Celebrating UN Older People Day: October 1 What are the Issues Facing Older People globally and Liberia?

By Sam TogbaSlewion

There is an indisputable fact that health care delivery is improving, the world economy is globalizing,   technology is evolving; and one of the biggest social transformation in the world is population ageing. However, amidst these dramatic changes to improve human condition, this paper will discuss some of the issues being faced by older people, as the world moves towards a reality that soon the world will have older people than children than ever before.

In 2008, children out-numbered older people, but in 10 years older people will out-number children for the first time in history. Although industrialized nations have higher percentage of older people than do most developing countries, 62 percent of all people aged 65 and older live in developing countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Oceania (WHO Population Ageing Report, 2012).

But while we can appreciate these statistics due to many social, economic and health factors, we must also accept the fact that population ageing has profound implication for many facets of live globally, including developed and developing countries.

The problems face by older people differs from geographical regions, including developed and developing countries, and therefore should be discussed from a global perspective to get a full and better understanding of the implication of ageing globally. These problems being faced by older people should also be considered at different levels of our society, including the levels of countries and the international community.

The regions in which older people find themselves also tend to determine the socioeconomic and health problems that they face. In both regions, including developed and developing countries, the common problems face by older people are housing, health care, social safety net such as stable income through social security, stereotype,   pension retirement and inadequate long-term care facility. Other problems include the lack of   policies and laws to protect the rights of older people against discrimination and unfair labor practices.

In the United States most elders age 65 face the challenging of meeting daily living cost, including housing and health care and a federal index measure of their income does not seem to present an accurate picture of these economic constraints. Hence, the Elder Economic Security Standard is a new measure of elder income adequacy contrast to the federal level of measure of poverty. This tool measures the amount of income an elder needs to live modestly in the community. It is also important because it is calculated with the assumption that an elder is not receiving public assistance or subsidies such as food stamps, energy assistance, subsidized housing, or property tax help, but it does assume that the elder is receiving Medicare. It also illustrates that expenses vary by specific geographic areas and circumstances of elder households, including the size of the households, homeowner or rental status, and the elder health status. Basically this is a conceptual framework and concrete tools to

Advance the well-being of older people through research, education, advocacy and outreach. (Wider Opportunities for Women, 2012).

Those who do not meet the standard could face many challenges, including living in poverty, homelessness, or suffer mental health concerns due to either income insecurity or inadequacy, or live in home-based long-term care, which is not included in measure of the Elder Income Index. The individual circumstances of elders in the United States vary from the most fortunate, who are healthy and economically secured, to the least fortunate, who are poor, ill and/or living with disability. Those who do not meet the Standard are also often unaccounted and caught in a gap and sometime unable to qualify for critical programs despite struggling to make ends meet. Also the impact of those who do meet the standard varies according to gender, age, race and household composition.

In developing countries, including Liberia, while most of the problems are the same as the ones face by their contemporaries in developed countries, some of the issues are peculiar to those in developing countries. Older people in developing countries are faced with problems such as marginalization and poverty, illiteracy at older ages and agriculture still remain an important source of employment for older people. Majority of older people also live in rural areas in these countries. Many of these countries also do not have effective social programs to address the needs of older people, including adequate social protection programs such as pension and welfare programs. In most of these countries, laws and policies either sparsely exist or do not exist to protect the rights of older people against discrimination and unfair labor practices.

Another major concern for older people in Africa, especially women, is the issue of witchcraft. Today, across the world, countless women, elderly people and children will face the horror of witchcraft accusations and persecution (WAP). In many ways, these could be considered to be the fortunate ones since those less fortunate may not still be alive. Women accused of witchcraft are beaten to death in India, mutilated in South Africa and Uganda, and burned alive in Papua New Guinea, while elderly women die in their burning houses in Kenya. Small children and even babies may be subjected to cruel treatment and violence because of these misguided beliefs. The United Nations has a key role to play in combating this ongoing campaign of violence and terror against women, children and the elderly.

At the 25th Session of the Human Rights Council of the UN panel in 2013, Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN) presented a report which documented over 400 cases of WAP in 41 countries of such abuses linked to beliefs in witchcraft, spirits, black magic, and other forms of evil. Most of the victims of the witchcraft accusations are not only women, but older women who are usually blame for an epidemic or virus and calamity in communities in Africa. These women

Once accused can be ostracized by their families and communities. (WHRIN, 2013).

