Elderly suffering more abuse from outsiders

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 June, 2006, 12:00am

Number of reported cases has jumped 20 times in a year

The number of cases of the elderly being abused by people not related to them has jumped 20 times in the second year since such data has been recorded, a situation social workers describe as 'alarming'.

The number of incidents of abuse by 'non-relatives' stood at 10 cases in 2004, said the Central Information System, which was launched that year by the Social Welfare Department. The number has risen to 200 cases last year.

There were a total of 528 cases of the elderly being abused last year, against 199 in 2004. Of the 200 cases of abuses by non-relatives, 129 were committed by 'friends and neighbours'. Another 21 cases were non-relatives living together, and 37 involved domestic workers.

Director of Social Welfare Paul Tang Kwok-wai yesterday said the Domestic Violence Ordinance applied to where the victims and the abuser were spouses.

'The government is reviewing the ordinance and is seeking public opinion. Tentatively, it is planned to extend the scope of the ordinance to cover ex-spouse and ex-cohabitants,' he told a seminar ahead of today's 'World Elder Abuse Awareness Day'.

'Extending the ordinance to further cover family relationship such as parents, grown-up children and in-laws will be studied in the latter stage.'

A department spokeswoman said it was unclear whether the friends and neighbours were carers, and why they abused elderly people. Angel Chan Fung-man, manager of the elder abuse reconciliation service project at the Hong Kong Christian Service, called the problem alarming.

'We never imagine that there are so many non-relative abuses, especially friends and neighbours,' Ms Chan said.

In one case, an elderly woman was covered in 'faeces and urine' by her neighbour.

Another seminar speaker, Alfred Chan Cheung-ming, vice-chairman of Elderly Commission and director of the Asia-Pacific Institute of Ageing Studies at Lingnan University, said the situation reflected a lack of respect for elderly people in society.

'They beat them when they are unhappy. As the elderly are fragile, they can't fight back,' Mr Chan said, adding some neighbours stole or borrowed money from the elderly.

Iman Fok Tin-man, community organiser of Society for Community Organisation, said some cases involving non-relatives occurred in private-care homes.

'In one case, an elderly woman told us she was forced by staff to take a bath with men and women together. And the staff ignored them when they make a request. There is often just one staff member taking care of 60 elderly people, and they are neglected,' Mr Fok said.

Social workers and the Social Welfare Department said the increase in the number of cases may also be due to greater public awareness to report such cases.

Alfred Chan and others urged the government to provide more education to the community to care for elderly people, and strengthen school education.