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April 13, 2012

Elder Abuse: What Can We Do? (SINGAPORE)


This article deals with elder abuse in Singapore, and suggests some ways forward in tackling the issue.
A Workgroup on Elder Suicide Prevention in Singapore was established in April 2002. It brought together a total of 19 stakeholder-organisations, including the government, voluntary welfare organisations, social organisations, as well as individuals.
Is there a need to deal with elder abuse differently from other types of crimes or social phenomena? The answer is ‘yes’, for three reasons.
First, within the context of the family, we already differentiate crimes against two vulnerable categories, namely, children and women. Another vulnerable category is older adults. Second, they have special needs. Third, the consequences of abuse on older adults can be devastating. They have less physical reserves with which to recover and bounce back. Once down, they may stay down. Older adults are more prone to depression, which is aggravated when they suffer abuse. Furthermore, older adults have their working years behind them, so that recovery from financial abuse is often impossible.
Victims of elder abuse may lose faith in people and become distrustful and fearful. They may never enjoy their ‘golden years’ that society proclaims is their due and for which they have worked hard.
As we age — and we are a fast ageing population in Singapore — a small but significant minority of the very old and venerable adults will become frail of body or mind. Their frailty will cause them to be dependent on others, physically, financially or psychologically. Some will be unable to take care of themselves and to handle their own affairs. This minority is vulnerable to abuse. And they can be found in families, institutions (such as nursing homes and hospices), and elsewhere in the community.
The Workgroup builds on precedents. In September 1999, the Ministry of Community Development and Sports (‘the MCDS’) published an ‘Integrated Management of Family Violence Cases in Singapore Manual’. In 1999, after the deliberations of two Inter-Ministerial Committees, comprising many Workgroups, the government released two Reports, the first on ‘Health Care of the Elderly’, and the second on ‘The Ageing Population’. In February 2001, the MCDS produced a ‘Manual For Professionals & Service Providers Working with Children’. In late 1999, Mrs Helen Ko, then Director of the Singapore Action Group for Elders (‘SAGE’) Counselling Centre, established a ‘GoldenLife’ Workgroup comprising 14 agencies, that in August 2001 released its ‘Elderly Suicide in Singapore, Management and Intervention Training Manual’. It also organised public education and intervention programmes. This Workgroup serves as a model, and the Elder Abuse Workgroup also uses the ‘GoldenLife’ name.
Definitions of Elder Abuse
The Elder Abuse Workgroup and its five committees are currently examining what constitutes elder abuse in the Singapore context. They have not concluded their discussions.
In 1986, an expert conference in the United States ended in ‘definitional disarray’ and found ‘no generally accepted definitions of elder abuse and neglect’.1 Commenting on the situation, Frank Glendenning wrote in 1997, ‘A clear difficulty has been that investigators have approached elder abuse from different perspectives: the victim, the carer, the physician, the nurse, the agency, the social worker, social policy; and, as a result, there has been a lack of clarity’.2
The Workgroup, however, can look for guidance from the Report of the UN Secretary-General dated January 2002, entitled ‘Abuse of Older Persons: Recognising and Responding to Abuse of Older Persons in a Global Context’,3 which was presented at the Second World Assembly on Ageing. After noting the absence of an accepted universal definition, the Report tends towards this:
A single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.




Abridged


SOURCE:      The LawGazette, Singapore

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