‘Act for the elderly now’

PETALING JAYA: With Malaysia headed towards an aging nation by 2030, calls have been made for the Senior Citizens Bill to be brought forward from next year.

Stakeholders say that besides addressing penalties for abandonment, neglect and abuse, it is also important that the Bill has provisions to assist children who perform their filial duties to elderly parents.

Association for Residential Aged Care Operators (AgeCope) president Delren Terrence Douglas called for the Bill to be tabled this year on the ground that it might take years before the law comes into effect.

Advocates for aged care: Douglas (left) of the Association for Residential Aged Care Operators and Cheah of the Malaysian Coalition on Ageing.

He said the Bill must also outline assistance especially for those in the B40 group as they might face financial barriers in caring for aged parents and resort to abandoning them out of desperation.

The penalties offered should also consider the economic background of offenders, he suggested.

“For example, with a household income of RM3,000, surely many in the B40 group cannot afford to support their family and parents and might abandon them.

“They could do it out of necessity thinking that parents may get better care under the state. In this case, is the government going to intervene and take care of the elderly?” he asked.

Delren said the Bill must also outline care and liability for unmarried and childless senior citizens who do not have enough retirement savings.

“There will be lots of such cases in the years to come because many Malaysians have remained single,” he said.

To help children in their filial duties, Delren said the government should also ease the licensing process for daycare centres for the elderly so that more such facilities can open.

“These centres operate from 8am to 5pm and children can drop off their elderly parents and pick them up after work.

“It’s not the same as a full-care centre but the licensing requirements are the same and it makes it difficult for operators,” he pointed out.

Delren said the government could look at Singapore’s Housing and Development Board (HDB) integrated development which had social communal facilities, including care centres for seniors.

Malaysian Coalition on Ageing (MCOA) chairman Cheah Tuck Wing said the Bill is long overdue, adding that the abandonment and abuse of senior citizens is on the rise.

He said social security and benefits, protection against abuse, housing and community suitable for seniors, aged care facilities and services, and senior-friendly public infrastructure should be covered in the Bill.

“We hope that the government will engage with groups like the MCOA to uphold the needs of the aged.

“Continuous engagement with these entities is a must as the landscape and needs of aged care change over time and space.

“Reliance solely on research data and evidence from academia is inadequate as they may not reflect what is happening on the ground,” he said, adding that besides Singapore, the policies of Japan and Taiwan which have an advanced ageing population could be emulated in the Bill.

Malaysian Research Institute on Ageing (MyAgeing) senior research officer Chai Sen Tyng said to make the Bill all-encompassing, aspects of financial aid, healthcare provisions and housing regulations must be looked into.

“I hope we do not pass bills that are not critically examined. In recent years, many countries have passed such filial piety laws such as China and India.

“There are many laws in other countries that have established sustainable, law-based solutions but it is never just one single piece of legislation. We need a multitude of laws,” he said.

In July last year, the Statistics Department said Malaysia will experience an ageing population by 2030, where the percentage of people aged 60 and above will reach 15.3% of the total population.

On Wednesday, Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Aiman Athirah Sabu said the Senior Citizens Bill is targeted for First Reading in 2024.

She said the Bill will include provisions for legal action and punishment for adult children who refuse to care for their parents.

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