Seah Kian Peng leads workgroup to review Maintenance of Parents Act

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Sulaiman Daud | January 17, 2022, 06:03 PM

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After more than 10 years since the last amendment, a special workgroup will review the Maintenance of Parents Act to better meet the needs of the elderly and the community.

The Act provides elderly persons who are unable to maintain themselves adequately with a legal channel to seek maintenance from their children.

The Ministry of Social & Family Development announced on Jan. 7 that Member of Parliament (MP) Seah Kian Peng will be heading the workgroup and leading the review.

Seah was the MP who tabled the last amendment of the Act in Parliament in 2010, over a decade ago.

Conciliation first

That amendment established a "conciliation-first" approach to resolve maintenance disputes. MSF said:

"Since March 2011, it is mandatory for the elderly to seek conciliation with their children at the Office of the Commissioner for the Maintenance of Parents (CMP) before filing for a maintenance order at the Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents."

The annual number of cases of elderly parents who eventually filed for maintenance orders at the Tribunal dropped from a three-year average of 170 (from 2008 to 2010) to 86 (from 2011 to 2013).

It has since remained stable at about 30 cases each year since 2017.

The enhanced conciliation process facilitated by the Commissioner achieved a settlement rate of over 90 per cent, out of over 2,000 applications received since March 2011.

Review

Speaking to Mothership, Seah explained his thinking behind leading a new workgroup and review:

"While the 'conciliation-first' approach has proven effective, I believe it is timely after more than a decade to convene a new Workgroup to review the Act to ensure it continues to meet the needs of vulnerable, elderly parents and remains efficacious."

Seah said that the workgroup comprises largely of members from the Government Parliamentary Committee for Social & Family Development.

The MPs are Murali Pillai, Tin Pei Ling, Mohd Fahmi Bin Aliman, Ng Ling Ling, Joan Pereira, Denise Phua, Carrie Tan and Melvin Yong.

They will partner with the Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships (AfA).

Seah said that the workgroup will collaborate on support for families with early risks and parenting together, and will seek to facilitate more "ground-up" participations and discussions for more ideas on how to enhance the Act.

Focus group discussions will be held, your contributions are welcome

Seah elaborated that 10 focus group discussions will be held in January to solicit views and feedback.

The focus group aims to get feedback from elderly parents, adult children with elderly parents, and youths aged 20 to 30.

The workgroup would also like to hear from social support and other agencies interacting with elderly parents and their caregivers, including social service offices, family service centres, self-help groups, care institutions and protective services.

Seah added:

"In addition, we will be commissioning a survey in January to provide insights on public perceptions for the development of our recommendations. The survey company is expected to identify about 1,000 respondents who will submit their responses online. Members of (the) public who are interested to provide feedback may also email us at [email protected]"

Members of the public who are keen to participate in the focus group discussions may indicate their interest via go.gov.sg/mpafocusgroups.

In the statement, Tin Pei Ling said "We hope that many will come forward to participate in these discussions as their feedback will be useful when the workgroup drafts and deliberates the proposed amendments to the Act."

Key principle of reciprocity

When asked about families in unique situations, such as children who grew up with abusive and neglectful parents, Seah had this to say:

"One of the key principles of the Act is the principle of reciprocity. This means that the Act does not impose an absolute obligation on children to maintain their parents.

Where the parents are found to have neglected, abused or abandoned their children in the past, or where they have not exercised their duty to care for their children, the Act explicitly provides for dismissing the case or reducing the quantum of maintenance, as it would be inequitable for the child to be made to maintain the parent in such circumstances."

Speaking about the sentiment on the ground, Seah said that "most children" support their elderly parents out of love and appreciation. However, there is still a need for the Act as it is meant to help the small group of elderly parents who need assistance in claiming maintenance from the children.

MSF added that the workgroup's deliberations would culminate in the tabling of a Private Member’s Bill to amend the Act, slated for the end of 2022.

Related story:

Top image from Mediacorp and Seah Kian Peng's Facebook page.

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