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2017 Yearender: Keeping vulnerable adults safe from abuse

Straits Times
29 Dec 2017
Theresa Tan

Proposed law to give the state more powers to intervene in cases of suspected violence

A proposed law, which will increase the state's statutory powers to protect disabled and infirm adults from abuse, will be introduced in Parliament early next year, after a three-year-wait.

It comes amid the rapid ageing of Singapore, with more seniors likely to be unable to care for themselves.

The Vulnerable Adults Act was first announced in 2014 by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, which said it would likely be put in place in 2015.

When asked about the delay, a ministry spokesman told The Straits Times the prospective legislation is a complex one: "We want to ensure that various processes and resources are in place for the effective implementation of the Act."

For effective implementation, the processes must be thoughtfully designed to complement the collaboration of agencies to tackle the abuse problem. The agencies include hospitals, the courts and charities that specialise in tackling family violence.

Social workers interviewed hope the new law - coupled with more resources being poured into fighting family violence - will deter abusers and prevent a repeat of the Annie Ee case, in which the intellectually disabled waitress, 26, was tortured to death by a married couple from whom she had rented a room.

Their daily beatings left Ms Ee with 12 fractured ribs and seven fractured vertebrae, a ruptured stomach and a body crowded with blisters and bruises.

Earlier this month, Tan Hui Zhen, 33, was found guilty of voluntarily causing grievous hurt and given a jail term of 161/2 years while her husband Pua Hak Chuan, 38, was found guilty of the same charge and sentenced to 14 years in jail plus 14 strokes of the cane.

Under the proposed law, the Government can enter the house of a suspected victim to assess the situation and remove the person to safety if necessary, among other things.

Currently, social workers said a major hurdle they face is the lack of legal powers to intervene if a family denies them access to the person they believe is a victim of abuse.

Ms Cherylene Aw, centre director of Trans Safe Centre, said the law, when implemented, will send a "clear message that the Government takes a firm stand against violence and is vested in doing more" to protect vulnerable adults.

It will also enable professionals to intervene more swiftly and effectively to shield those in need of protection, said a spokesman for the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore.

While working on the new law, the ministry had set up the Adult Protective Service unit in 2015 to investigate abuse of vulnerable adults.

The unit has examined about 250 cases, 40 of which involved intellectually disabled people. Others suffered from physical infirmities, psychiatric conditions or dementia. About half of the victims were older than 60.

In most cases, the abusers were their caregivers, including family members. For example, an 80-year-old man was physically abused by his son, who lived with him.

The elderly man suffered from dementia and used a wheelchair. Staff of a social service agency saw his injuries and reported to the unit, which found the son was abusing his father out of frustration over having to look after and clean up after him.

The elderly man was sent to stay in a nursing home and his son was given a conditional warning by the police. This means no further action would be taken against him on condition that he does not abuse his father again within a 12-month period. If he does, the police would be able to charge him with both counts of abuse.

Social workers interviewed hope the new law - coupled with more resources being poured into fighting family violence - will deter abusers and prevent a repeat of the Annie Ee case, in which the intellectually disabled waitress, 26, was tortured to death by a married couple from whom she had rented a room.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.