chapter  6
16 Pages

Victims of elder abuse in Singapore: a study of cases at TRANS SAFE Centre

ByWING-CHEONG CHAN

According to the statistics released by the Singapore government, there were 194 cases of elder abuse in 2004, 181 in 2005, and 186 in 2006. These numbers were described as ‘stable’ (Yu-Foo, 2007). The number of elder abuse cases fell slightly to 170 in 2007 (Sim, 2008). However, it would be misleading to think that the problem is under control as the true figure of elder abuse is likely to be much higher because of under-reporting. Studies have reported the prevalence of elder abuse ranging between 3.2 and 27.5 per cent of the elderly in the general population (Cooper et al., 2008). There is at present no requirement for mandatory reporting of suspected cases of elder abuse in Singapore. In the case of Hong Kong, a predominantly Chinese society where one would

expect the number of elder abuse cases to be low because of the strong Confucian tradition of respect to one’s elders, two studies found high rates of elder abuse among those aged 60 years and above. One study found that 20.1 per cent of respondents reported abusive behaviour (Chan et al., 2007), while the other reported an even higher rate of 27.5 per cent (Yan and Tang, 2004; see also Kwan, 1995). Similar concerns about the number of elder abuse cases have been expressed in other Asian countries such as Korea (Lee and Kolomer, 2005; Oh et al., 2006) and India (Shah et al., 1995; Veedon, 2001). In terms of the elderly population, Singapore has the highest projected increase

in the world of 316 per cent of those aged 65 years and over between the years 2008 and 2040 (Kinsella and He, 2009). The absolute number of such elderly persons is projected to rise to one in five residents in 2030 from one in 12 in 2005 (Committee on Ageing Issues, 2006). With added improvements in medical care, the longevity of such elderly persons will also increase. Furthermore, the present living arrangements of older Singaporeans is such

that a high percentage live with their children, comprising 78 per cent of households with older persons aged 60 years and above (Ministry of Community Development, 1999). This leads to the problems of the ‘sandwich’ generation where couples have to care for elderly parents as well as young children as they reach middle age (Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, n.d.).

When this is coupled with a decline in family sizes, fewer extended families living under the same roof and the stand of the Singapore government that institutionalisation of the elderly is a measure of last resort (Committee on Ageing Issues, 2006; Ministry of Community Development, 1999), the opportunities for conflicts between the elderly on the one hand and their caregivers and family members on the other hand will inevitably increase in the future (see also Akiyama et al., 2003). Although there is no general law prohibiting elder abuse in Singapore, vic-

tims of elder abuse can turn to various legal avenues for help. If a criminal offence is disclosed, such as sexual abuse or causing of hurt, the victim may turn to the police. The Mental Capacity Act (2008), which came into force on 1 March 2010, in addition makes it a criminal offence to ‘ill-treat’ a person who lacks capacity if he or she has the care of that person, is the donee of a lasting power of attorney or is the deputy appointed by the court. On the civil front, protection orders under the Women’s Charter (1997) are available from the Singapore Family Court to restrain an abuser from using ‘family violence’ on his or her family members (Chan, 1996). Elderly persons may also turn to the Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents in the event that their children fail to provide adequate maintenance to meet their basic needs (Chan, 2004). In this chapter, the dynamics of elder abusive relationships, in particular the

factors of gender, age, ethnicity and relationship of the parties, will be explored. Its coverage is wider than two previously published studies on this subject in Singapore (Cham and Seow, 2000; Phua et al., 2008) which involved cases identified at public hospitals only. However, it should be noted that comparisons are notoriously difficult between studies owing to the different methods of data collection and operational definitions of elder abuse used. Cham and Seow (2000), for example, only examined self-reported cases of physical abuse among those aged 65 years and older at an emergency department of a public hospital. On the other hand, Phua, Ng and Seow (2008) actively looked for four types of elder abuse among those aged 65 years and older at an emergency department of a public hospital: physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and self-neglect. It is hoped that the results of the present study will aid policy makers and social workers in devising better means to reach out to those who suffer from elder abuse and to cater to their needs.