Stand Against Ageism

Stand Against Ageism

Lebanon: Times are changing! India will be the youngest country in the world by 2020 with a median age of 29 years. The irony however, is that by the middle of this century one out of every five Indians will be an ‘old person’ (above the age of 60 years).

In April this year, the by Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation released a report ‘The Elderly in India 2016′. The report highlights the fact that the population of elderly persons, above 60 years, has increased substantially with most of them (71 per cent) residing in villages and just about 29 percent in cities. Based on profile of elderly person in the country, it stated that there were 10.38 crore (8.6 per cent of the population) elderly persons in 2011 as compared to 7.66 crore (5.6 per cent) in 2001.A quantum leap (35.5 per cent) in the ten-year period and a grim reminder that India is ageing too!

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On October 1st every year we focus on the older persons in our society. The 2016 United Nations International Day of Older Persons will take a stand against ageism by drawing attention to and challenging negative stereotypes and misconceptions about older persons and ageing.

Ageism is a widely prevalent and prejudicial attitude that stems from the assumption that age discrimination, and sometimes neglect and abuse of older persons is a social norm and therefore, acceptable. It is a reality in some form in all societies, and finds expression in individuals’ attitudes, institutional and policy practices, as well as media representation that devalue and exclude older persons. In 2014, Governments around the world adopted a resolution at the Economic and Social Council that recognized ageism as “the common source of, the justification for and the driving force behind age discrimination.”

Such discrimination shapes how older persons are treated and perceived by their societies, including in medical settings and workplaces, creating environments that limit older persons’ potential and impact their health and well-being. The failure to tackle ageism undermines older persons’ rights and hinders their contributions to social, economic, cultural and political life.

It is blatantly obvious that as society ‘develops’ materially, the old get more neglected. Ageism has permeated Indian society too. There are some contributory factors for this reality: the traditional joint family is a thing of the past; unlike yesteryear, a fairly large percentage of married couples prefer having just one or two children; apart from the family going nuclear, often both parents, work full-time outside the home; above all, with the invasion of the ‘idiot box’ and other forms of technology into the sacred domain of the family, members do not have enough time for each other and much less for the elderly. The old are left to fend for themselves. A recent study also showed that 65 per cent of the elderly in India are not financially secure.

It is therefore not without reason, we see the growth of ‘homes for the aged’; if one can afford them, some children are all too happy to ‘dispatch’ their parents to such homes; besides, when the elderly really have no one, it is they who opt to go to one of these homes to be cared for in their twilight years. The painful reality is that in several instances, old people are just sent out of the homes which were once their own and left to hunger and die on the streets. Several of the Ashrams, run by the Missionaries of Charity (of St Mother Teresa), today house many such destitute, who because of old age, have been abandoned by that very family they once nurtured. Selfishness, oftentimes outweighs the need and importance of sensitivity.

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The Government of India has also done precious little to stand up against ageism. India needs to devise appropriate social and economic policies to allow for the rapid increase in the number of elderly.

In a message for the International Day of Older Persons, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says, “It is now our chance to take a stand against the destructive problem of ageism. Ending ageism and securing the human rights of older persons is an ethical and practical imperative. The stakes are high and growing. The global population of older persons is expected to rise from just over 900 million in 2015 to 1.4 billion by 2030 and 2.1 billion by 2050, when there will be roughly the same the number of older persons and children under 15. I condemn ageism in all its forms and call for measures to address this violation of human rights as we strive to improve societies for people of all ages. This demands changing the way older persons are portrayed and perceived, from being seen as a burden to being appreciated for the many positive contributions they make to our human family.”

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Pope Francis has never missed an opportunity to take a stand on behalf of the elderly. In his Apostolic Exhortation ‘Amoris Laetitia’, which was released last April, he has devoted three paragraphs (191-93), to the significant role of the elderly in the family. Exactly a year ago he said, “there are times, when generations of young people, for complex historical and cultural reasons, feel a deeper need to be independent from their parents, ‘breaking free’, as it were, from the legacy of the older generation. Nevertheless, if the meeting of generations is lost and not re-established, and a “new and fruitful inter-generational equilibrium is [not] restored, the inevitable result will be, serious impoverishment for everyone, and the freedom which prevails in society is actually a false freedom, which almost always becomes a form of authoritarianism.”

We need to take a stand against ageism; to realize that older persons also have rights! We need to accept and celebrate the elderly in our homes and society, and above all to pledge to listen, to learn and to love them as never before.

About Author: Fr Cedric Prakash sj is a human rights activist, currently based in Lebanon and engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service(JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications.

by Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*

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