Old-age in Nigeria can be a dreadful prospect to many. It is not uncommon to see abandoned senior citizens who are homeless and are compelled to beg for survival. The NDi Paper 73 is an exploratory document. The NDi seeks to collate opinions and ideas toward ultimately presenting a bill on the subject to the Nigeria’s National Assembly.
All age related issues in Nigeria are highly controversial, yet sensitive. Without recourse to the common law, even natural justice and cultural perspective clearly provides basic human right pedestals on which the elderly ones generally known to be disadvantaged because of age-related weaknesses can stand on.
This write-up is built to provide suggestions on the use of human-rights based approach to analyse, interpret and tackle advanced age issues and define a legal basis for making provision for people falling within this age.
The United Nations through the Brasilia Declaration (ECLAC, 2008), adopted in 2007 by the Second Regional Intergovernmental Conference on Aging in Latin American and the Caribbean,1 and ratified in ECLAC resolution 644(XXXII) of 2008, called upon participating Governments to work towards the adoption of an international convention regarding the rights of the older persons (Article 24), as well as to the establishment of the mandate of a Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur responsible for the promotion and the protection of the rights of older persons (Article 25).
Although, there was a bold attempt to establish something akin to a norm in the Latin American, the absence of specifically targeted standards and norms (particularly in the form of a treaty) such as those that have been established for other vulnerable groups or groups in other clime or globally has a number of practical implications for the promotion and protection of older persons’ rights.
First, existing international standards do not establish a coherent set of principles to serveas guidelines for national legislation and public policy. The United Nations Principles for Older Persons, approved by the General Assembly in 1991, provide a universal frame of reference for those rights. By their very nature, however, those principles are generic and have not been translated into concrete standards in many of the spheres in which older persons are most at risk of having their rights violated.
Second, general human rights instruments and other international provisions do not cover a series of specific rights which need to be defined in greater detail in the light of the new understandings and agreements that are reflected, inter alia, in national legislation and case law , as well as international, regional and sectoral policies. The various initiatives that have been launched to date in the form of principles, guidelines or other “soft law” instruments are also a reflection of the need for specific definitions of certain human rights as they relate to older persons. A convention on this specific subject would help to consolidate the extremely varied range of relevant provisions and to clarify the situation with respect to possible ambiguities in the recognition of the rights of older persons, thereby furthering the efforts of States, international bodies and civil society stakeholders to promote and protect those rights. Such a convention would also help to strengthen States’ and international and regional organizations’ efforts to enforce and promote those rights on the ground.
Although existing United Nations treaty bodies ⎯especially the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women⎯ are showing a growing interest in specifically addressing the rights of older persons, their involvement in this area is still quite limited, and there are many issues that do not fall within their mandates.
Third, the adoption of a convention of this sort would contribute to the evolving interpretation of general international and regional human rights instruments and to the design and implementation of human-rights-based public policies that are fully aligned with the universally accepted objectives of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing.
Basically, this article will attempt to chronicle the following definitions
1. Basic Concept and Idea of Ageing
2. Basic rights of aged people
2.0 Concept and Rights of Old People
2.1 The Basic Concept and Idea of Ageing
Before a legally binding convention on the rights of older persons can be framed, the category of persons entitled to those rights must be defined. It must be noted that there is no single paradigm for old age and ageing, both of which relate to a multi-faceted process that is determined not only by the passage of time, but also by physiological, social and cultural factors. In Nigeria, chronologically, old age is assumed to begin at 60 years Traditionally however old age is characterized as a stage at which economic, physical and social capacities are all declining. In the first case, this is reflected in reduced income; in the second, in a loss of autonomy; and, in the third, in the absence of a social role. This implies that older persons are subjects of law, rather than simply beneficiaries and that they therefore enjoy certain guarantees and has certain responsibilities to themselves, their family and society, to
their immediate surroundings and to future generations.
Old age when measured in years, the criterion defines anyone above 60 years as ‘’senior citizens’’ which places a bit of rights and responsibilities on people within this range.
2.2 Rights of Old People
Three different documents calling for a declaration on the rights of older persons have been introduced either formally or as discussion papers to United Nations bodies and their specialized organs (Sidorenko, 2008).
The Declaration of Old Age Rights, presented by Argentina in 1948, espoused the rights to assistance, accommodation, food, clothing, care of physical and moral health, recreation, work, stability and respect (United Nations, 1948).
