Community plays key role in protecting the vulnerable

The tragic death of Ms Annie Ee, the intellectually disabled waitress who died after prolonged abuse, underscores the importance of the community watching out for its most vulnerable members, said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee yesterday.

He added that the role of legislation to protect people like Ms Ee, who went out to work and looked after herself, "cannot be further emphasised".

With laws such as the existing Penal Code and the Vulnerable Adults Bill slated to be introduced this year, the authorities can haul abusers to court and also step in to protect vulnerable adults, he told Parliament.

But legal protection alone is not enough, he added.

"None of this would be effectual unless family members, colleagues, neighbours, passers-by, people who interact and suspect something amiss happening - to not just persons with intellectual disability but to persons with disability, to children, to vulnerable adults - step forward, raise the alarm and bring their suspicions to the attention of the authorities," he said.

Mr Lee was replying to Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC).

An elderly neighbour had reportedly noticed bruises around Ms Ee's eyes on two occasions.

The 26-year-old told him she had fallen. The next time, she said she was beaten by a colleague. The neighbour did not report the injuries to the authorities.

Ms Ee's death attracted public attention last November when Tan Hui Zhen, 33, and her husband Pua Hak Chuan, 38, were sentenced to jail for torturing her.

Pua was also given 14 strokes of the cane.

Ms Ee, who was estranged from her family, rented a room from them. They beat her repeatedly over eight months and she died from multiple injuries in their flat.

On family violence, Mr Lee said his ministry's network of Family Service Centres handle an average of 1,400 such cases each year.

The Family Justice Courts receive about 2,800 applications for Personal Protection Orders and issue about 1,200 orders, he told Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC).

He also said his ministry's hotline receives about 60 calls a year for help with family violence matters, with one-third of the calls made by non-family members.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2018, with the headline 'Community plays key role in protecting the vulnerable'. Print Edition | Subscribe