CESCR General Comment No. 6: The Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of Older Persons

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General comment No. 6, The economic, social and cultural rights of older persons (Thirteenth session, 1995), U.N. Doc. E/1996/22 at 20 (1996), reprinted in Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, U.N. Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.6 at 34 (2003).
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Year of adoption: 1995
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5. In 1991 the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Principles for Older Persons which, because of their programmatic nature, is also an important document in the present context. It is divided into five sections which correlate closely to the rights recognized in the Covenant. “Independence” includes access to adequate food, water, shelter, clothing and health care. To these basic rights are added the opportunity to remunerated work and access to education and training. By “participation” is meant that older persons should participate actively in the formulation and implementation of policies that affect their well-being and share their knowledge and skills with younger generations, and should be able to form movements and associations. The section headed “care” proclaims that older persons should benefit from family care, health care and be able to enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms when residing in a shelter, care or treatment facility. With regard to “self-fulfilment”, the Principles that older persons should pursue opportunities for the full development of their potential through access to the educational, cultural, spiritual and recreational resources of their societies. Lastly, the section entitled “dignity” states that older persons should be able to live in dignity and security and be free of exploitation and physical or mental abuse, should be treated fairly, regardless of age, gender, racial or ethnic background, disability, financial situation or any other status, and be valued independently of their economic contribution.

Article 9: Right to social security

26. Article 9 of the Covenant provides generally that States parties “recognize the right of everyone to social security”, without specifying the type or level of protection to be guaranteed. However, the term “social security” implicitly covers all the risks involved in the loss of means of subsistence for reasons beyond a person’s control.

27. In accordance with article 9 of the Covenant and the provisions concerning implementation of the ILO social security conventions – Convention No. 102 concerning Social Security (Minimum Standards) (1952) and Convention No. 128 concerning Invalidity, Old-Age and Survivors’ Benefits (1967) – States parties must take appropriate measures to establish general regimes of compulsory old-age insurance, starting at a particular age, to be prescribed by national law.

30. Furthermore, as already observed in paragraphs 20 and 21, in order fully to implement the provisions of article 9 of the Covenant, States parties should, within the limits of available resources, 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.

Article 11: Right to an adequate standard of living

32. Of the United Nations Principles for Older Persons, principle 1, which stands at the beginning of the section relating to the independence of older persons, provides that: “Older persons should have access to adequate food, water, shelter, clothing and health care through the provision of income, family and community support and self-help”. The Committee attaches great importance to this principle, which demands for older persons the rights contained in article 11 of the Covenant.

33. Recommendations 19 to 24 of the Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing emphasize that housing for the elderly must be viewed as more than mere shelter and that, in addition to the physical, it has psychological and social significance which should be taken into account. Accordingly, national policies should help elderly persons to continue to live in their own homes as long as possible, through the restoration, development and improvement of homes and their adaptation to the ability of those persons to gain access to and use them (recommendation 19). Recommendation 20 stresses the need for urban rebuilding and development planning and law to pay special attention to the problems of the ageing, assisting in securing their social integration, while recommendation 22 draws attention to the need to take account of the functional capacity of the elderly in order to provide them with a better living environment and facilitate mobility and communication through the provision of adequate means of transport.

Article 12: Right to physical and mental health

34. With a view to the realization of the right of elderly persons to the enjoyment of a satisfactory standard of physical and mental health, in accordance with article 12, paragraph 1, of the Covenant, States parties should take account of the content of recommendations 1 to 17 of the Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing, which focus entirely on providing guidelines on health policy to preserve the health of the elderly and take a comprehensive view, ranging from prevention and rehabilitation to the care of the terminally ill.

35. Clearly, the growing number of chronic, degenerative diseases and the high hospitalization costs they involve cannot be dealt with only by curative treatment. In this regard, States parties should bear in mind that maintaining health into old age requires investments during the entire life span, basically through the adoption of healthy lifestyles (food, exercise, elimination of tobacco and alcohol, etc.). Prevention, through regular checks suited to the needs of the elderly, plays a decisive role, as does rehabilitation, by maintaining the functional capacities of elderly persons, with a resulting decrease in the cost of investments in health care and social services.

Articles 13 to 15: Right to education and culture

41. Recommendation 50 stresses the need for Governments, non-governmental organizations and the ageing themselves to make efforts to overcome negative stereotyped images of older persons as suffering from physical and psychological disabilities, incapable of functioning independently and having neither role nor status in society. These efforts, in which the media and educational institutions should also take part, are essential for achieving a society that champions the full integration of the elderly.