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Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Phyllis Mitchell, says that the Government is taking steps to protect older Jamaicans, who make up 11 per cent of the population.

She informed that a Maintenance Act to protect the vulnerable elderly, as well as expansion of facilities to see to their care, are “on our books”.

Mrs. Mitchell, who was addressing an 'International Day of Older Persons' event on October 1 at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston, further informed of initiatives being undertaken through the National Council for Senior Citizens (NCSC), which is mandated to oversee the welfare and well-being of seniors.  

"The agency is working with other governmental, private sector, voluntary groups, non-governmental organisations and faith-based entities to develop a plan of action to promote active ageing across the generation, encourage participation of seniors in nation building, give recognition to seniors as vital and useful members of society, and promote intergenerational interactions," she stated.

Approximately 100 seniors from as far away as St. Elizabeth, braved inclement weather conditions to participate in today's event, which included the launch of the global report: 'Ageing In the 21st Century: A celebration and a Challenge,' which highlights issues affecting older persons; and the Age Demands Action (ADA) stakeholders meeting.

Mrs. Mitchell said the launch of the report is timely, noting that "it identifies gaps and provides recommendations for the way forward if we want to ensure a society for all ages, where both young and old contribute to community building and national development".

She stated that the administration fully recognises that the country's older population "can be a new power for development, and where they were previously viewed as a burden on society, they are now being recognised as assets that can be tapped into and should be drawn on."

In the meantime, Regional Director for HelpAge International, Jeffrey James, highlighted some of the recommendations made by older persons during focus studies conducted across the island.

He said they wanted to see legislation in place to deal with age discrimination and to protect them from persons, who try to cheat them out of their belongings; a universal social pension to protect them from poverty; the development of geriatric clinics to facilitate them, similar to paediatric and maternal clinics; special lines to accommodate them in pharmacies; and modification of buildings where they go to access key services, among other areas.

Sub-Regional  Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Office for the Caribbean, Geeta Sethi, reminded everyone that the elderly play a vital role in society, contributing financially through the payment of taxes and in many other ways that are not measured in economic terms, including as educators, workers, volunteers, homemakers and caregivers, as sources of knowledge and historical memory and as guardians of culture.

She noted that the elderly is the fastest growing population in Jamaica, increasing at approximately 1.9 per cent annually and by 2050, the population aged 65 years and older, is projected to reach 21 per cent of the total population.

She advocated for government to ensure that older persons live with dignity and security, enjoy access to essential health and social services and a minimum income through the implementation of national social protection floors and other social investment programmes, and that ageing issues be adequately reflected in the post-2015 development plan.

The report is a production of the UNFPA and HelpAge International and is being launched in several countries around the world today.