of older persons in its national seminar "Older People: A Positive Contribution to Development". Pakistan acknowledged the meritorious services of its older population by granting them indexed pensions and grants; and Paraguay awarded national prizes to the best older persons' organization and nursing home, and to the non-governmental organizations, artists, and students who were best able to illustrate "A society for all ages".

Mindful of the cultural and artistic needs of older persons, Lithuania developed cultural programmes and a social service infrastructure to address such needs. Switzerland will continue its interest in issues of personal growth and autonomy of older persons in a conference to be held in November 1999. In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Dark Horse Venture promotes positive aspects of ageing by inspiring older persons to discover their hidden talents and achieve personal fulfilment. Activities such as dancing, theatre, music, and sports competitions were on the agenda in numerous countries, including Indonesia, Cameroon, Estonia, Hungary, and Germany, which will convene the International Meeting of Seniors' Play-acting/Theatre Groups (October 1999, Cologne).

The provision of appropriate health and social services is a universal challenge. Romania focused on legislative initiatives, and Chile established a public service law, designed to improve the implementation and coordination of services for older persons. Cyprus is working to upgrade standards of governmental homes for older persons to improve their quality of life. Zimbabwe and Uganda sought to highlight the predicament of older persons in the care they provide for family members and orphans with AIDS. Malaysia's Vision 2020 is a national initiative that aims to achieve a caring society under the banner "Caring families for the happiness of older persons", in partnership with the private sector. Sri Lanka is trying to foster a rebirth of traditional care - not as a way of looking back but rather as a forward-looking new course. France will host (Dijon, September 1999) "Aging Well in One's Own Town", a seminar organized by the Fondation de France to promote initiatives from a variety of countries on care innovation for older persons in urban areas. Germany initiated a joint pilot project in eight European countries to establish information and counselling centres and provide customized assistance and advice on medical and social services, and Israel brought together experts in the field of ageing to address resource allocation in improving health care, restoring dignity and enhancing the lifestyle of older persons

United Nations system and other intergovernmental bodies
How to ensure fuller participation and better quality of care in old age is on the agenda of several United Nations bodies and agencies. The United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS) (Habitat) is facilitating field research on the living conditions of older people in urban communities. The Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) will convene a conference in December 1999 in Switzerland, together with the Institut Universitaire Kurt Bosch and the United States National Institute on Aging (NIA), entitled Status of the Older Population: Prelude to the Twenty-first Century. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) analysed issues relating to older refugees, including social disintegration; the erosion of social support systems through economic decline; and the dispersal of families. UNHCR seeks to intensify organizational efforts to better assist older refugees within regular assistance programmes. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has produced a set of recommendations to improve the quality of life of older persons. They were incorporated into the background document for the February 1999 forum of the International Conference on Population and Development Programme and Action in the Hague. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently published its annual Human Development Report, 1999: Globalization with a Human Face, which took a comprehensive look at care and the global economy.

The United Nations Information Centres were very active during the Year. The Information Centre in Mexico City conducted radio interviews and reached out to school teachers; Madrid's Centre participated in lectures and interviews covered by the national press; the Centre in Tehran translated and broadcast background material on the radio; Minsk's Information Centre initiated the publication of calendars by a Belarussian photographer who illustrated the United Nations Principles for Older Persons in English and Russian; and the Centre in Brussels teamed up with numerous regional entities to coordinate and promote its far-reaching information campaign for the Year.

The International Social Security Association (ISSA), together with the International Labour Organization (ILO), has addressed rising social security needs at a time of declining governmental supports. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) plans to conduct studies on income security for older persons, including social security and public pension schemes. The European Commission (EC) is acting to implement the provisions of the Treaty of Amsterdam, which entered into force on 1 May 1999 and which contains a legal basis to promote non-discrimination on the grounds of age throughout the European Union.

International non-governmental organizations
Numerous measures focused on the situation of older persons. The CONGO Committee on Ageing convened a video conference on the situation of older persons in February 1999. Additionally, in cooperation with the Department of Public Information and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the CONGO Committee on Ageing organized the Age-quake Debates, which are taking place during 1999 and into the year 2000.

HelpAge International launched "Ageing and Development Report", which provides information about the situation of older persons in developing countries and in the transition states of Eastern and Central Europe. HelpAge also compiled, through its Asia Regional Development Centre and in cooperation with the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), a report on the situation of older persons in the Mekong Basin region, entitled "Mekong Basin initiative on ageing". The International Association of Gerontology (IAG) organized several regional conferences during the Year which took a comprehensive look at ageing issues in Cuba, Germany and the United States. In the Republic of Korea, it convened the Sixth Asia/Oceania Regional Congress of Gerontology (Seoul, June 1999) on changing family systems and care for the aged in the twenty-first century. The International Federation on Ageing (IFA) is hosting its Fourth Global Conference on Ageing (September 1999, Montreal, Canada), which will address the basic needs and rights of older persons in the context of globalization and technological change.

The AARP International Activities Office produced a paper entitled "Strategies for a society for all ages", to help stimulate worldwide exploration of the theme, "A society for all ages". AARP also presented to the Commission for Social Development at its thirty-seventh session a booklet, "Human rights are ageless", containing specially made postcards with handwritten messages from older people around the world about the meaning of human rights. The International Project on Rural Ageing/West Virginia University Center on Aging has guided research into the situation of older persons in rural settings worldwide, with plans to work towards a major international conference on rural ageing in the year 2000. The CONGO Committee on Aging is preparing an agenda for ageing which is to be included in the Millennium Forum that will be held at United Nations Headquarters in May 2000. The International Longevity Center (ILC) sponsored a symposium at United Nations Headquarters in April 1999 entitled "Adding life to the years that have been added to life". The event shared information on issues related to healthy ageing and highlighted the importance of living life to the fullest.

The Year's activities have been steadily broadcast by a number of media and information organizations, including Coalition 99, which increased its newsletter distribution in developed and developing countries to well over 3,000 copies, and Eurolink Age which has been chronicling the Year's activities on ageing in the interest of the millions of older persons across the European Union. The European Institute for the Media (EIM) and the Netherlands Platform Older People and Europe (NPOE) organized, an Internet service designed to inform people about policy-related issues on ageing, and Changing Media in an Ageing Society, directed to strengthen the relationships between non-governmental organizations and media services.