H.S. Envoy to UN Archbishop Jurkovic on rights of the elderly

(Vatican Radio) The Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, lamented how often in today’s throw-away culture, the elderly feel useless and alone because they have lost their proper place in society. His remarks came during an address on Wednesday at a Session of the UN’s Human Rights Council dealing with the Rights of Older Persons. Archbishop Jurkovic expressed the Holy See’s concern over the “increasing discrimination” faced by the elderly and said some of the biggest challenges to their welfare include poverty and inadequate access to health care. He also said the Holy See considers of “utmost importance” the need to “keep older people engaged in decision-making about their lives and their social integration.”


Please find below the full text of Archbishop Jurkovic’s address to the U.N. Session:


Mr. President,

My Delegation is grateful for the Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons.  As presented in the Report, the population of older persons represents the fastest growing segment of the global population. “By 2050, for the first time, there will be more older persons than children under the age of 15 worldwide, and it is projected that the number of older persons will more than double from 900 million currently to nearly 2 billion”.  In a world that is living a critical demographic transformation the elderly face a number of particular challenges in the enjoyment of their human rights that need to be addressed urgently. The major  challenges  summarized  by  the  Independent  Expert  in  the  area  of  health  care,  the  right  to  work,  social protection, access to justice, violence and abuse, the participation of older persons, and their  increasing discrimination, represent a grave concern for the Holy See.

One  of  the  most  pressing  challenges  to  the  welfare  of  older  persons  is  poverty,  including  their  often inadequate living conditions. As highlighted in the Report, “Poverty and lack of income security constitute major concerns for many older persons. Social transfers, in particular adequate  pensions,  significantly  contribute  to  ensuring  the  financial  security  of  older  persons  and  are  a  suitable  means  of  reducing  the  at-risk-of-poverty  rate,  their  vulnerability  and  social  exclusion”.

Pensions are essential to ensuring rights, dignity and income security for older persons. The right to  income  security  in  old  age,  as  grounded  in  human  rights  instruments  and  international labour  standards,  includes  the  right  to  an  adequate  pension.  However, “nearly half of all people over pensionable age do not receive a pension. For many of those who do receive a pension, pension levels are not adequate.”

As a result, most of the world’s older women and men have no income security, have no right to retire and have to continue working as long as they can – often with poor remuneration and in precarious conditions.  Yet, despite lower income levels, older persons  may  be  the  main  providers  for  the  household  and  the  primary  caregivers,  including  for  the  care  of  grandchildren and other members of the family.


Mr. President,

In a society often dominated by the logic of efficiency and profit, the elderly can easily be considered unproductive and useless. Several States have recognized the relatively low standard of  living  among  older  persons  as  compared  to  other  segments  of  the  population,  including  the  prevalence of poverty, and even extreme poverty.

In  the  sector  of  health  care,  older  patients  are  usually  discharged  with  complex  medical  problems, high stress and vulnerability, and these factors place the elderly at risk for poor outcomes.  Transitional  care,  such  as  a  discharge  planning  programmes,  facilitates  the  care  process  from hospital to home. The sustainable access to health care can be realized through stronger policies in strengthening the primary care and by helping families, even to financial subsidies, to take care of parents at home.

Older  people have  a  wealth  of  skills  and  experiences,  they  have  lived  through  situations  others  cannot  even  imagine,  and  yet  we  continue  to  dismiss  these  lifetimes  of  experiences  when  they begin to need care and support and instead people become a list of care needs.  On a macro  level, older people contribute  financially to society  and to the workplace, and at a local level,  they  contribute  to  their  communities  and  individual  networks  in  terms  of  experience.  They  have  also  contributed  for  many  decades  which  is  often  forgotten.  In  the  Political  Declaration  and  Madrid  International  Plan  of  Action  on  Ageing  (2002),  States  have  foreseen  the  human  right  of  older  persons  to  participate  in  all  aspects  of  society,  highlighting  the  rights  to  work,  to  health,  to  independence  and  to  accessibility.  Consistent  with  the  Madrid  Plan  of  Action,  the  Holy  See  considers of utmost importance to  keep older people engaged in decision-making about their lives  and their social integration. Often these decisions are relegated to others even when older persons are competent to decide and discern their best interest. Respect for their human dignity and rights  requires  that  they  be  engaged  in  such  decisions  and  that  others  take  over  responsibility  for  determining  their  care  only  when  there  is  verified  evidence  that  they  are  incapable  of  doing  so.

Making  cities  inclusive  of  older  persons  means  generating  opportunities  for  their  economic  and  social participation in accessible and safe environments. It also means providing affordable housing  as  well  as  the  basic  health  and  social  services  needed  to  support  ageing  in  place.  This will necessitate a reflection on and development of more just and equitable policies aimed at re-defining the concept of social utility for those who have retired from the system of paid employment but who are quite capable and needed to strengthen the fabric of society through volunteer service and social presence as respected and learned members of families and communities. As stated by Pope Francis a society that does not take care of the elderly has no future. “The elderly are those who transmit history to us, who transmit doctrine, who transmit the faith and give it to us as an inheritance.”

The Holy See considers essential the promotion of policies and systems of education that propose an alternative approach to the dominant “throw-away culture” that judges human beings simply by what they produce. So often, the elderly feel useless and alone because they have lost their proper place in society.

Mr. President,

Living longer must never be seen as an exception, a burden or a challenge, but rather it must be recognized as the blessing that it is. Older persons enrich society and their positive and constructive presence in society is valued.  The  elderly  are  a  source  of  wisdom  and  a  great  resource. The quality of a society, of a civilization, may also be judged by how it treats its elderly and by the place reserved for them in communal life. Existing arrangements to protect the human  rights  of  older  persons  are  inadequate  and  dedicated  measures  to  strengthen  the  international  protection  regime  are  required.  Bearing  in  mind  the  General  Assembly  Resolution  67/139  of  20  December 2012 about the need to strengthen the protection of the human rights of older persons, the  Holy See wishes that the existing divergences will be soon overcome, given the millions of older  persons waiting for their human rights to become a reality.


Thank you, Mr. President.

(from Vatican Radio)

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