Bangkok, 1-4 December 1998
I. ORGANIZATION OF THE SEMINAR
1. The Regional Seminar on A Society For All Ages was convened by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) at Bangkok from 1 to 4 December 1998. The Seminar was financially supported by the Government of Japan.
2. The main purpose of the Seminar was to promote the theme of the International Year of Older Persons (IYOP), entitled "A Society for All Ages", and its four dimensions: the situation of older persons, lifelong development, ageing and development, and multi-generational relationships. While issues relating to the other two dimensions of the Year were examined, the Seminar aimed to focus on two topics: ageing and development, and multi-generational relationships. It also aimed to review national activities and regional support measures in observance of the International Year of Older Persons and to adopt recommendations to address critical issues at both national and regional levels.
3. The Seminar was attended by representatives of the following ESCAP members and associate members: Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam.
4. Representatives of the following non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other organizations attended the Seminar: HelpAge International (HAI), HelpAge India, HelpAge Sri Lanka, Heritage Medical Centre (India), International Federation on Ageing (IFA), Indonesia Society of Gerontology, Japanese Organization for International Cooperation in Family Planning (JOICFP), Golden Age (USIAMAS) Foundation (Malaysia), Society for the Welfare of Elderly People (SWEP) (Nepal), Coalition of Services for the Elderly (COSE) (Philippines), Singapore Action Group of Elders (SAGE) (Singapore), McKean Rehabilitation Centre (Thailand), Thai Red Cross Society, Senior Citizens Association of Thailand and Senior Citizens Council of Thailand.
5. The following participated in their individual capacity: Mr Jia Guoping and Ms Nguyen Hong Van.
6. The following bodies and specialized agencies of the United Nations were represented at the Seminar: the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
II. OPENING OF THE SEMINAR
7. The Director of the Population and Rural and Urban Development Division and Officer-in-charge, a.i., of the ESCAP secretariat presided over the opening ceremony. In welcoming the participants, he drew their attention to the fact that the year 1999 would be celebrated as the International Year of Older Persons (IYOP). While noting the magnitude and variety of social issues facing the Asian and Pacific region and the emerging social challenges for the region, he pointed out that the International Year provided all concerned parties a most timely opportunity to reflect upon past achievements, the situation and prospects for older persons and their roles in their respective countries. He emphasized that the Seminar provided a forum for regional exchange of experiences and views on the International Year that would focus on issues relating to two dimensions of the Year, specifically, ageing and development and multi-generational relationships.
8. The Officer-in-charge brought to the attention of the participants ESCAP resolution 54/5 of 1998 entitled "International Year of Older Persons: Towards a society for all ages" which urged the formulation of a plan of action on ageing for Asia and the Pacific. He pointed out that a series of activities had been undertaken by ESCAP in response to this mandate, including the convening of a regional meeting at Macau from 28 September to 1 October 1998, which adopted the Macau Declaration and Plan of Action on Ageing for Asia and the Pacific. He noted that the Macau Plan of Action was developed to assist country planners and development practitioners in establishing or strengthening national development plans and programmes on ageing and older persons, bearing in mind their respective national conditions.
9. In reviewing the rapid population ageing process in Asia and the Pacific, the Officer-in-charge observed that issues relating to the unprecedented social and economic implications of large numbers of older persons, a shrinking labour force and expanding social security systems, the breakdown of traditional support systems and other factors would have considerable effects on the life expectancy and the quality of life of older persons. He stressed that the economic crisis in the region would have serious impacts on those who were least able to cope and that the search for sustainable solutions to those problems called for concerted efforts at all levels by governments, NGOs and the public at large. He pointed out that vision and practical strategies were required to promote a society for all ages and there was a need to understand the causal relationships between ageing and development as well as to understand and appreciate multi-generational relationships.
10. He was pleased to note that the Seminar was attended by 34 senior representatives of 13 governments and 14 NGOs as well as experts and observers from the United Nations system and other organizations, which indicated a firm commitment by those concerned to understand and address issues relating to ageing and older persons.
11. In closing, he expressed gratitude to the Government of Japan for its financial support extended to the ESCAP secretariat in convening the Seminar.
