IN July this year, we read the news about an elderly woman in Singapore who was physically abused by her own daughter and made to eat human excrement.
Closer to home, in August, we read the shocking news of 15 elderly men who were locked up in an illegally-run old folks home in Jitra, Kedah. They were beaten up if they “disobeyed” the person in charge.
Sadly, the law is still lacking in Malaysia when it comes to protecting the elderly from neglect and abuse by their own children and their carers.
According to a research paper published on the Macrothink Institute website (http://www.macrothink.org/journal/index.php/jmr/article/viewFile/6928/5802) in February this year, the only law that protects the elderly from abuse in Malaysia is the Domestic Violence Act 1994 (Act 521). This is because elderly abuse is viewed as domestic violence in Malaysia. The law is not clear in cases of abandonment and / or neglect by the family.
Largely, elder abuse in Malaysia remains unreported and hence there is no real thrust to enact a law for it.
While the idea of imposing a law on families to take care of their elderly parents has been talked about over the past 10 years or so, nothing concrete has been forged yet. In a country where filial piety is very important, we are slowly seeing more cases of neglect, abandonment and even abuse.
The care centres and nursing homes also need to be reined in and they should be held legally accountable for the care of the aged in their homes and centres.
What recourse do families have if their elderly father or mother is neglected or abused at such homes?
Today, the Care Centre Act 1993 (Act 506) regulates the care centres and is under the purview of the Welfare Department; and the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act 2006 (Act 586) regulates the nursing homes.
It has been found that while care centres are only supposed to offer care for those with lesser care needs, they also take in those with high-care needs and the bedridden. The reverse is true for nursing homes – some have mobile and independent elderly living there, rather than just those with high care needs.
The law right now is ill-equipped to regulate both the care centres and nursing homes to provide integrated continnum care from low to high level care with legal protection for the elderly as there is no one umbrella law for all. The upcoming Aged Healthcare Act, which the Ministry of Health is currently working on, is hoped to offer the much-needed solution to this conundrum.
The division of roles and responsibilities between such homes and the family has not been clearly defined either.
While it is hoped that the new Act straightens out and clarifies many of these issues, any law is only as good as its enforcement. Hence, the regulators and authorities will need to work in tandem to monitor and provide followup action to ensure nursing homes and care centres comply with the registration process as well as the criteria and standards set by the Ministry.
Notwithstanding the potential advantages of the impending Aged Healthcare Act, the existing Acts need to be improved to provide better protection for the elderly and their families.
In the year 2021, Malaysians aged 65 and older will make up 11.4% of the population. The country can no longer do things on an ad hoc basis.
Senior citizens deserve to have quality in the last phase of their life. They should not be dumped in homes and hospitals and end up neglected and abused.
Laws need to be enacted fast and effectively to protect the aged and ageing community and their families. Enforcement agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), hospitals and the medical community, service operators and industry players need to work together to provide assistance to the elderly and protect them from abuse, neglect and abandonment.
The elderly have rights, too, and these rights need to be protected.
Aged Care Group (ACG) is organising the Sustainable Retirement & Aged Care (SRAC) conference on Oct 22, 2015, at the Majestic Hotel, Kuala Lumpur. The theme is “A Shared Synergy Towards an Integrated Ecosystem”. To find out more and to register, go to http://agedcare.com.my/sustainable-retirement-aged-care-conference/.