Bangladesh: ‘Invisible’ older persons must be recognised and prioritised, says UN expert

Dhaka/Geneva, 17 November, 2022.- Bangladesh must take concrete action to combat entrenched and pervasive ageism and follow through on its planned measures to ensure human rights protection of older persons, a UN expert said.

Concluding an 11-day visit in the country, Claudia Mahler, the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights for older persons, welcomed the existence of a dedicated National Policy on Older Persons, as a first commendable step. “However, the lack of a time-bonding action plan to further its implementation remains problematic,” Mahler said. More than nine years after its adoption, most of the priorities remain unattended.

Acknowledging the Government’s ongoing challenges related to climate change and a growing economic and financial crisis, she called on the Government to recognise older persons’ experiences, skills and contributions to their families and society at large.

“Such recognition would enhance support and protection to a growing proportion of the population that remains invisible,” Mahler said in a statement (English / Bangla). “Most of the older persons I met expressed often feeling like a burden to their family and the society, due the rampant structural ageism.”

While Bangladeshi society has a tradition of respecting and providing care for older relatives, their specific needs are easily ignored. “Older persons especially face structural ageist assumptions in the labour market, preventing those living in poverty to sustain themselves and their kin,” the expert said.

Mahler applauded the country’s Old Age Allowance, a non-contributory safety net benefiting almost half the older population, but more funding is needed. “The limited budget allocation for this programme barely covers the cost of medicines older persons need.”

Mahler also urged the Government to implement measures to mitigate the impacts of climate change on older persons and expressed concern that geriatric healthcare is scarce. Specific attention should be given to older persons living in vulnerable situations, including those deprived of liberty, living in slum urban areas, Rohingya camps, or working in shipbreaking yards, as well as those facing multiple forms of discrimination.

During her visit, the Independent Expert met with relevant Government authorities at national and local levels, civil society, stakeholders working on the rights of older persons and more than 200 older persons.

“I remain hopeful that Bangladesh will provide the appropriate political will and budgeting to strengthen the protection of older persons in the country,” she said.

The expert will present a comprehensive report of her findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September 2023.

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