III. ELECTION OF OFFICERS
12. The Seminar elected the following members of the Bureau:
Mr Muzaffar Mahmood Qureshi
Mr Theivandran Rajadurai
Ms Alicia R. Bala
IV. ADOPTION OF THE AGENDA
13. The Seminar adopted the following agenda:
V. AGEING AND DEVELOPMENT
14. The Seminar had before it document SD/RSPS/INF.1 entitled "Population ageing and development: implications for Asia and the Pacific?.
15. While acknowledging that there were numerous linkages and complex relationships between ageing and development, the Seminar emphasized that social and economic development went hand in hand. It recognized that facilitating the active participation of older people in the development process not only promoted social equity but also delivered economic benefits.
16. The Seminar noted innovations in pension schemes in some countries, including investment of pension funds for infrastructure and development. However, it pointed out that, at this stage, the coverage and prospects for pension schemes for most countries in the region were still limited.
17. The variation in the retirement age among countries was noted by the Seminar. While some countries were raising the retirement age and reducing barriers to employment of older persons (including rigid wage levels), others were lowering the retirement age. The view was expressed that lowering the retirement age would improve employment opportunities for younger generations. However, the Seminar recognized that, in most cases, older workers were not necessarily competing with the young in the labour market and that keeping older persons employed would in fact create employment opportunities. There was also considerable discussion on the ways in which older people could contribute to development in the informal, household and community sectors.
18. The Seminar was of the view that basic health services, health promotion and rehabilitation were vital prerequisites for healthy ageing and for older people to remain active and contributing to development while minimizing their demands for government support.
19. The Seminar also identified a number of longer-term issues, including: (a) cross-border problems from increasing globalization of labour and capital markets; (b) the increasing importance of older people as consumers and the response of industry; (c) political representation of older people; and (d) the need for training and research in key areas.
VI. MULTI-GENERATIONAL RELATIONSHIPS
20. The Seminar had before it document SD/RSPS/INF.2 entitled "Promoting multi-generational relationships in Asia and the Pacific?. The document examined the dynamics of multi-generational relationships in the contexts of family, community and society in light of the social transformations sweeping across the region. Avenues by which promotion of multi-generational ties could be stepped up were elaborated in this document.
21. The Seminar expressed concern that while the family is still a strong institution, traditional family relationships were being adversely affected and undermined by urbanization, industrialization, misguided legislation and social trends. It noted that the number of older persons without adequate family support was thus increasing in many parts of the region, particularly in the rural areas. The need to identify and promote the strong points of the family was recognized.
22. The Seminar reaffirmed the importance of the family as an institution in the countries of the region, and its unique role in the provision of care for older persons. It recognized the special need to support the family in performing its role of care provider for older persons, especially with large numbers of married women joining the workforce and in view of the impact of industrialization and urbanization.
23. The participants reviewed schemes that were being implemented in their respective countries for the care of older persons in the family and in the community, such as the establishment of day care facilities for older persons in close proximity to child care centres and the conversion of some kindergarten facilities into residential facilities for older persons. The Seminar noted that involvement of family members, both male and female, in the care of their elderly could be done through such medium as the Caregivers' Forum wherein professionals and family members could maintain a dialogue on the social, emotional and medical issues affecting them.
24. The Seminar recognized the critical role played by older persons as care givers in their families, not only to their sick or disabled adult children but also to their grandchildren. It underlined the necessity to provide support to these care givers in order that they could continue to provide care in the family.
25. The Seminar underscored the importance of programmes to prevent the erosion of family values, particularly in view of the diminishing family size. It recognized the need for measures to promote the social position and positive image of older persons including the use of older people as resource persons to educate younger generations and transmit cultural and moral values to them. The Seminar recognized that the education of both the young and the old was necessary for harmonious multi-generational relationships and communication.
26. The Seminar considered some issues related to housing and housing design in support of multi-generational relationships, especially in urban areas where there was a shortage of physical space and most multi-generational families did not have the choice of living in one household nor in close proximity. It noted that there was a need to influence urban planners who should be sensitized to the requirements of multi-generational families. As regards older persons living alone, the Seminar agreed that one option to consider was to group them into congregate housing facilities where they could look after each other and share each other's company.
