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A safety net for older persons: What does that look like?

On  October 1, 2021, the world commemorated the International Day of Older Persons under the theme “Digital Equity for All Ages” which affirms the need for deliberate and meaningful participation in the digital world by older persons.

This comes at a time where countries are still trying to recover from the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that plummeted economies, increased debt burden and exacerbated the existing inequalities.

Uganda is no exception and has incentivized and adopted different strategies that are geared towards growing small businesses and empowering people to be self-sustaining as part of its recovery plan. These approaches, although commendable, do not address some of the unique challenges and discriminative attitudes directed at older persons which affect the full enjoyment of their human rights.

According to the State of Older Persons in Uganda Situational Analysis Report, 2020, older persons constitute 4.3% of Uganda’s total population. More than 98% of older persons in Uganda live outside of Kampala and 54% of these are women. The 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda stipulates that the state will make provision for the welfare and maintenance of the aged and further states that affirmative action is to be taken in favour of anyone that is marginalized on the basis of gender, age and disability in order to redress any imbalances across society.

The measures that were put in place to combat the spread of the COVID-19, although well-intentioned, led to widespread deprivation of the basic necessities of life. There have also been noticeable difficulties in accessing services by older persons especially with the increased automation and digitalization of services. It is worth noting that the majority of the older persons have not appreciated the on-going digitalization of services for various reasons which among others include the high cost of internet following the introduction of the internet tax. This has also seen a grave increase in the number of older persons that have been pushed into poverty with limited access to social services. Unfortunately, old age poverty is gendered with older women bearing the brunt of resource exclusion due to cultural restrictions and their inability to accumulate resources. There have been many rural-urban migrations, however due to the lockdown measures, it has been impossible for the majority of people, many of whom are youths to sustain themselves in urban areas. They have opted to return to the rural areas which are often not hotspots for COVID-19 and this has in turn led to alienation of older women from land to make room for the returning relatives.

Uganda lacks an enabling law that specifically provides for the rights of older persons. The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Older Persons, which Uganda is yet to ratify, makes provision for protection of older women. It calls upon State Parties to put in place legislation that guarantees older women protection against abuse related to property and land rights. The Protocol also stipulates that State Parties shall provide opportunities for older persons to access education and to acquire ICT skills.

Older persons face discrimination that hinders the full enjoyment of their human rights because of perceptions that they have surpassed their productive years, are frail and prone to sickness. They are denied access to credit because credit institutions view them as high risk borrowers. They are also overlooked in employment recruitment and yet the majority of older persons do not have social security safety nets to fall back on.

The government of Uganda established the Senior Citizens Grant (SCG) with the intention of providing livelihood support to older persons. However, according to a publication by Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Initiative for Social and Economic Rights and Unwanted Witness titled ‛‛Chased Away and left to Die,” many older persons were excluded from accessing this livelihood support because of their inability to present valid national identity cards. Some older persons reported that they were unable to register for the fund. The social distancing restrictions in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible for the older persons to access these funds. Older persons were thus left with no alternative source of income for their livelihood. Ensuring “Digital Equity for all ages”, as the theme of this year’s International Day of Older Persons states, will go a long way in curing such challenges.

We call upon the Government of Uganda to ratify and domesticate The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Older Persons so that there can be a guiding law that protects older persons and ensure that they are able to live an active and dignified life. Additionally, Government should ensure that older persons are not left behind as the country embarks on this digital journey by coming up with inclusive initiatives that will enhance the use of digital spaces by older persons.

By Jackie Osuna and Claudia Anzoa
First appeared on New Vision blog.
On 4th October 2021

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