Promote rights of older people

> Lazarus Sauti

Ageism, discrimination and denial of rights in older age continue to be tolerated across the African continent as existing human rights mechanisms fail to adequately protect and promote the rights of older people.

As such, older men and women of Africa continue to live miserable lives of poverty and lack basic human rights needs including access to a secure income, shelter and food.

Yinka Olaito, a communications specialist passionate about African development, says currently Africa has approximately 60 million people aged 60 years and above and by 2030, there will be 103 million older women and men in Africa.

“The rights related to these people are ignored in most, if not all, African countries. Older people, especially the uneducated ones, are forced to either depend on their children or to beg on the public roads and streets,” he said.

Often, older people are disrespected and isolated because of negative stereotypes, a fact supported by researcher Collence Chisita.

“In Africa, as in other parts of the world, perceptions of ageing can be based on negative stereotypes that lead to older people feeling isolated and powerless.

“Some widespread fallacies about ageing include the belief that older people are all the same, they cannot make decisions for themselves, they are prone to suffer ill health over and above that they are a burden for their families and the wider community,” he said.

Chisita thus urges stakeholders working with older people to challenge all misconceptions and to promote the rights of older people to independence, dignity as well as respect.

“For real development to take place in Africa, no part of the population must be ignored. Accordingly, government sectors and all those working with older people must challenge false impressions about ageing,” he said, adding that African states must do this simply by developing policies that effectively promote and protect the rights of older people.

Chisita is not a lone voice as the African Union Commission and HelpAge International, an international non-governmental organisation that helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives, also urged African states to develop and implement policies that protect the rights of the continent’s old citizens.

Speaking at a roundtable meeting on the role of older persons in achieving Africa’s Agenda 2063 held in Ethiopia recently, African Union Director of Social Affairs Ambassador Olawale Maiyegun said there was need to address the needs of Africa’s growing population of older people.

“The population of older people in Africa is increasing drastically and therefore there is an urgent need to ensure that specific measures are in place to address the needs of older people,” he said.

Maiyegun, who is also a public policy specialist, said although the Africa Union had set up frameworks and legal instruments including the African Union Policy Framework on Plan of Action on Ageing (AUPFAA), the African Common Position on Post-2015 Sustainable Development (AU, 2014) and the recently approved Protocol on the Rights of Older People, more needed to be done to implement these instruments at government level.

Speaking during the same roundtable meeting, Chairperson of the Permanent Representatives Committee, Albert Ranganai Chimbindi, recognised that older people are the custodians of the African culture and therefore, persuaded Africa to create conditions for their contribution to the achievement of the objectives of Agenda 2063.

He also highlighted that to address the issue of older people in Africa is also a window of opportunity for the continent to better plan the future of the younger generation.

The call to African governments in Addis Ababa follows the release of Global AgeWatch Index 2015 report by HelpAge International whose main aim is to raise visibility of ageing at regional and national levels as well as provide a framework for governments and institutions to respond to ageing population.

The report noted that older women and men in Africa experienced economic and social hardships, with the majority unable to access basic services such as secure income, shelter and food.

HelpAge International trustee Gambian Sola Mahoney said without a well-established social security strategy, older people’s right to live dignified lives would be impossible to achieve.

“Older people play a critical role in many aspects of Africa’s economic and social development. Therefore, African countries must consider a form of social security, especially for older people,” he said.

Further, Sola challenged African governments to put systems in place to facilitate inter-generational exchange of knowledge as well as skills and for the two generations to work together and realise Agenda 2063 – an approach to how the continent should effectively learn from the lessons of the past, build on the progress now underway and strategically exploit all possible opportunities available in the immediate and medium term, so as to ensure positive socio-economic transformation.

“We need to be careful that we should not focus all our efforts in taking care of the youth at the expense of the other generations. We should strive to ensure that we leave no one behind,” sums up Sola.

September 2015
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