27. The Seminar considered presentations made by some participants regarding how young people viewed the role of older persons in the contexts of changing family and social conditions, particularly in rural regions and how to design housing to suit the needs of a multi-generational households. Examples of situations in China and Viet Nam were cited.
28. The Seminar expressed concern that services for older persons in rural areas were inadequate, and underscored the need for policy-makers to take this into consideration in their planning and decision-making. It acknowledged that literacy, health care, and public education were essential in improving the well-being of older persons, particularly in the rural areas.
29. The Seminar felt the need to promote the sharing of experience and information and the use of the skills of older persons in community activities. In this regard, it was of the view that leadership and organization skills were important attributes.
30. The negative effects of intra- and inter-country migration was discussed by the Seminar. It noted that there was a need for further research on the factors which drove young persons to leave their villages and move to cities.
31. The participants exchanged information on national policies and programmes concerning ageing and older persons. In the process, the Seminar highlighted programmes and activities being undertaken by governments in support of the International Year of Older Persons at both the national and local levels as well as activities undertaken by national and international NGOs working for older persons. The support provided at the regional level by ESCAP and other United Nations bodies and specialized concerned were also discussed.
32. The Seminar noted with appreciation the ongoing and planned activities in many countries of the region in support of the theme and objectives of the International Year for Older Persons. These included a wide range of activities such as international symposia, seminars, workshops, exhibitions, cultural shows and sports events interspersed in various combinations with each other or with such other activities as adopting legislation on ageing or identifying and honouring outstanding older persons. The Seminar noted further that, in addition to purely national activities, there were plans to hold an inter-country bike-a-thon and a regional walk-a-thon. It agreed that national commemoration of the International Year provided an opportunity to strengthen national capabilities and heighten awareness of ageing-related issues as well as to further the integration of ageing and development and enhance multi-generational relationships.
33. The Seminar noted that countries in the Asian and Pacific region were experiencing divergent national situations relating to ageing and older persons and were responding to these situations in accordance with their respective resources and priorities. It recognized that while some countries were still in the process of undertaking national situation analyses on which to base appropriate legislation on ageing and older persons, others were already in the process of refining existing policies and regulations and using the latest information technology to cater to the needs of specific groups of older persons. The Seminar recognized that governments of some countries could benefit from the experiences of others and from the cooperation of NGOs and other organizations concerned with ageing and older persons.
34. The important role carried out by NGOs in promoting commemoration of the International Year was underscored by the Seminar. It recognized that through the organization of or participation in regional and national symposia, workshops, seminars and other events in support of the objectives and themes of the Year and the preparation and dissemination of newsletters, information kits, ?action packs?, videos and other materials for the Year, NGOs contributed a great deal to many national and regional efforts.
35. The Seminar welcomed the efforts exerted by ESCAP, in collaboration with other concerned United Nations bodies and specialized agencies as well as NGOs, to promote inter-country exchange of information and experiences on issues and approaches relating to ageing and older persons and in implementing other technical cooperation activities which helped to strengthen national capabilities in dealing with issues and challenges posed by population ageing. In particular, the Seminar noted with appreciation the series of activities implemented by the ESCAP secretariat in preparation for the International Year which culminated in the adoption of the Macau Plan of Action on Ageing for Asia and the Pacific at the Regional Meeting held at Macau from 28 September to 1 October 1998. In this regard, it recognized the need for ESCAP members and associate members to endorse the Macau Plan of Action on Ageing at its fifty-fifth session in April 1999.
36. The Seminar agreed that, once the Action Plan was endorsed, countries could, as appropriate to their national circumstances, set goals and targets; formulate or refine their respective national plans of action on ageing. It noted with appreciation that ESCAP was planning, in consultation with the host governments, to undertake activities in 1999 which could contribute towards further strengthening of national capabilities in this regard. This included the holding of a regional seminar in Shanghai and an interregional meeting in Macau.
37. The Seminar indicated the need for national infrastructures and programmes on issues relating to ageing and older persons to be complemented or supported further at the regional level. It pointed out that there was a need to enhance education, research and training including on geriatrics. It also agreed that there was a need for a regional research and training institute on ageing. The Seminar also emphasized the need to bring together social and economic expertise during discussions on issues relating to ageing and older persons.
