New Convention Will Help Protect Latin America’s Elderly

Mexico City – “Our rights are only partially respected; in some places we are given special attention, but in others it is quite the opposite. There is a lack of education and respect for people my age,” Hilda Téllez, a 70-year-old Mexican woman, told IPS.

A few hours earlier, a taxi driver had refused to carry her wheelchair, in the middle-class neighbourhood of Villa Olímpica, where Téllez lives. She said she suffers double discrimination: as an elderly person and as someone with a disability, since she suffered a stroke that affected the right side of her body.

“When I got sick, they violated my rights, because I collapsed in the office due to the level of stress there,” she said. “I didn’t go back to work after that. But the doctors ruled that it wasn’t a work-related health problem,” said the divorced mother of three and grandmother of eight, who worked for over 15 years in Mexico’s public prosecutor’s office, until retiring in 2006.

Because of that, she now receives a pension of only 225 dollars a month, even though her salary when she retired was over 1,250 dollars.

Discrimination, abandonment or neglect by families, and lack of care, work opportunities and full access to social services are all problems faced by people over 60 in Latin America and the Caribbean.

To address this situation, the Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons was approved Jun. 15 by the Organisation of American States (OAS) members. It needs to be ratified by two countries to go into effect, and has already been signed by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay.

The Convention is the first regional instrument for promoting, protecting and recognising the human rights of the elderly.

It creates a comprehensive system of care for older adults, a Conference of the Parties, and a committee of experts who will issue recommendations to states.

It also creates a channel for any individual, group or non-governmental organisation to file complaints with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against an OAS member country for violating the Convention.

There are currently 71 million people over 60 in Latin America. And by 2040, the elderly will outnumber children, according to an international forum held in this capital on the human rights of older adults by the Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Centre (CELADE).

Sandra Huenchúan, a CELADE expert on ageing, said the main challenges involve improving social security coverage, access to healthcare, and inclusion in the labour market, and carrying out studies on the rights of the elderly.

“There are often problems applying the legislation – a lack of institutional or jurisdictional guarantees that would make enforcement possible,” Huenchúan said.

She added that “there is an enormous range of areas where older adults are unprotected, despite the existence of standardised legal mechanisms. Society isn’t fully aware that older adults have rights.”

The countries in Latin America that already have specific laws and regulations for the protection of the rights of older adults are Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.

María Isolina Dabove, an expert from Argentina, said “The region is facing multigenerational ageing, a complex phenomenon that emerged with the demographic changes of the second half of the 20th century and is fuelled by the rise in life expectancy, which makes it possible for several generations to coexist.”

Dabove, with the Argentine government’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), told IPS that the Convention is “the first explicit acknowledgement” by the region of the specific problems of older adults.

“This is an instrument that will guarantee the enforcement of the rights of all older adults,” she said.

Between 1950 and 2010, life expectancy at birth in the region climbed from 51 to 75 years, and it is expected to rise to 81 by the mid-21st century, according to CELADE, the population division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

One illustration is what is happening in Argentina, where 14 million of the country’s roughly 40 million inhabitants are over 60, according to the 2012 National Survey on the Quality of Life of Older Adults, while one out of five people in Argentina will be over 65 by 2050.

In Mexico, with a population f 120 million, seven million people are over 65 – a number that is expected to soar to more than 30 million by 2050.

And in Brazil, the most populous country in the region, with 200 million people, the number of people over 60 is expected to increase from 10 million today to more than 16 million by 2025 and to 29 million by 2050, according to official statistics.

“The real, concrete impact of the new Inter-American Convention is that each one of the states must incorporate it into their domestic laws. The Convention should have the legal hierarchy that would make it possible to build a free and equal society for all ages,” said Dabove.

Téllez, who receives medical care in the Social Security and Services Institute of Workers of the State, said she would like special clinics so the care would be “faster and more efficient.” She also suggested that the clinics could employ older adults.

“The government could make things accessible, approve stricter laws, provide driver education, improve the treatment we receive, and apply heavy fines, to educate people,” the pensioner said.

The region could benefit from the so-called “demographic bonus” – a broad segment of young people of an age to study and work and contribute to economic growth – but that advantage can vanish without investment in the human development of this part of the population.

In the November 2014 report “The New Demographic Era in Latin America and the Caribbean: Time for Equality According to the Population Clock,” CELADE said the demographic bonus could be secured with investment in education and health, particularly for children, adolescents, young people and women.

“Ageing should be a concern for the states, because it not only affects social welfare systems but also the life of the community and the development of countries, and its effects should be anticipated,” Huenchúan said.

That concern, she added, “should not only translate into caring for older adults, but in making sure they have better conditions to exercise their rights.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes.