UNITED NATIONS  - The United Nations Thursday encouraged governments and people throughout the world to ensure that older persons are able to fully participate in society and that their rights and dignity are protected.

“Older persons are making wide-ranging contributions to economic and social development,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for International Day of Older Persons, which is marked annually.

“However, discrimination and social exclusion persist. We must overcome this bias in order to ensure a socially and economically active, secure and healthy ageing population.”

There are around 700 million people aged 60 years and over, according to UN figures. The number of older people is expected to double by 2025, and reach two million by 2050. By that year, nearly 20 per cent of the world population with be elderly, the majority of them living in less developed regions.

The steady increase in human longevity is “one of the greatest transformations and challenges of our times,” the secretary-general said, but the failure to keep pace makes it difficult to achieve a socially and economically active, security and healthy ageing population.

“A demographic revolution is underway and we cannot afford to leave behind millions of older persons,” said the new UN expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Rosa Kornfeld-Matte.

In separate statements, Ban and the special rapporteur highlighted the historic occasion to strengthen the rights of older people in the future development agenda that is now being established and will go into effect after the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals.

“The post-2015 sustainable development agenda presents a unique opportunity to ensure a rights-based approach to older persons,” Ms. Korngeld-Matte said. She added that the new agenda can also help change attitudes and perceptions of older persons from being considered recipients of welfare to rights holders with responsibilities.

“We can turn a blind eye to many issues as if they do not concern us. But getting old is part of life and we will all pay the price for our inaction,” the special rapporteur noted.

In a report released Wednesday, the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) write that social protections must be placed at the forefront of the post-2015 development agenda.

The ILO warned in the report  Social Protection for older persons: Key policy trends and statistics, that 48 per cent of the world’s pensionable population does not receive a retirement benefit while, for many of the 52 per cent who do, coverage tends to be inadequate.

In his message on the Day, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said that ensuring adequate pensions and effective access to health and long-term care are the underpinnings of truly inclusive societies that engage and value individuals no matter their age.

“Recognizing the importance of income security in old age, many low and middle income countries have extended pension coverage to previously uncovered segments of the population in order to achieve universal coverage,” he said, adding that as a result, we see a marked increase in pension coverage rates in many countries.

Yet, Ryder noted that pension systems in many parts of the world have been under strain in the face of demographic change and fiscal consolidation policies. In some contexts, this has led to a situation where future pension levels will be unable to provide adequate protection to older persons. “Unless effective measures are taken to ensure adequate pensions, old age poverty and economic insecurity will remain a reality for many of today’s and tomorrow’s older persons,” he cautioned.