THE government categorises people above age 60 as elders (warga emas).
Proactive measures and protection are necessary to improve the lives of the elderly because by 2030, Malaysia would be an “aged” country, with 15 per cent of the population aged 60 and above.
To what extent is a child responsible for their aged parents? Many believe that children are obligated to care for their parents.
Yet, a recent report from the National Population and Family Development Board shows that 4.7 per cent of elders claim that they do not receive any contribution from their children, either monetary, shelter or mental support.
Besides that, 34.2 per cent of elders complain that they are lonely, which may be due to their children neglecting them.
The World Health Organisation defines “elder abuse” as a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring in any relationship where there is an expectation of trust that causes harm or distress to an elder.
Elder abuse can take various forms, such as physical, psychological, emotional, sexual or financial abuse. It can also be the result of intentional or unintentional neglect.
On the other hand, neglect, as a form of abuse, is defined as an intentional omission of giving an elder food, shelter, healthcare or protection.
It is easily detectable from dirty living environments, poor personal hygiene or even through the elder’s depression.
Neglect also includes the abandonment of elders, who end up in care homes and their children refuse to care for them.
Elder abuse has always existed, just like spousal and child abuse, but has always been overshadowed.
Laws to protect elders from unfilial children include the Domestic Violence Act and Penal Code.
While elders are protected under the definition of an “incapacitated adult”, not all elderly people, who experience abuse or neglect, are incapacitated.
The definitions of abuse are also not applicable in most cases of elder abuse.
While there are indeed cases of abuse, the more common form of mistreatment of the elderly is neglect.
On top of that, there is no alternative way to handle problems if an elder does not want to strain family relationships by bringing matters to court.
The Women, Family, and Community Development Ministry and the Welfare Department have drafted policies such as the National Policy and Plan of Action for Older Persons 2011 and National Family Policy to promote intergeneration solidarity.
However, such policies don’t include a legal obligation. Because elderly abuse or neglect is not addressed in legislation, their children are not under any legal obligation to maintain or take care of aged parents.
Article 25(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 provides for the wellbeing of the elderly. They have the right to a standard of living adequate for their health and wellbeing.
Singapore has implemented the Maintenance of Parents Act in 1996 to allow the elderly to seek maintenance from their children. The Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents has the jurisdiction to listen to disputes.
In considering cases involving the sandwiched generation (a generation of people typically in their 30s or 40s who care for their own children as well as ageing parents), the tribunal will allow the claim if children can support their elderly parents, but refuse to do so.
It is enshrined under Article 5 of the Federal Constitution that everyone is guaranteed a right to live with dignity.
Legislation that protect the vulnerable and marginalised, like children and the destitute, should also include the elderly.
They, too, can be victims. Victims often fear that they may strain the relationship with their children. Resolving elder neglect requires a unique approach.
Therefore, a comprehensive mechanism should be drawn up to encourage intergeneration solidarity. No stone should be left unturned.
ATHIRA, University Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.