2012 UNFPA report

Improvements in healthcare has increased Belize's life expectancy rate and presently 7.1% of the Belizean population is 60 years or older.

Ten years ago, half of Belize's population was 15 years old or younger, but those teenagers have aged, reducing that percentage to 34%.

These are the findings of a situational analysis of older persons in Belize done by the National Council on Aging in 2010. The study provided the context for the 2012 report prepared by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) entitled "Ageing in the 21st century: A Celebration and A Challenge".

HelpAge Belize launched the report in collaboration with the Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation at the Chamber of Commerce conference room in Belize City on United Nations Day on Wednesday, October 24.

Despite the fact that many Belizeans over 60 years of age still can make a valuable contribution to society, the data shows that less than one in five of senior golden citizens consider themselves to be in good health. It also revealed that two out of three senior citizen do not receive a pension or financial benefit.

UNFPA had launched it historic Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing 10 years ago, and the report is the result of a three-year study to assess the success of that action plan. It had input from each regional commission, 12 U.N. agencies as well as civil societies and 1,300 older persons from 36 countries.

Among the recommendations put forward by older people is for society to promote the participation of senior citizens in the community and for their contributions to be recognized.

Older people want their right to basic services. They want to be protected and for national and local governments to provide age-friendly services and environments.

Discrimination against older persons, whether for employment or access to services, and the neglect and abuse of the elderly, should be outlawed, they say.

The UNFPA report identifies 10 national priority actions which will maximize opportunities for older persons.

First, government needs to extend universal measures for health, income and equal access to essential goods and services. Flexible hours of employment and lifelong opportunities for education and employment training should be introduced, and forced retirement should be eliminated.

It also suggests that support systems need to be developed so older people do not become isolated, ensuring they will continue to receive quality care.

All nationally representative data should be disaggregated by age and sex, and older people should be included in national humanitarian responses, climate change mitigation and adaptation plans, and disaster management and preparedness programmes.

At a global level, golden citizens would like the United Nations to establish a U.N. convention on the rights of older people and to ensure it is incorporated into each country's national laws and regulations.

The UN also needs to look ahead beyond 2015 to ensure that the development framework incorporates goals, targets and indicators, which respond to different stages of life.

Any goals or targets must address the whole population and be measured by age- and sex-disaggregated indicators, and this should include increasing life expectancy and healthy life expectancy.

The report was first launched in Tokyo, Japan, on International Day of Older Persons on October 1, with a parallel event taking place at the German Mission to the U.N. in New York City. More than 30 percent of Japan's population is over 60.

In Belize, the local UNFPA assistant representative Erika Goldson said, "Population aging should not be seen as a negative phenomenon, but as a reflection of our successes in human development. We are now living longer and healthier because of improved nutrition, sanitation, medical advances, better health care, education and economic well-being." But this achievement also presents economic and social challenges, she cautioned.

Belize has already implemented a national policy and plan of action for aging in 2002.

Minister of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation, Hon. Anthony "Boots" Martinez, noted that government has already invested over the past five years, in care for the elderly and to help them meet basic needs.

Government also provides direct cash transfers to help an increasing number of older persons and residents in Belize City are benefiting from government's food subsidy program.

Despite economic constraints, government has safeguarded its subventions to civil society organizations which provide services to older persons, Martinez noted, saying government would consider how to collaborate further with NGO's to implement the report's recommendations.

The Reporter