Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


George Andreopoulos

Subject Categories

African Studies | Gerontology | Health Policy | International Relations | Other Legal Studies


South Africa, Human Rights, HIV/AIDS


With a slowing fertility rate and an increasing longevity, the world population is aging. Both developed and developing countries have seen their elderly become more numerous with an increasing burden on their financial, medical and social system. Many scholars have suggested immediate change of policies to contain the predicted crisis that will affect the health care and the pension schemes in the next decades. However, few have investigated the positive role that the seniors play contributing to society, beyond the complications caused to the economy and welfare system. This thesis will support the argument that the elderly, if appropriately cared for, can provide an important contribution to society. In this paradigm, the state has the responsibility of protecting the elderly’s human rights, according to its international commitments, as these enable seniors to reach their full potential and to keep playing a crucial role of social support. As supporting evidence, the case of South Africa will be explored. There, for decades, older persons’ rights have been neglected. Most importantly, notwithstanding their poverty, racial inequality and health issues, South African seniors have been of crucial importance in filling a gap in services left by the state helping the HIV-positive, raising orphans, providing support thanks to their pensions and spreading awareness on medical issues. This paper will first survey the human rights and the common issues of the elderly, to then focus on South Africa’s violations and condemnations received by monitoring bodies. The discussion will then specifically investigate the role of a few structural factors (poverty, inadequate health services, education and pensions) in creating the dire situation that the elderly are forced to face, to then explore how HIV/AIDS exacerbates the seniors’ struggles. In conclusion, the argument will be made that this case study shows how, when the elderly are empowered, educated and cared for, they can be an important social resource for the care of younger generations. Their issues should therefore be more researched and their role in society and policy-making valued.