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Elder Abuse In Malaysia: 10 Things You Need To Know

In early 2024, a 58-second video sparked widespread outrage online. It showed a woman, presumably a staff member, verbally assaulting an elderly man at a welfare home in Padang Serai, Kedah. The situation escalated as she shoved him to the ground, and the sounds of whipping and his cries of pain suggest further abuse.

A bystander recorded the incident from a fence, confronting the woman in Tamil and questioning the home’s management. Ignoring him, the woman continued her assault, leaving the elderly man writhing on the floor. A police report was lodged, and the man was swiftly relocated. The unregistered welfare home is set to cease operations once the investigation concludes. The staff member involved, L. Vignesvari, 36, was fined RM 4,500 after pleading guilty to causing injuries to 69-year-old P. Tharmalingan with a stick.

This incident is one of many instances of elder abuse in Malaysia, which is experiencing a “silver tsunami”[1] with a projected 15% of the population being 60 and older[2]. How we treat vulnerable groups, including the elderly, speaks volumes about our society.

Here are 10 things you need to know about elder abuse: 

#1: 9% of Elderly in Malaysia Experience Abuse 

Elder Abuse and Neglect (EAN) is defined as “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person” World Health Organisation (WHO).

Under this umbrella term, the silent epidemic as it is dubbed encompasses five different categories of abuse; physical, financial, psychological, sexual, and neglect[3]

  • Physical Abuse: Any bodily harm inflicted on an elderly person through actions like punching, slapping or beating or restricting their physical movement such as tying them up.
  • Neglect / Abandonment: When an elderly person’s needs such as hygiene, medical or nutritional needs are intentionally unmet, leading to severe harm.
  • Sexual Abuse: Involves forced sexual interactions, harassment or exposure to obscene content. 
  • Emotional / Psychological Abuse: Any form of humiliation, threats and harassment which lead to lasting mental health issues. 
  • Financial Abuse: The act of illegal or unauthorised use of an elderly person’s money or belongings, including theft, misuse of financial resources and changes to legal documents such as land ownership  

According to a 2020 study, about 9% of elderly adults in Malaysia experienced abuse in the past 12 months[4].

#2: About 1 in 100 seniors experienced financial abuse by known individuals or strangers

Financial abuse is high on the charts. A 2020 finding reported that 4.5% of elderly individuals in rural areas (about 1 in 20) and 9.6% in urban areas (about 1 in 10) generally experienced abuse[5].

Conducted in Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan, a district with a high proportion of older adults, found financial abuse to be the most prevalent among those over 60 (4.8%), followed by psychological abuse (3.4%), physical abuse (1.2%), and neglect and sexual abuse (0.3%)[5].

Source: The Star

A report by the Institute of Public Health claims that about 1 in 100 seniors experienced financial abuse by known individuals or strangers[6]

I have heard of a friend who had six to seven children. Although some of them, husband and wife earn RM2000-3000 per month, they do not seem to offer to help their parents; at least RM200 is sufficient. But instead, they tell their mother, “I need RM200 from you, I want to pay for my house, my car, and my children’s education.” You have this kind of people. That is considered financial abuse. – 68 year old male[7]

#3: Low-income, Older Men Living Alone Are Prone To Financial Abuse

The National Credit Counseling and Management Agency (AKPK) found that adults in the lowest monthly household income bracket (below RM500 per month) and those living alone are more likely to experience financial abuse compared to those living with others, such as a spouse or children.

In general, our data shows that those from the lower-income groups are more prone to financial abuse. For example, the elder may get regular pension money which the abuser can take advantage of, or maybe the elder has properties that the abuser may claim ownership of, or deceive the old parent into unknowingly signing a document. -Elder Financial Abuse: Protecting and Empowering Our Seniors report[8]

Other risk factors include increasing age, with those 70 or older being more risk-averse than those aged 60-69. Older men are more likely than women to experience financial abuse and a combination of financial and psychological abuse[8]

#4: Abuse Still A Family Secret Leading To Underreporting

With 1 in 3 victims reported to have kept their abuse a secret[6], it is no surprise that only 23 cases of elder abuse were officially reported between 2014 and 2016[3] leading to under-reporting of abuse cases in fear of being abandoned, or the lack of appropriate platform to report.

#5: Some Elderly Get Left Behind In Hospitals During Festive Seasons 

While the festive season is a joyous celebration where family reunites, to some elderly they were left abandoned by their children in hospital wards. Few observations were made by local healthcare providers where hospital wards receive an influx of patients during Eid celebrations or Chinese New Year. Between 2018 and June 2022, 2,144 senior citizens were abandoned at hospitals; only 914 were reunited with their families(43%) [9]

Parents who get sent here are those suffering from paralysis and walking difficulty. They have a lot of reasons to send (their elderly parents here). Sometimes, they won’t provide water and food to their parents, causing them to fall into a weak body state, and we have no choice but to admit them to the hospital.

