Old and Forgotten: Why We Need a UN Convention on the Rights of Older Persons

Source: Unsplash/ Yogendra Singh

Evangeline Larsen

On the completion of his one hundredth lap around his garden, walker in hand, medals on his chest, Captain Tom Moore reported that he felt “fine”. The British centenarian and Army veteran greatly exceeded his aim of raising £1000 to support the NHS’ COVID-19 efforts, capturing the attention and admiration of Great Britain by raising over £33 million. That was in April 2020.

Ten months later, following his valiant efforts to lift the country’s spirits and subsequent knighthood by the Queen, Sir Tom died from coronavirus. Many would say he epitomised a life well-lived and according to his daughters, his last year was “nothing short of remarkable.” Last year, Sir Tom stood out as the anomaly in a health crisis that has shone a spotlight on the vulnerability of older people in our communities. Praised for his strength, contribution and autonomy, he countered the narrative that older people are not deserving of dignity or a voice. And yet sadly this year, he became one of the millions of people who have lost their lives to the pandemic and one of the 11.6 per cent of fatal cases in Britain’s over 75 age-bracket.

COVID-19 has reignited debate about the need for a UN Convention on the Rights of Older Persons. From age-based stay at home orders to the virus’ devastation in aged care homes, from impacts on superannuation to mandated exclusion from vaccine trials, older people have at once been at the centre of government policy and completely left out of the conversation. With the global population of people aged 60 and above estimated to reach 2 billion in 2050, this debate is only going to become more important over time.

In this context, what are the issues facing older generations? How has COVID-19 escalated these problems? And would a UN Convention help alleviate any of them?

The Problems Abound

Intersectionality is an essential consideration when examining any human rights issue or treaty. Older people have specific needs and face distinct human rights issues such as “poverty, aged-related discrimination and elder abuse.” Distressingly, the WHO estimates that around 1 in 6 people over 60 years old experienced some form of abuse in community settings during the past year, and with high levels of unde