The United Nations estimates that by 2050 older persons will account for a quarter of the population of the Caribbean, Minister of Labour and Social Development Senator the Hon. Dion Foulkes said at the International Day of Older Persons Church Service held at the Church of God of Prophecy East Street Tabernacle.

The service commenced a month of activities planned by the Ministry of Labour and Social Development and the National Council on Older Persons to raise the consciousness of society about the concerns and contributions of older persons.

Mr. Foulkes said that according to the UN, the most rapid population growth will happen in countries least able to cope with the impact of aging, which could result in increased poverty, isolation, decline in housing, healthcare and the general quality of life if nations do not adequately prepare.

“It is therefore very fitting that The Bahamas has adopted the UN theme, ‘Rights of Older Persons’ while we examine closely the aging of our population.”

Mr. Foulkes explained that the country has a small population with limited resources, which must be shared across an archipelago; so management of any service or resource is very difficult.

“Throughout our history,” he said, “strong family ties and cooperation between the generations has long been the thread that bound us together. Parents would go to work with the comfort and knowledge that grandparents would care and nurture their children.”

Mr. Foulkes added, “During extreme economic hardship, parents would also travel to other islands or abroad, as during the days of the contract, leaving their children in the care of grandparents in order for them to earn a better standard of living.”

He said grandparents not only helped with childcare, they were also a stabilising force in the family and the wider community, ensuring the continuity and cohesiveness of the country as a whole.

“However, as a result of imported popular culture, we have exchanged these values for those which we think are more sophisticated and we are reaping its unpleasant results.”

The Minister said family values have declined and many segments of the population, where the elderly have been marginalised.

Therefore, he said the challenge for the Government is to raise the “collective consciousness of the Bahamian people” to the significance of not only caring for older persons, but in valuing and protecting their rights.

Mr. Foulkes noted that the increased number of older persons as projected by the UN will signify a decreased labour force and increased demands on the healthcare system, National Insurance, and social services.

“However, these issues can be mitigated by a proper plan of action, inclusive of proactive education, health care and social services,” the Minister said.

Mr. Foulkes explained that as the Government seeks to address issues pertaining to the elderly, it must ensure that older persons are included in the process, as they are a valued resource, which is too often overlooked.

Bishop Franklyn Ferguson Minister of the Gospel Church of God of Prophecy said if older persons are ignored, the price will be paid in the future.

“To disrespect their legacy and to ignore their wisdom and skill always bring calamity this is painful and that happens in a lot of places around the world and we see this even in our own country.”

Bishop Ferguson said older persons should feel loved, respected and be aware that someone cares for them.

The upcoming scheduled event for National Older Persons Month will be held Friday, October 17, where the Government will partner with the Parkinson Foundation to host a forum entitled, “Improving the Quality of Life” at Transfiguration Baptist Church Hall, Market and Vesey Street.