Cast Away Like Dirt
I have a soft spot for animals and have been a pescetarian for years. It pains me that thousands of pets are abandoned every year in Singapore, when their novelty wears out, when they become sickly, when their owners relocate, when it’s spring cleaning time, et cetera et cetera . . . the creativity of we homo sapiens knows no bounds when it comes to crafting excuses to dump the poor animals that are at our mercy.
The AVA has been running advertising campaigns to urge pet owners against animal abandonment. One series is particularly heart-wrenching (see photos below). The images of babies dressed in animal costumes deliver a hard-hitting message: Pets are a part of your family; if you won’t abandon your family members, surely, surely you won’t abandon your pets?
But no. The continued abandonment of pets shows that the message is lost on many.
And it seems that Singaporeans do not just stop at discarding unwanted pets. Some of us also dumped our unwanted aged parent(s).
It was with great dismay that I read this story. An 82-year-old Singaporean man was abandoned by his family in Johor Bahru. When found by the Malaysian police, the old man was decrepit, dirty, hungry and emaciated “like a person from a state of famine.” The New Paper quoted someone saying “that they’ve never seen a Singaporean in this condition.”
The natural reaction to this social tragedy is one of outrage. Many have rightly called for a harsh punishment of the culprit(s). However, justice will not be meted out in this case because it is not illegal to abandon one’s parents under the Singapore law.
And if you think this instance which demonstrates the apogee of human callousness is but an exception, think again. Alarmingly, according to Singapore social workers interviewed in the same report:
The man is one of a number of elderly Singaporeans who have been abandoned overseas.
Social workers say his case is not unique, as Singaporeans have also been allegedly abandoned in Indonesia and China…
Two social workers said overseas abandonment is a cause for concern…
“It’s also not easy to prevent or detect abandonment once the parent is taken out of the country.”
Said centre manager Frances Lee of Care Corner Family Service Centre (Toa Payoh): “If (abandonment) is happening in Singapore and we’re hearing about it all the time, what makes us think they are not being abandoned elsewhere?”…
Abandonment of the elderly in a foreign land where the enfeebled victim is left to fend for himself in strange surroundings is akin to senicide. It is an irony that while the human race has made tremendous economic and technological progress, we have also regressed in the faculty that supposedly distinguishes us from other beings: we have forgotten what makes us “human.”
I daresay most of us would never dream of abandoning our parents. Yet at the same time, many of us may think that other elderly people are none of our problem. To those who, out of selfish concerns, have objected to the building of nursing homes in your residential estates (see this and this), I have this to say: shame on you.
If this tragedy is not a signal that Singapore needs to do more for our elderly, then I do not know what is.
Going by the social workers’ account, this case of the abandoned octogenarian is not the first and will not be the last. Inflation and stagnant wages have and shall continue to compound the ramifications of our rapidly aging society.
It can cost more than SGD2,000 a month to put an elderly in a local nursing home, and spaces in nursing homes are in short supply (source).
In my next blog post I shall look into what Hong Kong is doing in terms of caring for their old folks, and how Singapore is a laggard in this aspect.
(This article first appeared on The Online Citizen)