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Discrimination on the basis of age or WHAT IS IT?

Discrimination is when people are treated unjustifiably or unequally by the representatives of state or others who dispose of certain power or competence, or they move in circles where they enjoy higher status with other people depending upon them. It is the responsibility of state institutions to oversee relations between different groups incorporated in the state and that none of those groups is discriminated on basis of their age.

Who can discriminate?

The state can discriminate through itsrepresentatives, officials and clerks, police and customs officers, prison guards, judges, prosecutors etc. Also a person can discriminatethat is in a position of power over others or has a competence to make influential decisions. This can be demonstrated by a doctor deciding upon surgery or rehabilitation procedures, a clerk from self-government proposing a civic request at the town representation meeting, an employee of an insurance company informing a policy holder about rights resulting from insurance, or a teacher disregarding a student’s grade.

A public service provider can also discriminate, including for example an owner of an occupational agency or a private social service facility.

An employer can discriminate against a new employee, or a senior employee deciding on benefits or promotion of his/her subordinates may be partial.

A colleague can discriminate against colleagues at work by mocking, humiliating, traducing, or inciting to act discriminatory. While in employment, people share the environment, communicate together, and results of their work efforts often depend on cooperation with others.

The inevitable condition, which has to be met before we claim discrimination, is that the one who discriminates has to have power or has to be in a position to make influential decisions, provide service or sell goods to others, or be involved in closed environment relations where people depend on one another.

Is discrimination the same as intolerance?

Discrimination is not the same as intolerance. If two neighbors, for example, hate each other, from which one is a young woman and the other is a retired man, they may act against one another because she perhaps listens to loud music until late at night, and he may burn his lawn just as his neighbor is having picnic in the garden. This is not discrimination but neighbor intolerance. Such conflict can be very serious and possibly end up in court, but it would not be considered a case of discrimination, as neighbors are in their relations equal and they do not depend upon each other.

When a group of youngsters uses profanity and physically threatens senior citizens in a park simply because the latter party pointed out that former was making a lot of noise, it would be a demonstration of hate and intolerance that is unseemly and illegal. However, if the police is called in and intervenes inappropriately, resulting in no legal consequence for the behavior of the young people – perhaps they get away with a “reprimand” for the trauma and property damage caused to the elderly – we can start discussing discrimination by the police. In this case, the policemen (here, representatives of the state) are unable or unwilling to provide protection of health and security to some portion of state residents – the elderly.

A state has a duty to protect people against all expressions of hatred and violence as well as guarantee that they can exercise their basic rights and freedoms without any unrighteous restrictions on the side of others. If a state fails to meet these duties regarding a specific group, we might discuss the potential for discrimination.

In fact, discrimination mostly happens to people who are in a certain sense weaker than others. They might simply differ from the majority and therefore become a target for mockery and condemnation, or they may be physically less capable, sick, less educated and informed of their rights, or in some other unfavorable predicament. In general, it might be presumed that elderly people do not have enough knowledge, money, or strength at their disposal to be capable of filing a complaint with the police or appealing to a court. Naturally, this is not the case for all elderly, but such a generalized image (a stereotype in other words) can serve as an excuse for the police or other state institutions to underestimate their complaints and pay less respect to their rights then to the rights of strong and educated citizens in a more “productive” age group. However, this is also true about young people and children who are more vulnerable than adults because they do not yet have enough knowledge and experience and often are similarly tagged by stereotypes. A police officer may only smirk at a complaint filed by a young man dressed in outlandish clothes and does not take him seriously for his “impetuous and irresponsible” appearance.

Discrimination is an unsupported different treatment that is unfavorable to a person affected by it. However, cases exist where receiving unequal treatment from the state or private persons can be rationally reasoned and even considered necessary to that particular situation. In such cases, we do not consider unequal treatment to be discrimination.

An officially determined age for legal capacity exists in all countries. Only upon reaching this age can young people handle legal action with full responsibility and earnestness. On that account, it is not considered discrimination when a 16-year-old adolescent is barred from voting in parliamentary elections. For the same reason, some occupations and positions have limited access to only those of appointed minimal age.

An 18-year-old woman who wishes to be a candidate for president of the republic therefore cannot make a claim of discrimination. Prior to applying, any candidate for president must have a minimum level of experience and be held in certain esteem by countrymen, characteristics that are only attainable with age. A young lawyer recently graduated from law school cannot immediately become a Constitutional Court judge. Nomination for such a responsible post requires practical experience as well as genuine life experience that cannot be replaced by any course or school.

In regard to professional-related discrimination, much has been said about discrimination on the basis of age. At first look, age-based limitations for acceptance set by some firms seem rationally reasoned. However, when examined in-depth, this is not always true. A fundamental question here asks what value is actually preserved by the given limitation. If the value is the dignity of judicial majesty and a properly working Constitutional Court, the age limitation is in order. If the limitation is based in custom or tradition, however, which cannot be substantiated in real life, this is not a sufficient argument.

Discrimination can manifest in many forms and in different environments where it often exists unnoticed even by those directly affected by it. Our consumerist society has become accustomed to advertisements cast with a majority of young people. People with wrinkled faces are at best shown only in advertisements for retirement insurance, hygienic aids designed for urine leakage, or back-painkiller pills. The market simply does not rely on people with advanced age and no longer regards them as customers. For instance, instruction manuals for some products are written in such small cursive that elderly people with poorer vision have little ability to read it without help. It has nearly become a social norm to ridicule the elderly who cannot much afford goods and services and do not understand the Internet or mobile phones.

Discrimination based on age can be looked at from a slightly different angle than other forms of discrimination because it really can touch any of us. If someone is born a white Slovak catholic male, it is unlikely that he be discriminated against based on race or ethnic origin, gender or religion. However, anyone can experience age-based discrimination first hand. All of us are younger or older at some point, and we all meet other people who are young or old.

On the other hand, maybe simply because of ourobliviousness discrimination is suffered as a necessary evil and experienced again and again, generation after generation, without questioning if some age limitations really make sense.