The Malta Independent 4 December 2023, Monday
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United Nations International Day of Older Persons

Sunday, 1 October 2023, 07:24 Last update: about 2 months ago

Godfrey LaFerla

Today we are celebrating the . The 1st of October was designated as such by the United Nations General Assembly on the 14 December 1990. Several other initiatives were later endorsed by the UN in an effort to respond to the opportunities and challenges of population ageing in the 21st century and to promote the development of a society for all ages.


International days are occasions to bring to the attention of the public issues of major concern or celebrate substantial achievements of the past. The aim on this particular day is to appreciate and applaud the contributions that are being made by the elderly community to society in general and to ensure, that they in turn, have their rights respected, protected, promoted and made on an equal footing with the rest of the society.

It is estimated that the number of older people worldwide has tripled from around 260 million in 1980 to 761 million in 2021. Between 2021 and 2050, the global share of the older population is projected to increase from less than 10% to around 17%. In Malta it is projected that one quarter of the population will fall into that category. This is indeed an issue that we should celebrate as the increasing age of the population reflects the better and improving living standards of our nation. However, it is not without its challenges.

As is to be expected the increased ageing population is set to become one of the most significant social transformations of the twenty-first century, with wide-ranging implications affecting practically all sectors of society. There are certainly expected increased demands in areas such as health services as well as social services amongst others. Family issues and ties and intergenerational aspects are certainly expected to be further strained.

As in previous years a theme is identified to celebrate this event and this year’s theme focuses on “Fulfilling the Promises of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for Older Persons: Across Generations”.

The United Nations (UN) has long been committed to upholding and promoting the universal principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) for people of all ages. However, with the recognition that older persons offer specific challenges and require special rights, a concerted effort was made by the UN in 2013 to fulfill the promises of the UDHR for this demographic across generations.

These promises had to ensure that older persons are treated with respect and dignity, free from discrimination based on age and offered similar healthcare provision available to the normal population as well as quality long term care where appropriate. It is imperative that the State provides economic security through pensions and social security as well as protection from abuse, neglect, and exploitation by enacting the appropriate legal frameworks. Collaboration between generations is to be encouraged so as to address common challenges, as well as promoting social participation and opportunities for older individuals to remain engaged in society.

In order to fulfill these promises, the UN has provided a structure through a number of initiatives to help and support individual states in the pursuance of these goals. Some key efforts included: The Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (2002), which aimed to address the challenges and opportunities posed by global population ageing; the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals (2015) with the “Good Health and Well-Being" and “Reduced Inequality" being particularly relevant to older adults; The Open-ended Working Group on Ageing, a discussion forum to explore the possibility of a new international legal instrument to protect the rights of older persons; Awareness and Advocacy campaigns aimed at combatting ageing, discrimination and neglect, while highlighting the contributions older individuals make to society; and Data Collection and Research on the older persons with a view to better identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the caring system.

Member states and partner organizations have responded to their obligations but it is important to emphasize that progress has varied widely among countries and regions. Apart from the continuing discussions on the UN Convention on the Rights of Older Persons with a view to the introduction of a new international treaty specifically focused on the rights of older persons, some other key developments include: Age-Friendly Cities and Communities encouraging local governments to adopt policies and practices that support the well-being of older residents; Social Protection Programs have been developed, strengthened and expanded their policies to ensure older persons have financial security and access to essential services including health; Technology has been improved and innovated in order to facilitate its use by the elderly, keep them in full communication with the outside world and maintain their full independence where possible; Inter-generational Initiatives have been introduced to encourage inter-generational interactions and understanding, fostering empathy and cooperation between different age groups.

Whilst we celebrate today, let us take some time to pause and reflect on our own attitudes and behavior towards the older person. Let it not be a day for celebration today only to be forgotten tomorrow. We really need to make the effort to translate whatever strategies and initiatives are introduced by the Ministry for Active Ageing to our daily working practices devoid of any prejudices. For as the former Secretary General of the UN had stated “Ending ageism and securing the human rights of older persons is an ethical and practical imperative”. Let us resolve today to endeavor to make the future really better for our elderly people in full acknowledgement, recognition and gratitude for their contribution to this country.


Prof Godfrey LaFerla is Commissioner for Older Persons


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