Brief Introduction to the Rights of the Elderly

Human rights are for all, regardless of age. Despite an ageing population and the particular vulnerabilities of the aged and despite references made to elderly persons in other conventions such as the CEDAW and the applicability of Conventions such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, there is no legally binding international convention which addresses the rights of the aged. The rights of the aged are only protected in a general sense.

Certain human rights which are of particular relevance to aged persons include:

  • Right to life
  • Freedom from torture and inhumane treatment
  • Freedom from arbitrary detention
  • Right to family life
  • Right to privacy
  • Right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate shelter, food and clothing
  • The right to social security, assistance and protection
  • The right to the highest attainable standard of health
  • Full and active participation in all aspects of political, economic, social, and cultural life of society.
  • Full and effective participation in decision-making concerning their well-being.

Governments have made certain unbinding commitments with regards to the rights of the aged. These include but are not limited to:
Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing 1983:
This Plan of Action provides that States will:

  • develop and apply at the international, regional and national levels policies designed to enhance the lives of the aging as individuals and to allow them to enjoy in mind and in body, fully and freely, their advancing years in peace, health and security; and
  • study the impact of aging populations on development and that of development on the aging, with a view to enabling the potential of the aging to be fully realized and to mitigating, by appropriate measures, any negative effects resulting from this impact

UN General Assembly Proclamation on Ageing 1992
This Proclamation seeks  to ensure, amongst others, the following:

  • Appropriate national policies and programmes for the elderly are considered as part of overall development strategies;
  • Policies which enhance the role of Government, the voluntary sector and private groups are expanded and supported;
  • Old and young generations cooperate in creating a balance between tradition and innovation in economic, social and cultural development;
  • Policies and programmes are developed which respond to the special characteristics, needs and abilities of older women;
  • Older women are given adequate support for their largely unrecognized contributions to the economy and the well-being of society;
  • Older men are encouraged to develop social, cultural and emotional capabilities which they may have been prevented from developing during breadwinning years;
  • Community awareness and participation is encouraged in the formulation and implementation of programmes and projects with the involvement of older persons;
  • Families are supported in providing care and all family members are encouraged to cooperate in caregiving.

Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing 2002
This was adopted with a view of responding to the opportunities and challenges of population ageing in the twenty-first century and to promote the development of a society for all ages. The Plan of Action has three priority areas: persons and development; advancing health and well-being into old age and ensuring enabling and supportive environments.