Views sought on move to ensure more protection for the vulnerable

Proposed Bill will allow State to step in where community, family efforts prove ineffective

While cases of abuse of the elderly and Singaporeans with disabilities have remained under 200 a year, the authorities want to put more safeguards in place as this population is expected to grow.

The Government is proposing a Vulnerable Adults Bill and yesterday urged the public to send in their views by Aug 23.

The Bill was first mooted in January last year by then Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, and aims to better protect the elderly as well as adults who are unable to care for themselves against possible abuse and neglect.

Key areas in the Bill include giving the State the right to enter private premises to assess the person's well-being, as well as to temporarily relocate vulnerable adults to safe places such as sheltered homes or adult disability homes.

Currently, the community and government agencies can rely only on moral suasion to enter homes to provide assistance. But if the person is able to make decisions for himself and refuses to be rehomed or to get a court order against the perpetrator, his choice will be respected.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said the Bill will also let the State intervene in high-risk cases, when intervention by the family and community - which the ministry said is the "first line of care" - is not effective. The Bill also proposes to raise the penalties for those who abuse or neglect vulnerable adults by 1.5 times.

Under the Bill, vulnerable adults are those aged above 18 with a physical or mental infirmity who are unable to protect themselves from abuse and neglect. This includes self-neglect, when they cannot perform essential tasks such as eating or treating injuries.

MSF said the proposed law stems from Singapore's ageing population. By 2030, there will be over 900,000 residents aged 65 and above, with some possibly being single or childless.

"The elderly who develop dementia may be unable to care for themselves... Persons with disabilities are also living longer, and more are expected to outlive their parents," said the ministry in its press statement issued yesterday.

It added that senior citizens who are frail and ageing people with disabilities "are especially vulnerable to abuse, neglect and self-neglect".

The Bill will also protect the identities of vulnerable adults.

This means no one can publish information or pictures that identify a vulnerable adult or the location of his temporary safe place without the permission of the director of social welfare.

Anyone who does so - including newspapers, and those who share the information on websites or through e-mail and text messages - are guilty of an offence. They can be fined up to $5,000. The amount doubles on a second conviction.

The draft Bill also provides an expanded list of people who can apply for various types of court orders to protect a vulnerable adult. So if the Bill is passed, family members, social workers and the State can apply for an order to restrain abuse, restrict access to the victim, and require the perpetrator and victim to attend counselling, among other things.

The draft Bill can be found at www.reach.gov.sg/VAA2016

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2016, with the headline 'Views sought on move to ensure more protection for the vulnerable'. Print Edition | Subscribe