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Senior Citizens
May 2003

The Old Boys (and Girls) from Brazil

The proportion of Brazil's elderly is increasing more rapidly
 than that of children. In 1980 there were 16 elderly
for every 100 children. In 2000, there were 30 elderly for
every 100 children. The Catholic Church in Brazil
is focusing its attention on them, this year.

Daniel F. McLaughlin

The word "old" for many people brings to mind a number of pejorative connotations. In the Brazilian society, "old" has this pejorative meaning, signifying the following: loss, nonproductive, weakness, uselessness and ancient.

The Brazilian Catholic Bishops Conference in their annual Lenten Campaign prepared a manual on the question of the elderly in today's society. One of the recommendations was to use the word idoso (elderly) instead of velho (old person) as it has a kinder meaning, referring to a person who has lived longer and has had more experience. The statements of the Brazilian Bishops in their Lenten document were reinforced by recent research done by the IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística—Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics).

Bishop Javier Lozano Barragán speaking at the Second World Assembly of the United Nations on Growing Old, in Madrid, on April 8, 2002 said that the elderly are the guardians of the collective memory. They have a perspective of the past and of the future, at the present moment. The elderly can help bring together the different generations, placing at the disposal of all the treasures of their time, abilities and experiences.

Dom Barragán mentioned that in today's cult of global productivity, the elderly unfortunately run the risk of being considered useless. From a Christian point of view, their presence in today's world clearly demonstrate that the economic value is not the only one nor the most important one.

In their document on the elderly, the Brazilian Bishops Conference stated that the ageing of the population is a world phenomenon, but in Brazil, it is happening more rapidly.

For example, in France, it took more that 150 years for the population over 65 years to reach 15 percent of the total population of the country. In Brazil, this proportion was reached in only 25 years. IBGE research showed that in the next 20 years the elderly population of Brazil should pass 30 million. In 1991, the population of those over 60 years was 10.7 million. In the year 2002, it was 14.5 million. The proportion of the elderly is increasing more rapidly than that of children. In 1980 there were 16 elderly for every 100 children. In 2000, there were 30 elderly for every 100 children.

In its report on the longevity of life for the elderly, the IBGE reports that living in the city could be very beneficial for the elderly, especially for widows, because of the proximity of their children and specialized health services. The report showed that the proportion of elderly living in rural areas fell from 23.3 percent in 1991 to 18.6 percent in 2002. Another interesting fact is that 62.4 percent of the elderly in Brazil are responsible for Brazilian households, an increase of 2 percent since 1991.

Daniel McLaughlin is a Catholic priest living among the poor in the periphery of the city of São Paulo, Brazil. He can be reached at sejup1@alternex.com.br  

This material was supplied by Sejup, which has its own Internet site: http://www.oneworld.net/sejup



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