VIII. ADOPTION OF RECOMMENDATIONS
38. The Seminar formulated specific recommendations emanating from the discussions concerning the integration of older persons into mainstream development and multi-generational relationships in Asia and the Pacific.
39. The Seminar adopted its recommendations which are annexed to this report, on 4 December 1998.
The Seminar recognized that economic and social development are equally important and need to complement each other, with both requiring attention to the needs and active contribution of older people as a rapidly expanding component of the population. It agreed that nations in the Asia and the Pacific region, particularly developing countries, cannot afford to lose the wisdom, skills and experience that older persons are able to contribute to economic and social development. While recognizing that needs and opportunities differ greatly for countries across the region and between urban and rural areas, the Seminar stressed that sound policies and effective programmes and appropriate legislation are required to address issues relating to ageing and older persons. The integration of older persons into mainstream development called for partnership and involvement of all sectors - governments, NGOs, the private sector, communities, families and individuals themselves.
The Seminar called on governments and NGOs and other sectors to work together for the improvement of the quality of life of older persons and wider national social and economic benefits through action in the following areas discussed in some detail at the seminar: (1) integrating older persons into development processes; and (2) promoting multi-generational relationships. The Seminar also identified measures to support these initiatives, which included, among other things, training, research and education and regional support measures. The International Year of Older Persons was viewed as an opportunity for all concerned to strengthen policies and programmes for the benefit of social and economic development and the well-being of older persons, in particular in the implementation of the Macau Plan of Action on Ageing for Asia and the Pacific.
A. INTEGRATING OLDER PERSONS INTO DEVELOPMENT
1. Efforts should be taken to emphasize the skills and resources offered by older people, and to ensure that government policies and institutional arrangements facilitate the utilization of those resources.
2. Participation of older people in planning for economic and social development should be encouraged to ensure that their needs and aspirations are taken into account and their skills and experience utilized. In some places, this could include assistance to older people to establish or strengthen representative organizations and leadership training.
3. Population ageing should be taken into account in long term planning for infrastructure and other capital investment by public and private sector, for example in transport and housing.
4. Employment and retirement policies should be reviewed to minimize unnecessary barriers to continued employment of older people and to maximize employment growth for all generations. This review could include flexibility in working hours, wage levels, parameters of pension schemes, assistance for employment in the informal sector and promoting private sector employment.
5. Research should be conducted into employment of older people, especially the impact on employment prospects for younger generations and practical strategies to improve utilization of the skills of older workers.
6. Priority should be given to initiatives that increase the participation of active older people in self-help and community mobilization, such as senior citizens centres, literacy, health and anti-poverty programmes and establishment of cooperatives.
7. Pension schemes, by both the Government and private employers, should be consistent with wider economic and social development objectives. Specifically, policies and programmes should take into account the needs of the most marginalized older people, support needs, particularly those in urban slums and rural areas, assistance for unemployed people, incentives for participation in formal and informal activities, and capital requirements for infrastructure, education and other development needs.
8. Basic geriatric health services, alternative medicine, health promotion, rehabilitation and treatment for chronic and degenerative diseases should be available , especially where they enable older people to continue to make an active contribution to society and are cost-effective in minimizing long-term support costs.
9. Strategies should be developed and implemented to retrain older workers, especially where population ageing is reducing the number of new entrants to the labour force and therefore its capacity to respond to technological or structural changes.
10. The role of older people as consumers should be recognized, including the economic opportunities associated with an ageing population, the emerging market for goods and services needed by older consumers and the need for adequate protection for vulnerable consumers.
11. In implementing all of the above recommendations, special consideration should be given to the specific needs and positive contributions to development of older women, who form a significant proportion of the ageing populations in all countries. Policies and programmes should take into full consideration those needs and capabilities.
B. PROMOTING MULTI-GENERATIONAL RELATIONSHIPS
12. Sound policies and, where appropriate, relevant legislation should be developed and implemented to facilitate harmonious multi-generational ties at all levels, in the family, the community and the national level.
