Respect for elders starts at home
Respect for elders starts at home

‘You only have two options in life: Die young or get old. There is nothing else. The idea of dying young when you’re 25 is kind of cool — a bit romantic, like James Dean. But then you realise that life is too much fun to do that. It’s fascinating and wonderful and emotional.’

– Helen Mirren, British actress.

ARE you taking good care of your parents and senior members of your family?

If you don’t live near them, do you take time to reach out and talk to them? Do you visit them whenever you can, bring them out for meals together and celebrate festivals and milestones with them?

Do you help elders in your community by visiting or volunteering at  a senior centre?

Do you know that in Malaysia, more than 2,000 senior citizens were abandoned at hospitals from 2018 to 2022?

However, 914 of these senior citizens — 656 men and 258 women — were successfully returned to their family family members after medical social workers tracked down their next of kin.

Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun said if their next of kin could not be traced, the medical social workers would help arrange for the senior citizens to be placed at welfare institutions.

She revealed that last year alone, 752 senior citizens were abandoned at hospitals by their members. They included 231 men and 109 women who have since then been placed at welfare institutions.

She added that from 2018 to 2022, a total of 1,230 senior citizens — 650 men and 380 women — who were single and whose next of kin could not be traced — were placed at welfare institutions.

Rina revealed these statistics in her parliamentary written reply to a question by Tan Kok Wai (Pakatan Harapan- Cheras) who asked the ministry to state the total of senior citizens abandoned at public and private hopitals according to gender, reaons for abandonment and their new placements.

She said in most cases, the next of kin who were traced refused to bring the senior citizens home because of family problems and not having a steady job. Some even denied any knowledge of the senior citizens referred to them.

Rina, who is Titiwangsa MP, added that in some cases, some of the abandoned senior citizens were homeless and vagrants sent to the hospitals by members of the public.

Some of those involved in drug and alcohol abuse were also referred to hospitals.

Rina revealed that the government had drafted the Senior Citizens Bill to protect the rights of senior citizens. The draft of the bill, she added, was being examined by the relevant stakeholders.

Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail talked about the need to have a law to protect the elderly when she was Deputy Prime Minister in September 2019.

She revealed then that Universiti Malaya (UM) had been appointed to conduct a 15-month study.

“A bill to safeguard the rights of the elderly will be drafted from the outcome of the study,” Dr Azizah told reporters after launching the Malaysian Research Institute of Ageing (MyAgeing) in Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) in Serdang, Selangor.

According to her, once the bill is passed, children who neglect, abandon or abuse their elderly parents could be penalised by the law.

“Just like the Child Act which protects children from mistreatment and the Domestic Violence Act, which deters violence against spouses, UM has been appointed to study on the scope, content and approach for a specific law for senior citizens.

“Besides protecting them from abuse, the law will also address population ageing, age discrimination and guarantee the elderly rights and access to services in their golden years,” she said.

It has been pointed out that having a specific law for senior citizens which also covers the roles of all stakeholders — like the state, service providers, family members, non-governmental organisations and the community — will empower the elderly and go a long way in facilitating healthy and active ageing.

“Projected data from the Department of Statistics Malaysia shows that our country will reach the aged nation status by 2030 when the age of 60 and above makes up 15% of the total population.

“At that time, the country’s population is expected to reach 38.1 million, of which 5.8 million are senior citizens,” added Dr Azizah. 

Using the law to penalise children who neglect, abandon or abuse their elderly parents is not enough. Respect, like love, should be automatic and not forced.

Respect for elders starts at home. Children should be taught to respect and love their parents and elders from young.

Some experts point out that respect for elders is taught through daily experiences such as making a child apologize if he or she insults or yells at an elder and encouraging alone time for children and elder adults.

In the meantime, perhaps there could be more discussions in the media and at public forums to shed more light on the forthcoming Senior Citizens Bill and its benefits to the elderly in Malaysia.


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