Thursday, March 25, 2010

Maintenence of Parents Act - The Bitter, But Necessary, Antidote?

It is commendable for Mr Seah Kian Peng, MP for Marine Parade GRC, to lead a 10-MP team to review and re-arm the Maintenence of Parents Act (MPA).

However, I believe it is not sufficient to just add more teeth to MPA; it is imperative to review i) the need and relevance of MPA ii) the basis on which the Tribunal decides what the impoverished parent needs, and should be given, iii) if MPA is not applicable or relevant, is there an alternative avenue for the disadvantaged parent to receive help and iv) if there was any overzealousness to 'go by the book' to obtain results at the Tribunal?

As the Chinese saying goes "A learned judge also finds difficulty to decide on family matters". Where family matters are concerned, it is seldom straightforward. Let me cite (to the best I can recall) the following:

I remembered there was a straight forward case where a successful doctor shied away from his mother as his wife found it demeaning to have a mother-in-law who works as a dishwasher and refused to take care, and provide for, his mother. Following the Tribunal's intervention, the son agree to pay for his aged mum's upkeep.

However, there was a sad case where the brother, who was brought to the Tribunal and asked to share and pay for the upkeep of his aged mother by his sister. He earned around $800 and has a sick wife and a handicap child to look after too. He felt so bitter about the added burden that he ambushed his sister at the Tribunal and killed her.

Another was a philandering father who has multiple families. He left his earlier families to live with his newfound love for thirty years. When he was old and incapable of taking care of his 'new' family, his new family, being familiar with the workings and functions of MPA, decided to take all their other siblings to the Tribunal. At the Tribunal, the new family offered to pay various amount as contributions but none of the siblings of the earlier families volunteered. Nevertheless, they were asked, by Law, to contribute too.

As tricky as it turned out, the earlier families rallied to pay and upkeep the 'naughty' dad until his ripe old age and there was nil contributions from the new family! Clearly, this is an abuse of MPA's good intent and processes.

Although I strongly believe that everyone of us is filial and will look after our parents at old age, I also stand by the need for MPA.

Perhaps, it is also necessary to look at the definition of child - "child" includes an illegitimate or adopted child and a step-child. How can, or why should, the child who is born out of wedlock and/or willful act of the/an irresponsible parent, be made to take care of his aged parent who has done next to nothing except to bring him to Earth?

I hope Mr Seah and his 10-MP team will address the complexity of human relationship and prevent abuse of process, if any. Having more teeth is not necessarily a good solution.I am sure the disadvantaged parents do not enjoy nor eat well the bitter grains won out of the Court

Can we find a balance between the strong arms of Law and the sweet influence of moral suasion and filial piety?

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