Elderly Singaporeans gather to play Chinese Chess with friends in Chinatown, Singapore from Shutterstock.com

GENEVA (3 October 2016) – United Nations human rights expert Rosa Kornfeld-Matte today commended the Government of Singapore for its efforts and commitment to ensure that older persons fully enjoy their human rights. However, she noted that “addressing the needs of an ageing population requires laws and policies grounded in a human rights-based approach.”

“While I understand that many of the new programmes and policies to address the challenges faced by older persons will need more time to bear fruit, “the reality on the ground indicates that life remains a struggle for many old Singaporeans,” warned the UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons after her first official visit to the country.

“I urge the authorities to ensure that all older persons in Singapore are able to age with dignity,” Ms. Kornfeld-Matte stressed.

Ms. Rosa Kornfeld-Matte (Chile) was appointed by Human Rights Council as the first Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons in May 2014. Ms. Kornfeld-Matte served as the National Director of the Chilean National Service of Ageing where she designed and implemented the National Policy of Ageing. She has a long career as an academic and is the founder of the programme for older persons at the Pontificia Unversidad Católica de Chile.

Singapore has one of the fastest ageing populations in the world, with the number of persons aged 65 and above expected to triple by 2030 to reach 900,000 persons. This demographic revolution has wide-ranging implications for society at all levels and goes hand in hand with growing concerns at the ability of older persons to enjoy the full spectrum of their human rights.

“Efforts to upgrade the care system and social policy need to continue in order to put in place the necessary infrastructure, programmes and schemes to address the new demographic reality and the human rights concerns of an increased number of older persons,” she said.

While noting that many of the new measures are currently in their pilot phase or at a very early stage of implementation, the Independent Expert called on the Government to monitor the measures taken so far to fully assess their impact on the enjoyment of their human rights by older persons at this stage.

“I was puzzled to learn that in a country with the third highest GDP per capita in the world, many older persons with low-income continue to depend on their social network for a significant portion of their livelihood and that many of those who lack such support systems face financial hardship,” Ms. Kornfeld-Matte said.

“I am concerned at reports about elder abuse, particularly since reported cases tend to be just the tip of the iceberg”, she stated. “Further measures and independent mechanisms are urgently required to ensure that any form of violence against and abuse of older persons, including financial abuse, is detected and reported.”

The rights expert welcomed the Singapore’s efforts to pioneer new models of care, highlighting that it has much to offer in terms of best practices in the area of care technology. “Care technology offers unpredicted opportunities in re-shaping care systems for older persons given that many existing care system are or will in the near future reach the limits of their capacities,” she said.

However, she said, “the use of autonomous health care robots also raises a number of issues, ranging from ethics to accountability, privacy and data protection, which have to be studied in detail and for which normative frameworks and appropriate mechanisms may need to be designed to ensure their human rights conform utilization.”

“Such a discussion will be meaningless without older persons themselves being heard,” the UN expert emphasised. “It is equally important to assess the impacts of the use care robots from a human rights perspective with the participation of older persons and to ensure that those involved are reflective of the heterogeneity of this segment of the population in terms of age groups and their various conditions.”

During her ten-day visit, Ms. Kornfeld-Matte met with various Government authorities and civil society, others working on the rights of older persons and older persons themselves, as well as with representatives of trade unions.

A comprehensive report on her findings and recommendations will be presented at a forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council.

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