Friday, February 18, 2011

Putting Older Persons’ Poverty on the Human Rights Agenda

Dr. Alexandre Kalache calling NGOs to speak with a strong voice
Global Action on Aging, along with eight other NGOs working on aging, organized a side event during the 49th Session of the Commission for Social Development. Related to the 49th session's priority theme of "poverty eradication", the side event focused on older person's poverty and putting it on the human rights agenda.

The February 11, 2011, side event took place in New York and attracted nearly 50 participants from across the globe. Panelists with different backgrounds described various problems that old people face. Dr. Laura Machado, International Coordinator for UN Activities from IAGG, urged NGOs to increase the influence of older persons in citizen organizations. Kenneth Henley, President of the Rivoli Senior Citizens Club in Jamaica, talked briefly about his experiences in old age and urged grater cooperation with young people. Mr. Zahid Rastam, Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Malaysia to the UN, emphasized ways that NGOs interact with UN delegations, encouraging NGOs to lobby at national level. Last, Dr. Alexandre Kalache, Senior Advisor of the International Coalition on Rights of Older Persons, echoed others that NGOs should speak with a strong voice to governments.
During Q & A session, more NGOs from around the world - India, Nigeria and Jamaica just to name few - asked how to lobby at the national level. In conclusion, the audience agreed that older people need local and national support to achieve a human rights convention/treaty for older persons. More, older people need their governments to assure older persons' rights by providing better pension systems, health care and housing for older people.

By Duygu Ba┼čaran, GAA Program Coordinator

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The UN Commission for Social Development 49th Session by Aude Feltz

As a Global Action on Aging intern, I had the opportunity to attend one of the meetings of the Commission for Social Development that had the theme of poverty eradication. I was very interested in the High Level Panel Discussion on this topic because the speakers presented so much information. I especially liked to learn about concrete policies such as those that the Chinese government put into place to fight against poverty. Of course, panelists shared much general information and informed us that by 2015, close to 50 million people will remain poor.

Though we must know the data to become aware and to develop new policies, I felt a little disappointed that most information was very general. As one panelist remarked, “History proves that to eradicate poverty you must not only concentrate on the poor but you need to focus on the whole society”; yet the figures and policy examples deal only with the poor. Furthermore, poverty affects children, young adults and older people in different ways. Each group requires different solutions. But discussions lead us to think that poor people are a single population. For example, I heard no mention of older people while they represent one of the most vulnerable populations affected by poverty and thus special policies are needed to target them.
Even in side events focusing on older people like the one organized by AARP, I noticed that the issue of older people having difficulties to get micro-credit was only raised because one person in the audience raised the question. I would have expected the panelist to treat this issue with some depth.

Finally, because I attended one discussion of the Commission and also two side events, I was reminded that unfortunately time is the key component to initiate and make changes. While experts pointed to the urgency to take concrete actions, a Convention on older Persons’ Rights will require significant time to address the issue, to mobilize a critical mass, and to push forward to draft a convention, a process that will likely take five or more years.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The UN Commission for Social Development 49th Session: Older Persons’ Poverty and Human Rights by Nuri Han

The UN Commission for Social Development 49th session explored the current needs to protect older persons from poverty. On February 10, a Chinese research expert spoke on poverty eradication in rural areas. According to the expert, the Chinese government pays a monthly minimum living allowance, 80% of medical payments and retirement insurance to poor people in rural areas. Almost half of rural seniors over 65 years were in poverty in the 1990s but the rate recently decreased by 35% thanks to helpful programs. At a NGO Side Event on February 12, several international NGO leaders addressed a Convention for Older Persons at the UN. Also, the Counsellor, for the Permanent Mission of Malaysia to the UN, shared important advice on how to attract support for the convention from Member States.

Still, it seems there is more work to do for older persons’ human rights at the UN. In other committee meetings, issues of older persons are barely addressed. To successfully initiate a Convention for Older Persons and address older persons’ rights at the UN, more international civic leaders must work cooperatively to win many Member States’ support.

Awareness of Elder Abuse, a Growing but Hidden in Asian Communities

Elder abuse can happen by family members
Elder Abuse occurs when someone 60 or older is mistreated. Elder abuse includes emotional, mental and physical abuse, financial exploitation, neglect, and abandonment. Abusers of older people are both women and men and may be family members, friends, or ‘trusted people.’ Family elder abuse affects as many as 2 million seniors in the United States, as well as up to 5 million seniors who are subjected to financial exploitation, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), a program of the U.S. Administration on Aging.

To investigate the elder abuse situation of Asian communities in New York City, GAA Research Associate Nuri Han met with Peter Cheng, Executive Director of Indochina Sino-American Community Center (ISACC). Located in Manhattan’s Chinatown, ISACC has assisted Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Burmese, Philipino, and Malaysian immigrants and refugees integrate into mainstream society by providing programs, services and activities since 1990.

Only one elder abuse program
Two years ago, Cheng recognized elder abuse when one elder client asked the organization’s staff to help him fill out an application for government housing. Cheng knew that the elderly man had purchased a co-op apartment. Cheng, curious why he needed government housing, asked. The elderly man said that he worked hard and purchased the co-op apartment in his son’s name. However, his son did not want to live with him so he was evicted.
Cheng surveyed other clients and found that this man’s situation was not unique. In response, Cheng launched the Chinese Americans Restoring Elders (CARE) Project, the first and only elder abuse prevention program in New York City’s Chinese community. The CARE Project raises awareness of elder abuse and assists older people in need by providing linguistically and culturally appropriate education materials. Unfortunately, due to the lack of funding, only one case worker can be solely devoted to this project.

Growing but hidden
Reflecting the rapid growth of Chinese elders in New York City, the population of Chinese seniors 60 or older is 93,000 persons and will more than double in 10 years. This will be the fastest growth rate among all ethnic groups in New York, according to the City Council. However, nobody knows how many elder abuse cases there are in New York’s Asian community. Even in the majority community, the picture of senior abuse is vague. According to NCEA, the most recent studies show that only one out of six such cases is reported to authorities. For Asian American families, the strong influence of traditional culture brings additional challenges to prevention and protection. Generally Asians believe that respecting older persons is important in Asian culture and thinks that the tradition is well maintained. The concept of elder abuse is easily ignored or unknown. Many Asian American elderly victims tend to hide the abuse or even protect the family member abuser because of shame and fear. A New York State ongoing study finds elder abuse is underreported, only 1 out of 24 cases. According to Cheng, many Asian older people hold an immigration status sponsored by their adult children. They do not speak much English and have few other relatives or friends they can consult. This makes them more vulnerable than seniors in the majority community.

How to solve?
Cheng believes that educating the community to be aware of elder abuse issue is significant to prevent elder abuse and protect older people. Cheng suggested three ways:
Community outreach to educate and raise awareness about elder abuse
Psychological counseling
Legal enforcement and political assistance
Advocacy to government

Elder Justice Act
A little known part of the health care reform law enacted in 2010 is the Elder Justice Act and the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act. For the first time, the law will provide funds to coordinate national research and other efforts to combat elder abuse and exploitation by improving data collection and dissemination and distributing information about best practices to local authorities.
For more information, visit these websites: National Center on Elder Abuse, and the Elder Justice Coalition.