More parents seeking protection from abusive children

-- ST ILLUSTRATION: CHNGCH
-- ST ILLUSTRATION: CHNGCH

Rise in number of parents going to court to seek protection from children who beat them, cheat them of their assets, or harass them for money

Abusive husbands. Abusive parents. And now a new figure of violence in the home is on the rise - abusive children.

More parents have gone to court in recent years to seek protection from their abusive offspring.

The abuse ranges from physical, to harassment for money, to cheating them of their assets.

Complaints from parents include being hounded by greedy children to sell their flats and hand over the proceeds, or to transfer ownership of their flats to them, a Subordinate Courts spokesman told The Sunday Times.

Once the children get their hands on mum and dad's home, some try to chase their parents out for good.

Other parents have had a once-beloved child steal their money or jewellery, or harass them for money to feed their alcohol, drug or gambling addictions.

And others have been restricted about what they can do at home, such as being barred from watching television or using appliances such as air-conditioning.

In the past three years, about 240 personal protection orders a year were filed by parents against their children, comprising about 8 per cent of all orders.

This is up from about 160 orders yearly in the three preceding years, or about 6 per cent of all orders.

A personal protection order is a court order to restrain a person from abusing his family members, and the abuser can be fined or jailed if he breaches the order and turns violent again.

When it comes to domestic violence, abusive husbands top the list, with about half of the orders in the past three years filed by battered wives.

Eleven per cent of the orders were lodged by husbands against their wives and the rest were taken against other family members, such as children, siblings and former spouses.

Social workers attribute the rise in orders against abusive children to a greater awareness of the help available for victims of family violence, but they point out that the reported numbers are just the tip of the iceberg.

Many parents are still reluctant to report the abuse out of shame, ignorance of the help available, fear that their child will be jailed and also because they depend on them for financial and other support.

Many parents also feel that they have failed to raise their child well and their poor parenting led to the abuse, so they keep mum about the violence, social workers say.

These parents, many in their 60s to 80s, suffer in silence for years.

Often, their plight comes to light only after they end up in hospital after a beating or when they call the police to stop their child from attacking them, social workers say.

A counsellor at Kampong Kapor Family Service Centre, Ms Linda Lim, says: "Parents apply for a personal protection order only when they have lost all hope that their child will change and they can't take the abuse any more. Or they fear they could be beaten to death.

"Once they lodge a personal protection order, they are quite prepared that this will break the relationship. I have seen seniors who were so badly abused that they landed in hospital, yet they refused to apply for a PPO. They say they are resigned to their fate."

Money matters

Ms Adisti Jalani, a senior social worker with Pave, a charity that specialises in tackling family violence, says most of the abusive children they counsel are either jobless or struggling with their own demons such as a drug or gambling habit.

They threaten, hit and hurl verbal abuse at their parents when they fail to get money from them.

One case Pave handled involved an former convict in his 40s with drug and drinking problems who laid into his frail mother and aunt with his fists whenever they did not give him money.

The women, both in their 70s, had taken him in as he had nowhere to stay and ended up living in fear for their lives. He often threatened to kill his mother, who was particularly vulnerable as she had problems walking, and his threats often triggered her asthma attacks.

They kept mum about his violence for years, until his mother called the police when he savagely attacked his aunt and she feared he would kill the woman.

By the time the police arrived, the aunt was so badly hurt "from head to toe" that she had to be hospitalised for a week, says Ms Adisti.

Both women took a personal protection order against him and the violence stopped.

Trans Safe Centre, the main social service agency dealing with abuse of the elderly, notes that more parents have been "financially abused" by their children.

They were tricked or intimidated into giving their children their cash and assets. Or their children blatantly stole from them.

One trick is to deceive parents by promising to care for them after they sell the family home and hand over the proceeds.

But after the sale, they dump parents in nursing homes or rented rooms, and disappear without paying the rent.

Trans Safe social worker Odelia Chan says the centre handles about 200 elder abuse cases a year.

The charity is now compiling data on the profiles of abusers, victims and the abuse suffered, to keep track of emerging trends.

One victim of harassment for money is widow Madam Lee (not her real name), 80. Her husband, with whom she has three sons and a daughter, in their 40s and 50s, died six months ago.

The couple had worked as cleaners and owned a three-room flat.

The illiterate woman said in Hokkien: "My sons hardly visited us when my husband was alive and they only came to borrow money. They would hurl abuse at us if we didn't give them some.

"After my husband died, they started hounding me to give them his savings and sell my flat and split the sum among them."

During the wake, her sons even went to her flat and stole her savings, amounting to more than $5,000.

Her sons teamed up to hound her, phoning her repeatedly each day telling her to sell the flat. And one son, a gangster with an explosive temper, even threatened to set her home on fire and hurt her if she did not comply.

Fearing for her life, the mum and her daughter called the police and lodged a personal protection order against the gangster son.

She says: "I have no choice but to report them. I can't take their harassment any more."

theresat@sph.com.sg