13. Priority should be given to comprehensive strategies both to minimize and respond to the weakening of traditional family relationships as a result of migration, urbanization, industrialization and related trends. These strategies could cover housing, basic health services, steps to maintain filial piety, employment, income support and transport and communication for families.
14. The importance of multi-generational bonds should be promoted through the media for example, the television, radio, newspapers and pamphlets. Public awareness should be heightened regarding prevention of violence and abuse of older people.
15. Support and training for caregivers, both male and female, should be implemented, including health care training, self-help groups and respite care to enable them to continue caring for older family members or clients.
16. The concept and design of affordable housing should be influenced to suit the needs of multiple-generation households, in both rural and urban areas.
17. The establishment of appropriate industries and other sustainable economic activities in rural villages in order to stem the tide of emigration from rural to urban centres should be considered.
18. Priority should be given to public education to heighten awareness and sensitivity to the issues of ageing, such as the needs of widows and single parents and the complexities of intergenerational understanding. The effort should be aimed at changing the attitudes and mindsets of the young as well as employers.
19. Social programmes and activities must be organized at regular intervals to promote healthy and dynamic interaction between generations. These could be linked with existing traditional festivals, religious ceremonies and other customs wherever possible and appropriate.
20. New initiatives should utilize established community resources and traditional structures, including religious and non-religious institutions, where possible, rather than create new structures.
21. Exchange and sponsorship programs, within and inter country, need to be creatively organized so that the exposure and development of older persons can be enhanced.
22. Opportunities and training for older persons should be increased to conduct voluntary work for different age groups, including their peers who require assistance. To this end, barriers such as myths and stereotypes of aged need to be removed.
C. RESEARCH, TRAINING AND EDUCATION
Attention should be given to education on life-long preparation for old
age, including pre-retirement training. In this regard, the role of the
media and opinion leaders, both religious and secular, should be emphasized.
25. Cross-sectoral research and additional regional and national surveys on ageing and older persons should be given adequate attention and resources at the regional and national levels in preparation for the challenges posed by population ageing.
26. Older persons should be encouraged to be actively engaged in school and community educational programmes, in view of their important role in transmitting cultural, historical and moral values.
D. REGIONAL SUPPORT MEASURES
27. In addition to providing support to national efforts on the preceding recommendations, ESCAP, in collaboration with other UN agencies and international organizations, and donor countries:
(a) should design programmes and activities in support of the implementation of the Macau Plan of Action on Ageing for Asia and the Pacific;
(b) should continue to carry out its unique role in facilitating the exchange of national experience, information, training and research, and planning activities in support of national and local efforts, especially in the implementation of these recommendations;
(c) should continue to promote its programme of technical assistance and advisory services in assisting member countries to develop national capacity to deal with issues and challenges posed by the ageing of populations. In particular, ESCAP should bring together social and economic expertise;
(d) should explore the possibility of establishing a regional research and training institute on ageing. It would conduct applied research into: (i) the needs of older people in the region; (ii) long term demographic, social and economic trends; and (iii) the development, implementation and evaluation of policies and programmes in all sectors. Such an institute could also bring together social and economic expertise, and eventually cover areas of research such as applied sociological research into multi-generational relationships, housing policies and design, employment and other economic activity of older people, and development of curriculum materials for use throughout the region. Core activity could include providing a clearing house for research and training associated with the research agenda. The Asia Training Centre on Ageing and other relevant organizations should be consulted;
(e) should study further the implications of increasing globalization of labour and capital markets, including the implications of foreign labour, families split between countries and the investment of pension funds across national boundaries in order to spread risk;.
(f) should establish a regional capacity to undertake simulation modelling to provide technical assistance to governments in analyzing long term policy options (e.g the long term financial viability of pension schemes) and the interaction of demographic, social and economic trends. This should draw on the skills already developed by the World Bank, IMF and others;
(g) should examine the implications for older people of the current regional economic crisis, including the strategies (such as privatization) being adopted by governments as a result;
(h) should continue to disseminate information on issues related to ageing and older persons, taking advantage of technological advances such as the use of the Internet and other IT resources. Such information could cover national initiatives for the observance of the International Year of Older Persons (1999) and follow-up activities;
(i) should facilitate the networking of governments and NGOs working for older persons.
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