Older people left out as UN speeches repeatedly invoke young people

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – One after another, the world’s presidents and prime ministers have come to warn of their countries’ trials and boast of their triumphs. But one of the biggest issues in either column has been mostly overlooked.

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – One after another, the world’s presidents and prime ministers have come to warn of their countries’ trials and boast of their triumphs. But one of the biggest issues in either column has been mostly overlooked.

While war, climate change and inequality occupied much of the UN General Assembly, leaders largely glossed over the historic growth of the planet’s aging population.

“Older people are missing,” Claudia Mahler, one of the few voices at the UN dedicated to aging, told the Commission on Human Rights. « Everyone thinks the future is just something for young people. »

All over the world, societies are seeing the promises and perils of gray lands. Improvements in public health, medical advances and reduced poverty have lengthened lives, strengthened workplaces with experienced colleagues and blessed families with grandparents and great-grandparents. At the same time, caregiving and economic crises have spread, with older people living longer than their means and suffering from incurable illnesses.

But as the leaders took to the rostrum last week and addressed the world from the green marble of the hall, few saw the change worth mentioning. They spoke of ‘new generations’, ‘children’ and ‘young people’. They declared listening to young people “essential” and guaranteeing their education “sacred”. The former rarely made the cut.

“Everyone is just focusing on young people,” said Mahler, whose official UN title is independent expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older people. « Older people aren’t loud enough and there aren’t enough leaders who really focus… Nobody wants to bring up the subject even if it’s urgent. »

The population of people aged 60 and over has increased in recent decades, hovering around one billion worldwide. The UN predicts that it will more than double over the next three decades. Along the way, the biggest international titles will inevitably cross paths with the oldest among us, just as they do today.

As the war descends, the most vulnerable are caught in the crossfire. As global economies falter, those in the sunset find themselves penniless. And as climate change forces some to leave their homes, older people are often left behind.

And then there is COVID-19, the all-consuming story of the past 2 1/2 years, whose brutality on the elderly was unparalleled and shone an international spotlight on the long-running issues of inadequate care systems and social isolation.

“While older people are entangled in the critical issues of our time and often face disproportionate impacts, they are too often left behind,” said Lauren Dunning, director of the Center for the Future of Aging at the Milken Institute. “Focusing on one generation without considering other generations hinders everyone’s progress.”

For some, it’s understandable that other issues sucked much of the air out of the meeting room. If an island nation is threatened with being swallowed up by rising seas or if everyone’s lives are to be cut off by nuclear war, then the problems posed by age may pale. But leaders who neglected the topic still pretended to care about all sorts of pet priorities, including social media regulation (Slovakia); law on crypto-currencies (Central African Republic); underwater mining (Costa Rica); conservation of mangroves (Suriname); snakebites (Eswatini); and weaponized artificial intelligence (Philippines).

« The global agenda is already quite full at the moment, » said Professor Martin Edwards of Seton Hall University, who is affiliated with the school’s Center for UN Studies and Global Governance. “Much of the discussion about youth is about our obligation to the next generation. Politically, I think it’s sometimes easy for leaders to talk about the youth in a way, and getting old there might not be such a ready constituency.

There have been exceptions at the UN over the past week, with some leaders referring to aging in passing.

Some have boasted of gains in life expectancy, as did the president of Timor-Leste; noted their commitment to social safety nets for the elderly, as in the speech of the Prime Minister of Mauritius; or did both, as in the chief of Bangladesh. Others made brief mention of how the elders were caught up in their countries’ conflicts, such as in the speeches of the presidents of the Palestinian Authority and Ukraine. Standing apart from most others, Bolivian President Luis Arce devoted part of his speech to the elderly, although less than a minute remained in a 37-minute address.

“We are concerned about the focus on future generations without considering all the work that older adults, older generations have done,” Arce said, urging young people to “show solidarity with those who built our nations » and noting that there is no equivalent to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, for those at the other end of the age spectrum.

“We are concerned that to date there is no universal treaty that protects older people, and we hope this is an opportunity to have a deeper reflection on this subject,” Arce said. , who turns 59 on Wednesday.

There is a certain oddity in the exclusion of most leaders, as the men and women behind the oratory are themselves vastly older and represent countries with burgeoning elderly populations.

Some see aging as a « first world problem », which the world’s wealthiest need to understand in countries scattered across Asia, the Nordics and the West, not in African countries where life expectancy means that the average person only lives into their 50s. In reality, however, the problems associated with aging have cropped up everywhere in varying degrees.

Aging has not always been absent from UN debates. Forty years ago, the General Assembly convened its first World Assembly on Ageing. It resulted in an international plan of action, and in the years that followed, the UN adopted various principles and proclamations on older persons and held a second world assembly in 2002.

What hasn’t followed, Mahler said, is that the issue has become a central priority in any national or global debate, or transformed the ability of leaders to talk about it in any way in the world. beyond focusing on its most negative impacts.

With a hint of exasperation in her voice, Mahler spoke of the lack of care for the elderly as she prepared to deliver her own findings to the United Nations on the deprivation of liberty of the elderly. It will be difficult, she knows, to attract so much attention from the leaders, and from a public, which often looks away from its elders.

“There is a huge group of older people who are being left behind,” she said.


AP National Writer Matt Sedensky can be reached at msedensky@ap.org and https://twitter.com/sedensky. For more AP coverage of the United Nations General Assembly, visit https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly

Matt Sedensky, Associated Press


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