Even (if) the parents have recovered before Hari Raya, the children also won’t pick them up and insist firmly that they will only pick them up after the celebration. – Dr Amirah Azlan, Malaysian doctor [10]

When the next of kin are contacted by social workers or hospitals, many refuse to step in to attend to their elderly parents or relatives. However, in some cases, the elderly were found to be without a next kin.

A total of 1,230 senior citizens — 650 men and 380 women — who are single and whose next of kin could not be traced have been placed at welfare institutions. According to the Health Ministry, most cases involved senior citizens who do have spouses, children or siblings.– Datuk Seri Rina Harun, former Women, Family and Community Development Minister[11] 

#6: Institutional Care And The Growing Threat Of Abuse

An outdated study suggested that over 75% of elderly Malaysians live at home with family rather than in care facilities[12]. Currently, there are 401 registered elderly care facilities, with an estimated 2,000 unlicensed old folks’ homes or aged care centres. 

In recent years, the stigma of sending the elderly to nursing or welfare homes has eroded following the rising demand for living costs necessitating families to turn to dual-income earners. 

Malaysians are now aware that sending their aged and ill parents to a proper care facility is better than keeping them at home with no one to look after them.– Dr Fauziah Mohd Saad, psychologist[13]

Despite this, the frequency of institutional abuse is apparent, as suggested by several media reports. Compared to elderly individuals living in the community, older adults in institutional care face a higher risk of abuse. Those in care homes tend to be more physically dependent, have poorer cognition, lack social support, and come from a lower socioeconomic background[14]

The only published study on elder abuse and neglect in nursing homes surveyed four public nursing homes and found that 13.6% of residents experienced some form of abuse and neglect. However, elder abuse and neglect were not the primary focus of the study, suggesting that it may be more widespread.

#7: The Heavy Demands Caregiving May Lead To Abuse

The increasing elder abuse in Malaysia is influenced by various factors including the growing older population and changing family structures as grown children migrate to urban areas. With the current economic circumstances, the strain on the “sandwich generation” especially with 95% of the caregiving burden is placed on women[16].

Source: Malay Mail

It’s not that families don’t want to care for their aged family members. Traditional values have been affected by factors such as the migration of children to cities, urbanisation and the change in family structures. Most family caregivers are also in the sandwich generation. They face immense strain having to make a living and take care of their children and parents, so they might not even realise their actions amount to neglect. – Dr Siti Zaharah, Multimedia University law lecturer [17]

#8: Acts And Laws Protecting Elders, Or The Lack Of It 

The existing legal framework in Malaysia lacks a specific focus on addressing the needs and desires of the elderly population. Acts such as the Care Centres Act 1993 (Act 506), the Private Aged Healthcare Facilities & Services Act 2018 (Act 802), the Domestic Violence Act of 1994 (Act 521), and the Penal Code of Malaysia (Act 574) do not directly target the elderly and their concerns[17].

The Domestic Violence Act is not sufficient to protect elderly people from abuse and neglect. A Maintenance and Welfare of Parents Act, similar to that in Singapore, China and India, is necessary to make it a legal obligation for children to provide for their elderly parents.– Cheah Tuck Wing, Founding president of Third Age Media Association [18]

The Private Aged Healthcare Facilities & Services Act 2018 (Act 802), gazetted in 2018, specifically regulates elderly care facilities, necessitating elderly care facilities to obtain a license from the Ministry of Health (MOH) rather than a mere registration under the Care Centres Act 1993 (Act 506)[19].

A law covering not only the rights of the elderly but the roles of stakeholders – the state, service providers (long-term residential care homes, daycare centres, housing developments, transportation, commercial outlets, etc), family, non-governmental organisations, and the community, will empower and protect the elderly. – Dr Siti Zaharah, Multimedia University law lecturer [17]

In response to the limited legislation safeguarding elders, a Senior Citizen Bill is being drafted by the Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development, set for its first reading in 2024.

Furthermore, there’s a lack of a dedicated support platform for elders to report abuse, and healthcare providers lack standardised guidelines for detecting and addressing elder abuse and neglect (EAN)[20].

#9: Signs Of Abuse And How To Report Them 

Elder abuse isn’t always obvious, and one of the reasons behind its underreporting is the lack of awareness of its signs. Physical abuse may be easier to detect if there are visible bruises and scars. 

