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Group proposes to amend Maintenance of Parents Act to protect children abused or abandoned by their parents

Singapore - A workgroup which eviewed the law that allows elderly parents to seek monetary support from their children, has proposed new processes to prevent parents who have abused, abandoned or neglected their children in the past from misusing the Maintenance of Parents Act.

The group also wants to amend the Act to boost the powers of the Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents and the Commissioner for the Maintenance of Parents, to ensure that neglected elderly parents are adequately supported.

Chairman of the nine-member group, Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC), introduced the Maintenance of Parents (Amendment) Bill on Tuesday in Parliament, after a review that started more than a year ago.

He said: “My work group’s key thrust is to strike the right balance in strengthening provisions for parents while introducing measures to prevent its misuse.”

The Act, first passed in 1995, allows seniors who are unable to provide for themselves to claim maintenance from their children who are capable of supporting them but are not doing so. 

Mr Seah had previously told The Straits Times that the proposed measures to prevent seniors from misusing the Act were mooted, as one in three cases seen at the Tribunal has involved allegations that the parents had previously abused, abandoned or neglected their child.

The group wished to spare these children from going through the process of getting their parents’ unreasonable claims dismissed, as the process can be traumatic for the children who were abused by their parents when they were young.

The Act was last amended in 2010, when it became compulsory for seniors seeking maintenance to first go through the process of conciliation with their children to discuss how they may resolve their differences.  If this fails, seniors can take their grievances to the Tribunal, which acts like a Court, which will then decide whether and how much maintenance should be awarded.

Mr Seah said on Tuesday that going straight to the Tribunal tends to worsen already strained ties.

Since the conciliation-first approach was implemented in March 2011, about 90 per cent of the claims referred each year to the Commissioner for the Maintenance of Parents have been settled through conciliation.

The number of seniors who applied to the Tribunal also fell significantly from 183 in 2010 to 110 within the first year of implementation, he said.

Mr Seah said the number of applications has dropped steadily over the years, and there are about 30 such applications a year now. 

He added that the work group has held two rounds of public consultations, and there was “general support” for the proposed amendments.