Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of this small yet envied nation, kindly allow me to capitalize on this golden opportunity to extend warm greetings to you on behalf of the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis, particularly my esteemed Cabinet Colleagues and the resilient staff of the Ministry of Social Development and Gender Affairs. On October 1st each year, our Federation joins the global community in observing International Day of Older Persons. It is with great delight that we commemorate this day as we laud the incalculable contributions of older persons 62 and over who have toiled unrelentingly to build what is now our great Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.
There is a famous Ubuntu African proverb that says, “the youth can walk faster but the elder knows the road”. Indeed, we are reminded that our older citizens and residents are key custodians and repositories of our nation’s history and culture. Accordingly, with immense pride and gratitude, we consider you, our seniors, our prized “societal encyclopedias” given your vast knowledge and experience in many facets of life. It is indeed your wise counsel that has created springboards to some of the most successful and exemplary lifestyles that most of us enjoy today.
International Day of Older Persons is also used as an opportunity to advocate and bring awareness to the wide array of pertinent issues that the ageing population faces, including ageism. Ageism marginalizes and excludes older people in every aspect of society including, more often than not, the occupational, economic and social spheres. Even now as we navigate COVID-19 and adapt to the new technologically-dependent lifestyles, many older persons are disenfranchised due to the digital divide that exists among generations.
For this critical reason and others, the United Nations is celebrating this year’s observance of International Day of Older Persons under the theme “Digital Equity for All Ages” which affirms the need for access and meaningful participation in the digital world by older persons. Among the five objectives outlined by the UN for this year’s celebration, is the aim to bring awareness of the importance of the digital inclusion of older persons, while tackling issues including stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination associated with digitalization: taking into account socio-cultural norms and the right to autonomy. Another critical objective is to highlight the need for a legally binding instrument on the rights of older persons and an intersectional person-centered human rights approach towards fostering a society for all ages.
It is widely recognized and understood, therefore, that addressing ageism must lie at the core of any strategic and holistic response to population ageing. It is against this backdrop that the Ministry of Social Development and Gender Affairs has committed to finalizing a National Ageing Policy which will provide the blueprint for the full inclusion of older persons in all aspects of our society. Moreover, it demonstrates our wholehearted commitment to align our policies and programs as we aim to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. At the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a promise to ‘leave no one behind’ and to reach the furthest behind first. This entails ensuring that every individual, including every older person, is included in development efforts.
Accordingly, the Department of Community Development and Social Services continues to intensify its efforts at improving the delivery and scope of its service delivery to this growing section of our population in order to ensure that they live a dignified and purpose-filled life as they age. Through the Seniors Enrichment Programme, there is a heightened focus on five main pillars, namely, physical wellbeing and healthy lifestyles, spiritual development, social and personal development, lifelong learning & skills development and advocacy and community engagement. It is envisioned that these interventions would be instrumental in promoting active ageing and raise awareness of the opportunities and challenges of ageing in today’s rapidly evolving world, including the digital divide and ageism issues, as earlier mentioned.
Today, as we celebrate the lives and value the meaningful contributions of older persons, I implore us all to cherish our senior loved ones. Let us protect them, let us respect them, let us be benevolent towards them and let us work collectively towards ensuring that they live a more dignified life as they gracefully advance in years. Statistics produced by the United Nations alarmingly reveal that over the next three decades, the number of older persons worldwide is projected to more than double, reaching more than 1.5 billion persons in 2050. It further reveals that all regions are projected to encounter an increase in the size of the population of older persons between 2019 and 2050. Therefore, it is my humble and urgent clarion call to citizens and residents within the sound of this critical message to support the noble cause of assisting the Ministry and by extension, the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis, wherever you possibly can to protect the human rights of our beloved seniors and to work assiduously towards joining efforts at making aging fulfilling for our seniors. I conclude this message by wishing each senior person a most joyful International Day of Older Persons. May God bless you sincerely and may he continue to extend your years gracefully with renewed health and strength. Thank you