However, some of the signs of other forms of abuse include malnutrition, dehydration, dishevelled appearance, unexplained presence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), poor hygiene or overall health, signs of depression, and sudden lack of personal funds or loss of belongings. 

Source: Malaysiakini

Currently, helplines are concentrated on abuse cases involving children and women. However, if you do encounter elder abuse cases, contact the Welfare Department or call Talian Kasih at 15999.

#10: Organisation Safeguarding Elders and Educating Them 

  • National Council of Senior Citizens Organizations Malaysia (NACSCOM) : Founded in 1990, the non-profit organisation comprises 48 senior citizen associations advocating for policies and services to enhance the well-being of older people in Malaysia. NACSCOM is part of the National Advisory and Consultative Council on Ageing and plays an important role in influencing national ageing policies. 
  • Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society (MHAS): Dedicated to educating physicians, scientists, and the public on various healthy ageing issues, MHAS is a non-profit organisation that disseminates information on various medical treatments and spurs public awareness about enhancing the quality of life. 
  • SeniorsAloud: Beginning as a blog in May 2008, sharing articles and videos to cater to older adults aged 50 and above, it has since evolved into a comprehensive platform for all things senior citizens. With a thriving community of senior citizens sharing their life experiences and inspiring others, the platform promotes successful ageing through lifelong learning, social networking, and community service.

Explore our sources:

  1. Deloitte. (2017). Beyond the Noise: The Megatrends of Tomorrow’s World. Deloitte: Munich.
  2. Department Of Statistics Malaysia. (2017). Population and demographics ageing. Newsletter volume 1.
  3. Homage Malaysia. (n.d.).Elder Abuse in Malaysia: All You Need to Know.  Link 
  4. Sooryanarayana, R., Ganapath, S.S., Wong, N.I., Rosman, A., Choo, W.Y., Hairi, N.N. (2020). Elder abuse: Nationwide findings among community-dwelling Malaysian older persons. Link 
  5. Sooryanarayana, R., Choo, W. Y., Hairi, N. N., Chinna, K., Hairi, F., Ali, Z. M., Ahmad, S. N., Razak, I. A., Aziz, S. A., Ramli, R., Mohamad, R., Mohammad, Z. L., Peramalah, D., Ahmad, N. A., Aris, T., & Bulgiba, A. (2020). The prevalence and correlates of elder abuse and neglect in a rural community of Negeri Sembilan state: baseline findings from The Malaysian Elder Mistreatment Project (MAESTRO), a population-based survey. Link 
  6. Institute for Public Health. (2018). National health and morbidity survey. Volume II: Elderly health findings. Link
  7. Tan Jen Ai, C., Choo, W. Y., Mohd Hairi, N. N., & Abd. Hamid, M. A. I. (2020).Voices of Older Adults: Understanding the Meaning of Elder Financial Abuse and Exploitation in a Malaysian Rural Community. ASM Sc. J., 13, Special Issue 5, 2020 for APRU2018, 156-161 
  8. AKPK. (Financial Education and Well Being Research Centre). (2023). Elder Financial Abuse:Protecting and Empowering Our Seniors
  9. Carvalho, M., Tan, T., & Vethasalam, R. (2022). Over 2,100 senior citizens abandoned in Malaysia since 2018, Dewan Rakyat told. The Star. Link 
  10. Yap, W.X. (2023). Doctor Claims Some M’sians Starve Parents & Send Them To Hospitals Before Festive Seasons. SAYS. Link 
  11. Yunus, H., & Harun, H.N. (2022). 2,144 senior citizens abandoned at hospitals over last five years. New Straits Times. Link 
  12. DaVanzo J, Chan A.  (1994). Living arrangements of older Malaysians: who coresides with their adult children? Demography;31:95–113. 10.2307/2061910 
  13. Mohd Noor, A. (2020). Finding right balance in care for aged loved ones. The Sun. Link
  14. Mohd Yunus.R. (2021). Researching Institutional Elder Abuse in Malaysia: Challenges and Recommendations. Link 
  15. Nikmat, A.W, Al-Mashoor, S.H, Hashim, N.A. (2015).  Quality of life in people with cognitive impairment: nursing homes versus home care. Int Psychogeriatr. 2015;27(5):815–24. 
  16. BERNAMA. (2024). Perspective: fewer roses, more pay please. Link 
  17. Teoh, M. (2022). The future of older people matters: They must be protected from abuse or neglect. The Star. Link 
  18. Supramani, S. (2021). Many elderly people are neglected and do not have financial security after retirement. The Sun. Link 
  19. Zainudin, A. (2023). Industry: Senior Citizens Bill May Not Be Suitable For Regulating Care Homes. Link 

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