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They deserve better

  • Published at 07:08 pm March 22nd, 2018
  • Last updated at 03:16 am March 23rd, 2018
They deserve better
The doctor’s eyes glistened with tears as the woman in the wheelchair, Ms Sabr (pseudonym), left his room. She seemed to be in her mid-60s, full of high spirit. Had I not been there in the room myself, I couldn’t have thought that the woman, who displayed exceptional strength, needed immediate hospitalization. She was indomitable, and had all the strength to battle her ailment all by herself. Of course, her loved ones tossed her aside at the very moment she needed them. Realizing that it was crucial for his patient to have someone by her side, the doctor could not help but call up Ms Sabr’s emergency contact -- her daughter. To his utter disappointment, the daughter blatantly said: “I will not be able to come as I have two children of my own who I need to be with.” Time being a limited resource, she viewed the time that she would spend with her mother as her “opportunity cost.” She was too caught up with her own life -- the “gift of life” -- which was given to her by the woman she chose to ignore. Ms Sabr, however, without hesitation, defended her daughter, quick enough with explanations that she had formulated for her own consolation, I suppose. The doctor sighed and said: “Why do we even bother to have children?” after Ms Sabr left his chamber in her wheelchair. Ms Sabr reminded me of someone who would stand up strong no matter how many times life knocked her down. She was pragmatic, a self dependent warrior, fighting her own battles. Some, however, are not that strong. Engulfed with despair and hopelessness, they tread the path that leads to their silent suicide. Neglected by their children, and encouraged to surrender, they stop taking care of themselves and eventually life simply becomes a wait for death. Imagine a parent calling up their child and saying: “I am not feeling well; can you take me to the doctor?” But then the child hangs up with a barely passable excuse such as: “I can’t. I have a lot of work to do.” The parent, still clinging to some semblance of hope, asks again only to realize that their child is too busy for them and has priorities higher than caring for their father and/or mother. The hurt piles up until the parent realizes just how alone they are in their struggle. Abandoned and isolated, they give up on life. They hesitate and do not even bother to ask for medication, money, or company to the doctor. They feel trapped. This eventually takes a toll on their mental wellbeing. The path to silent suicide then becomes an easier option or a coping mechanism to deal with negligence by their loved ones. Unknowingly, to a very realistic extent, the children act as abettors of suicide. They commit not only a moral wrong but a legal one too -- a crime which is committed behind closed doors.
While one can bring an action to claim for material things, can one bring an action simply for love and care?
What does the law say?  In Bangladesh, we have the Maintenance of Parents Act-2013 in force which makes maintenance of parents a legal obligation for children. Maintenance is defined rather broadly and includes not only essentials like food, clothing, medical care, but company as well.  In the event they do not abide by their legal obligation, a complaint can be brought to the First Class Judicial Magistrate’s Court or Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court. Unfortunately, incidents like elderly abuse and/or neglect are not reported to authorities as the victims are mostly reluctant to do so when their abusers tend to be their loved ones. Perhaps the reluctance lies in the notion that while one can bring an action to claim for material things, can one bring an action simply for love and care? The child that meant the world to them merely treats them as something insignificant. How can a parent even show the mental scars, the aftermath of the neglect and verbal abuse? A parent should not even have to ask for being cared, let alone fight for it. Elderly people, having their rights violated or discriminated, is not uncommon. Even then, the focus on safeguarding older people’s rights by governments and NGOs has, sadly, been inadequate. Although we see dialogue regarding children and women abuse in human rights reports prepared by NGOs, issues on elderly abuse do not get the limelight. To this end, Open-ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWG), a UN working group, was established to fortify and safeguard the human rights of older people. During the OEWG sessions, UN Member States scrutinize how to augment the protection of older people’s rights, through the creation of conventions or new human rights instruments, and address the gaps and problems. The ninth session of the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWG) will take place between July 23 and July 26. As a member state of UN, Bangladesh too could look at how to better protect older people’s rights, during the OEWG sessions. Bangladesh could also consider ratifying the new international convention that the UN is currently reflecting upon. The convention would demand positive obligations on the part of any nation to bring to fruition equality and the enjoyment of rights by older people. The treaty would expand the concept of human rights protection for older people, as it would make imperative for national governments and administrative bodies to ensure that the rights in the convention were reflected in their national legislation (Doron I, and Apter I, The Debate Around the Need for an International Convention on the Rights of Older Persons, The Gerontologist,  50(5) 1 October 2010, 586–593). Neglecting the frailest and most experienced in our society should be a criminal offense, but maybe in saying that, it just speaks to how jaded we have become as people. Tahsin Noor Salim is a research assistant at Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs, (BILIA).