By Andrew Chadwick
It is extremely sad when society has to enact laws to punish people who abandoned their elderly parents. Even countries like China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and India, where filial piety or respect for older people was once taken for granted, are jolted by increasing number of elder abuse cases and abandonment of elderly parents at nursing homes.
What is filial piety?
In somewhat general terms, filial piety means to take care of one's parents; not be rebellious ; show love, respect and support; display courtesy; ensure male heirs, uphold fraternity among brothers; wisely advise one's parents; conceal their mistakes (though some schools advocate pointing out and correcting their mistakes); display sorrow for their sickness and death; and carry out sacrifices after their death.
Reasons for this “phenomenon” in Chinese families:
Younger generation of Chinese are less adherent to traditional principles of filial piety. (A Review on Elder Abuse in Chinese families- sagepub)
Adult children are caught in caring dilemma. The stress of caring for their own family and the caring of elderly parents.
Parents are often in a different state, or country.
Many do not feel that they are responsible for the care of their elderly parents. Poor family relationships are often quoted as a reason.
A breakdown in family relationships, should not be used as an excuse for elder abuse. There can never be a justifiable excuse for elder abuse.
Abandoning Elderly Parents
This issue is extremely controversial; when adult children quote breakdown of relationships as a reason for their abandoning their parent(s).
The effect of abandonment of elderly parents may not be that obvious when there are social services that will take care of the ‘abandoned parents’. However, in countries where there are little social services to assist these elderly, then it becomes a crucial issue for all – government and the general public.
How do we treat people who abandoned their parent(s) at a bus-stop or other public places?
In places, like China, India, Singapore and other countries that has a strong tradition of respect and care for the elderly, the increasing number of elderly parents abandoned on the street or nursing home, is a real and frightening development.
China is looking into revitalizing the Confucian teachings of ‘filial piety’ in their education system. Perhaps this will work. We must not forget that in the ‘70s the ‘one child policy’ has resulted in that ‘one child’ being spoilt and often, self-centered.
In recent years, many have migrated to other countries. This is not only in China. So how can we expect these adult children to care for their elderly parents?
Who should be responsible for the care of the elderly?
In countries where there are only minimal social services, the care of the elderly are expected of the children. For example, in Singapore there is (since 1995) a Parents Maintenance Act, that the elderly (over 65) can apply, through the court/tribunal, for maintenance from their children if they are not able to maintain themselves.
The alternative, of course, is for a government to tax its citizens more, so as to be to provide those essential services for looking after the elderly.
What about first world countries like the USA and UK?
How should these countries deal with the neglect and abandonment of elderly?
If the government has to look after these ‘abandoned’ elderly, there will be less money left for other social services or infrastructure maintenance and developments.
Increasing the tax levy is often not a good move for many governments.
Ensuring that ‘Respect and Care’ is inculcated in education system is perhaps a good move.
Drugs and Technology can be blamed for watering down the traditional family values.
How many family have a proper dinner at the end of the day? By that I mean really sit around the table. Many families just have their own plate of food and sit in front of the TV! No proper discussions or eye-contact with each other.
Entertainment is a greater priority than family interactions.
Drug addicts live in a different world, especially when they are high on substance. The rest of their waking hours are spent on finding money for the next hit. Obviously, elderly parents are only seen as the ‘cash cows’. Yes, they are as a source of money for these drug addictions. Therefore, what hope have we got in relying on these people to look after their aging parents?
We can see from this simple analysis, that it is a massive problem. Tackling the culture of the ‘me-first’ people and prevention of the abandonment of the elderly is one BIG, BIG problem - One that cannot be solved easily.
A multi-disciplinarian and multi-agencies approach is required; Easier said than done, of course. But, if we do not start looking for solutions now, we will reach the crisis point very soon.
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