PAP MPs take the lead in protecting aged parents and abused children through MPA amendments July 4, 2023 As a society, how do we ensure provision and care for aged parents while preventing any misuse that hurts abused children? This is not an easy question to answer. And for our MP Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC), the Amendments to the Maintenance of Parents Act (MPA) which he and his nine-MP-strong workgroup proposed in Parliament this Tuesday (Jul 4) came about after months of listening to Singaporeans, especially those facing the issues it involves. MP Seah noted that his workgroup consulted with representative sectors of Singaporeans — over 200 focus group participants, a thousand survey respondents as well as social and legal experts — to ensure that these Amendments are relevant for contemporary Singapore. Briefly, these Amendments will ensure that neglected elderly parents have adequate support. This is through enhancing the legal powers of both the Tribunal and the Commissioner for the Maintenance of Parents. At the same time, they also put new processes in place so that those who did not fulfil their parental duties cannot misuse the MPA. “This represents an even-handed recalibration for both parties,” said MP Seah, for whom the MPA is a long and continuous project: He actually led the previous iteration of the workgroup back in 2010. For children: No more need to relieve trauma “For abuse victims, the mere experience of going through the proceedings under the MPA can be distressing,” said MP Seah. “It involves facing the parent after years of avoidance and recounting the experiences that they had tried to forget.” So, with these Amendments that our MPs have formulated, parents with records of abuse, neglect or abandonment must now seek permission first from the tribunal before pleading their case to the Tribunal for permission to proceed with their claim. They will be screened against official databases like Protective Services under the Ministry of Social and Family Development. Generally, the child would not be involved at this stage. Source: MCI “A professional woman had a physically and verbally abusive father who had caused her immense trauma since young. She spent forty years of her life running away from him, changing her legal name and at one time living overseas to escape his threats,” shared workgroup member Mayor Denise Phua (Central Singapore), who was also in MP Seah’s 2010 Amendments workgroup, in Parliament today about a recent case. “When he filed a claim for maintenance from her, she pleaded to the Ministry to protect her identity and whereabouts.” The Amendments which our MPs propose would screen out this claim at the very first stage, as the abusive parent is flagged within official databases. Second, the Tribunal can now dismiss frivolous and vexatious parent applications without informing or involving the child. “One key aspect we have delved into is the implementation of trauma-informed practices within the Tribunal and Commissioner,” said MP Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC), referring to the fact that abused children bear the “invisible scars” of their experience. “The Tribunal and Commissioner, responsible for overseeing the maintenance of parents, have implemented trauma-informed practices to manage and minimise distress for the children involved.” Source: MCI So these Amendments mean reprieve from parents who might weaponise the MPA as aggravation on their children. It in fact especially prevents them from reopening old wounds through filing problematic, distressing applications. But legitimate appeals will proceed. “One individual who participated in our second round of public consultations had raised the concern that improving the ease of dismissal would deter genuine applications,” reassured MP Seah. “I would like to assure him that applicants with genuine cases need not fear that their application will be struck out. The President and Deputy Presidents of the Tribunal, being experienced legal professionals, are well-qualified to determine the merits of the case.” For parents: Supporting the neglected and repairing relationships Similarly, the Amendments which our MPs have formulated are also about enhancing the MPA to protect neglected elderly parents. One Amendment (in the proposed section 12B of the MPA) lets the Commissioner have the children attend a conciliation meeting. “Care arrangements for the parent can be discussed and the children can be reminded that they have the legal obligation to support their elderly parents,” said MP Seah. This mandatory conciliation is when the parent is not negligent, and is (about to be) living in a welfare home. “With the amendment, families can work towards conciliation with a neutral third party to mediate their communication. This has proven to be effective in the past as the conciliation process has achieved a 90 per cent resolution rate,” said workgroup member MP Yeo Wan Ling (Pasir Ris-Punggol). Source: MCI “With the amendment, conciliation will be treated as the default, with only the irreconcilable cases be taken to the Tribunal.” The fourth and final Amendment empowers the Tribunal to make non-monetary directions such as mandatory counselling. “One clear example is when the parent has issues with problem gambling,” said MP Seah, noting that multiple refusals to pay maintenance stem from this. “No matter how much money is given to the parent, it’s always 钱不够用 (or money not enough),” said MP Melvin Yong (Radin Mas SMC) of the Tribunal cases involving parents having unresolved and increasing debts from gambling. Source: MCI “The Bill therefore proposes to give the Tribunal the discretion to make non-monetary orders, if it is in the interest of the parent at hand,” added MP Yong. “The Tribunal will be allowed to set conditions on the payment of maintenance and if the parent does not comply with the non-monetary order, then the children will not be obligated to pay maintenance.” Similarly, family counselling as a condition for maintenance is another enforceable order to help pull out the root of the problem between the parent and the child. Source: MCI “MPA is needed so that there is legal recourse for the needy elderly parents who struggle with unfilial children who refuse to support them. It also sends out a firm signal of what we as a society stand by,” concluded MP Seah after these thorough questions by his fellow MPs about the Amendments. All these balanced efforts — past, present, and future — are because we know how important it is to keep building a strong and resilient society together. Especially while we renew Singapore’s social compact alongside all other Singaporeans. “I hope that as a society, we can continue to uphold family values of mutual support for each other. After all, the family is the basic building block of society,” said MP Seah. Editor’s Note: The Workgroup which MP Seah led included our MPs Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok SMC), Mohd Fahmi Bin Aliman (Marine Parade GRC), Ng Ling Ling (Ang Mo Kio GRC), Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC), Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC), Carrie Tan (Nee Soon), Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson SMC) and Melvin Yong (Radin Mas SMC).