Amidst the outpouring of grief over the MH17 tragedy and the countless letters expressing disgust over Israeli’s act of genocide on the Palestinians, one letter tweaked my attention.
And, it had nothing to do with the Malaysia Airlines twin tragedies or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather, it was on filial piety, and how Malaysia, having come this far - 57 years of independence - have yet to formulate a law to compel children to look after their parents.
Letter writer Ng Shu Tsung brought up an interesting point that has often been overlooked (NST, Aug 8). As children, we have an obligation towards our parents, to look out for their needs during their twilight years, although some parents, who are now living longer and healthier are more than capable of doing so on their own.
Ng had lamented how Malaysia does not have adequate laws where parents can take ungrateful children to court and compel them to pay maintenance fees.
He said aging parents were being unintentionally neglected by their children because of the higher cost of living, especially those in urban areas or Kuala Lumpur. They leave for work before the sun rises and come home late at night. Indeed, where is there time for them to bond with their parents?
As awful as it sounds, for a number of young couples, as a last resort, they would consider the option of sending their elders to an old folks’ home. In a typical Asian culture, respect for elders, especially for one’s parents, is important. In Malaysia, we address or refer to the aged with a certain sense of decorum. And, relegating them to an old folks’ home to spend the remaining years of their lives is something we should not even be thinking of.
During a recent trip to Singapore while visiting my husband’s first cousin, I learned of the republic’s Maintenance of Parents Act, which came into effect in 1996.
I was told the law allowed residents over 60 years old who were unable to care for themselves to claim maintenance from their children, either in a one-off payment format, or apportioned out in monthly allowances. A special tribunal will hear the cases and decide whether payment should be made, and the quantum, based on the parents’ financial needs and the child’s financial obligations. The law also stipulates that only basic amenities and physical needs of the applicant, including shelter, food and clothing are required.
From the moral perspective, looking after one's parents is the responsibility of the children, not society.
If they are unable to do so, then it is in the best interest of their parents that the children find the best alternative.
Interestingly, Singapore is not the only country that had such a law. Some 29 states in the United States have similar laws, however, in some places it is not enforced.
Two months ago, a colleague journalist resigned from his job so that he could dedicate his time to care for his elderly parents. Given the hectic pace of a journalist’s job, he would never have been able to juggle his career and take care of them at the same time.
Perhaps, if Malaysia had such laws, those who are still in the prime of their lives, my journalist friend, for instance, would be able to carry on with his job and be productive, at the same time be able to care for his parents.
Considering that Malaysia is an ageing population, does it not make sense for the government to come up with a law to protect the rights of the senior citizens and help them live a comfortable and purposeful life during their twilight years?
Isn’t it time that we remember our parents for their sacrifice and that filial piety duty to care for them, because without them, we won’t be here?
Mimi Syed Yusof is NST Letters to editor’s, editor