Fake ID case shows needs of elderly must be addressed

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 May, 2015, 4:20am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 May, 2015, 4:20am

Criminal offences seldom win public sympathy, especially when a breach of trust is involved. But the reaction to the jailing of a 73-year-old security guard for using a fake identity card to get around age limits for a job suggests otherwise. The outpouring of compassion shows there is more to the case than just handing out due punishment. Justice aside, there is a need to address the underlying social issues involved.

Like many elderly people, Shih just wanted to earn his living rather than depend on government welfare. While the spirit is commendable, he took the wrong step to make himself employable. He bought a bogus ID card in Shenzhen which showed he was 11 years younger. He managed to fool the police licensing authority and three property management firms until 2013, and earned more than half a million dollars in wages for seven years. He was given a four-month jail term last month.

Although his case has won a great deal of sympathy in society, as reflected in the 300-odd letters presented to the court in an appeal helped by a top barrister for free, it did not sway the court's decision. Rejecting the appeal, acting principal magistrate Li Wai-chi said possessing forged ID cards for use in crime always carries with it a grievous criminal intent. Given the usual starting point for sentencing in such cases was 15 months, Li said the court had already shown an "abundance of human sympathy" in giving a four-month term.

The magistrate was right in saying that the social issues reflected in the trial should be handled outside court. Under the current licensing scheme, security guards can work up to the age of 65. Those who pass the age cap can only obtain another type of licence to work in single-block buildings. There is an annual loss of some 3,000 licences every year as a result of ageing. Shih's case speaks volume of the plight of elderly workers. Calls for reviewing the licensing regime are now growing.

Elderly people struggling to find work in an ageing society is an issue that calls for broader attention. Despite the lack of a statutory retirement age, those who have passed 60 are deemed too old to stay in the workforce. But the truth is that many are still physically and mentally fit to work. The situation is not helped by the limited protection provided by the existing mandatory provident scheme, which only covers those who have a job. The situation is expected to worsen as the elderly population swells. More must be done to address their needs.