Why It Matters

Help to stop abuse of elderly

A still image from a video which has gone viral on social media shows the alleged abuse of a frail-looking woman sweeping the corridor of an HDB apartment unit at 48 Lower Delta Road.
A still image from a video which has gone viral on social media shows the alleged abuse of a frail-looking woman sweeping the corridor of an HDB apartment unit at 48 Lower Delta Road.PHOTO: APOHTECKY NUMERO / FACEBOOK
Jessica Lim, Consumer Correspondent.
Jessica Lim, Consumer Correspondent.

Every year, about 200 cases of elder abuse are reported to the Ministry of Social and Family Development, a number that social workers think may represent only the tip of the iceberg.

They say that it is especially difficult for parents to rat on their children, so few are willing to report such cases. Others are embarrassed, fear retaliation from their abuser, or are dependent on them for care.

The circulation of a video - of 58-year-old Kamisah Burel getting slapped by her 25-year-old daughter - last week also highlighted another issue: It seems that members of the public who witness such atrocities are also unlikely to intervene by lodging a report.

When this reporter talked to three neighbours of Madam Kamisah, all of them said that they had witnessed the abuse for months: They saw her getting slapped almost daily, or heard screams of "tolong, tolong" (Malay for help) coming from her flat.

When asked why they did not make a police report, they said they viewed it as a "private affair". One neighbour admitted that he was torn - he felt he had to do something but did not want to intrude.

Even the person who posted the video, Mr Mohammad Juani, said he had initially held back from doing so - he did not want to be seen as kaypoh, that is, being a busybody.

Such thinking is just plain wrong.

The safety of an abused victim is at stake and, in some instances, arguably in Madam Kamisah's, it can even be life-threatening.

Her case should serve as a trigger for ramping up public education on how to spot signs of elder abuse, how to make a report, how it can be done anonymously, and why people should speak up.

Hopefully, in time, people will have the guts to do the right thing when they see a wrong.

As Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said last week: "It is important that we don't underestimate how important our roles as citizens are."

In such situations, every hand is needed to help.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2015, with the headline 'Help to stop abuse of elderly'. Print Edition | Subscribe