In West Africa, the situation seems to be visible in Ghana and Nigeria where so-called “witch camps” are designated for the women and children accused of witchcraft. In Ghana where until recently there were six “witch camps” located in isolated communities in the Northern rural parts of Ghana where older women accused of “witch craft” forced to reside to avoid continued practice of witchcraft. Some of these camps are said to be hosting between 300 -500 women and about 200 children living in inhumane conditions. The women residing in these camps are the ones who are lucky to make it there.

Also another concern for older people is the economic gaps between genders. An analysis of the economic security gap by gender demonstrates that older women are at greater economic risk than older men. In 2011, the official poverty rate was 8.7 for older people aged 65 and older.   (AARP, public policy institute, 2011)

Long-term care for older people is also a major challenge. Long-term includes non-medical care for people who have a chronic illness or disability. This includes non-skilled personal care assistance, like help with everyday activities, including dressing, bathing, and using the bathroom. At least 70% of people over 65 will need long-term care services and support at some point…” Long-term care can be provided at home, in the community, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home. In Liberia, some of the 170,000 older people in Liberia (according to the last Census conducted in Liberia) are living in old folks home and receiving similar assistance being provided by mainly by non-government organizations and religious institutions such as the United Methodist Church. All the old folk’s homes are located in mainly three counties in Liberia, including Montserrado, Margibi and Grand Bassa. The old folk’s home in Grand Bassa County is the only facility that provides shelter for older people with disabilities, including physically challenged and visual impairment.

Advocacy for UN Convention for Older People:

On the international level, the consistent fight for older people is the enactment of an international instrument to protect the rights of older people globally. Presently, there is a concern by the advocacy community for older people to pressure the United Nations to enact a UN Convention for the rights of older people similar to other instruments for the protection of women and children (IFA, 2012). It is believed that the enactment of a UN Convention will hold governments accountable and make it binding for these governments to provide social protection and establish laws and policies to ensure better quality of life for older people in their respective countries.

However, on the global front several   organizations are leading the efforts to enact a UN Convention for older people and all of these efforts are now being synergized through a single organization known as the Global Alliance for the Rights of Older People (GAROP). The work of GAROP is mainly being channeled through a framework known as the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG). The OEWG was established by a United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted Resolution 65/182 in July, 2010. The role of the OEWG is to facilitate discussion among stakeholders that could lead to the adoption of UN Convention to strengthen the protection of human rights of older persons. The role include considering existing international framework for human rights of older persons and identifying possible gaps and how best to address them, including by considering, as appropriate, the feasibility of further instruments and measures. (Israel & al, 2010).

It is imperative for the enactment of a universal instrument to protect the rights of older people ratified by member states of the United Nations. Once a UN Convention is signed and ratified by Member States, regular monitoring and reporting on the implementation of such Convention is required by the UN. This process will not only document human rights violations, but also ensure steady progress towards protecting the rights of vulnerable groups who remain at risk when it comes to the full enjoyment of all fundamental freedoms and rights.

In conclusion, I believe these are the issues facing older people based on my limited knowledge and engagement with some older people and advocacy groups for older people. These issues underscored the need for continued concerted efforts to develop policies and laws both domestically and internationally to protect the rights of older people and improve their quality of life.

Note: The author is the Chairman of the Social Work Department of the United Methodist University and serving as Consultant for the Coalition of Caregivers and Advocates for the Elderly in Liberia(COCAEL), which is the umbrella organization leading the campaign for the rights of older people in Liberia. He is also Representative in Liberia for the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA), an international advocacy group based in Washington, DC, USA.


World Health Organization (WHO).   World Population Ageing Report, (2012)

International Federation of Ageing , Global Ageing Report, 2012 Vol.8 No.1

(AARP, public policy institute, 2011)

Johnson, Richard, Toohey, Desmond, Wiener, Joshua, M. 2007: Meeting the Long-term Care Needs of the Baby Boomers,

Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW): Elder Economic Security Initiative, 2012

Doron, Israel, Spanier, Benny (2010), “International rights of older persons: what difference would a new convention make to the rights of older people?”