In 1991, the International Federation on Ageing and the Dominican Republic submitted the draft Declaration on the Rights of Older Persons, which served as the basis for the United Nations Principles for Older Persons,, which were adopted by the General Assembly in 1991. The proposal emphasized that fundamental human rights do not diminish with age and that, because of the marginalization and impediments that old age may entail, older persons run the risk of losing their rights and being rejected by society unless those rights are reaffirmed and respected (International Federation on Ageing, 1998).
In 1999, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) of the United States submitted the draft Charter for Society for All Ages (Sidorenko, 2008) on the occasion of the International Year of Older Persons. This initiative was expected to follow the same procedural path as the proposal put forward by the International Federation on Ageing in 1991, but it failed to move forward. This charter placed emphasis on the shared issues of concern to different sectors of society and made recommendations regarding the interdependence of individuals and society, the interdependence of the different stages of life (in the spheres of education and training, employment and productive activity, income protection, health and social services) and the interdependence of generations (AARP, 1997).
3.0 The Nigeria Scenario
3.1 Basic rights of old people in Nigeria
It is recommended that the state should consider and immediately enact laws to protect the following rights of old people:
a) Equal rights of men and women
States parties should pay particular attention to older women and should institute non contributoryold-age benefits or other assistance for all persons, regardless of their sex, who find themselves without resources.
b) Rights relating to work
States parties should take steps to prevent discrimination on grounds of age in employment and occupation, guarantee safe working conditions until retirement, employ older workers in circumstances in which the best use can be made of their experience and know-how, and put in place programmes that prepare workers for retirement.
c) Right to social security
States parties must establish general regimes of compulsory old-age insurance, establish retirement age so that it is flexible, provide non-contributory old-age benefits and other assistance for all older persons who, when reaching the age prescribed in national legislation, have not completed a qualifying period of contribution and are not entitled to an old-age pension or other social security benefit or assistance and have no other source of income.
d) Right to protection of the family
Governments and non-governmental organizations should establish social services to support the whole family when there are elderly people at home and implement measures especially for low-income families who wish to keep elderly people at home.
e) Right to an adequate standard of living
Older persons’ basic needs for food, income, care, self-sufficiency and other elements
should be met. Policies should be developed to assist them to remain in their homes by improving and adapting their dwellings.
f) Right to physical and mental health
Investments must be made in health care for persons at all stages in the life cycle in order to help older persons remain healthy.
g) Right to education and culture
The protection of this right should be approached from two different and complementary
points of view:
(a) the right of elderly persons to benefit from educational programmes; and
(b) making the know-how and experience of elderly persons available to younger
States parties have the obligation to acknowledge and prohibit violence against older citizens, including those with disabilities, in their legislation on domestic violence, sexual violence and institutional violence.
They must investigate, prosecute and punish all acts of violence committed against them, including those that are the result of traditional beliefs or practices.
States parties should devote special attention to violence against older citizens during times of armed conflict, the impact of such conflicts on their lives and contributions to peacemaking and reconstruction
i) Participation in public life
States parties have the obligation to ensure that older people have opportunities to participate in public and political affairs and to hold public posts, including elective office, at all levels.
j) Work and pension benefits
States should facilitate the participation of older citizens in gainful employment without discrimination on the basis of sex or age. States have the obligation to ensure that older women are not discriminated against in terms of mandatory retirement ages in either the public or private sector and should provide suitable non contributory pensions on an equal basis for all men and women who are not covered by the social security system.
States must ensure that older women, including those who have childcare responsibilities, have access to the economic and social benefits corresponding to caregivers and to all necessary support when they are caring for aged parents or relatives
States should provide the medicines required to treat chronic, non communicable diseases, long term health and social care, including care that allows for independent living, and palliative care.
l) Economic empowerment
States should remove age- and sex-based barriers to access to agricultural credit and should ensure access to technology for older farmers and small-scale landholders. They should make means of transportation available to enable older citizens, including those living in rural areas, to participate in economic and social activities.
m) Social benefits
States parties should ensure that older citizens have access to suitable housing in accordance with their needs and should remove architectural and other barriers hindering their mobility. They must also provide social services that enable older women to remain at home and live independently for as long as possible.
By Olugbenga Musa
Credit & Acknowledgement
I acknowledge the usage of materials from ECLAC –Project Document Collection in preparing this piece.
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