Wednesday 16 November 2011

Taiwan's parental support Bill sparks debate

By Lee Seok Hwai, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2011

TAIPEI: Each year, an estimated 2,000 people are abandoned by their children in Taiwan.

A proposed law that aims to put a stop to such unfilial acts and ensure that elderly parents are provided for is awaiting passage in Taiwan's Parliament.

The draft Bill is modelled after Singapore's Maintenance of Parents Act.

Proponents say having such a law will ensure that the aged are taken care of in fast-greying societies like Taiwan's.

Critics, however, call the move redundant at best. At worst, they say, it could stoke family strife and add to the burden of future generations.

The draft Parents Maintenance Act, which passed an initial review last week, is sponsored by 29 ruling Kuomintang (KMT) and independent lawmakers.

If passed, the law will enable abandoned parents to seek mandatory financial support from their children through salary deductions or a one-time payment enforced by the court.

Recalcitrant offenders could be jailed for up to one year or fined NT$200,000 (S$8,500).

A decade in the making, the would-be law is spearheaded by three-term KMT legislator Lai Shyh-bao.

He noted that by some estimates, an average of 2,000 parents are left to fend for themselves each year.

He said he knew of a man aged about 75 who was kicked out of his home by his children, but found himself ineligible for welfare assistance because his children owned property.

'Meanwhile in Singapore, there is the Maintenance of Parents Act, which uses the law to deter unfilial children from shirking their responsibility,' Mr Lai told The Straits Times.

'So our Bill is borne of the same spirit: Take care of your parents, or the government will step in and make you,' he said.

Under Singapore's Act, first mooted in the 1980s and passed by Parliament in 1995, any Singapore resident aged 60 and above who is unable to support himself is entitled to seek financial support from his children through a tribunal.

Those who fail to comply risk being fined not more than $5,000 or jailed for up to six months.

Conversely, the children can apply for the claim to be dismissed if they can prove that they were abused, neglected or abandoned by their parents when they were young - a clause also contained in Taiwan's draft Bill.

While most Taiwanese legislators and commentators approve of the proposed Act's spirit of promoting traditional Chinese filial piety, they baulked at the notion of 'legislating morality'.

Mr Lie Kuen-cheng, a legislator belonging to the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, said laws represent the 'minimum demands' of civilised society while a child's moral obligation to his parents should be held to higher standards.

'We would be going against the grain of society if we were to enforce 'filial piety' by law,' the lawyer by training was quoted as saying by the Taiwan press.

'If we pass the Parents Maintenance Act, would we need to enact a 'Loving Spouses Act' too?'

Legal officials and analysts say the Act is unnecessary as Taiwan's civil and penal codes already mandate that children provide for their parents.

In fact, under Article 294 of the penal code, those who neglect or abandon needy kin, including parents, could be jailed for between six months and five years.

However, many feel that such measures, in the first place, are out of touch with the times.

Ms Wu Yu-chin, secretary-general of the Federation for the Welfare of the Elderly, told The Straits Times that traditional moral values often do not gel with modern family structures where people increasingly divorce and remarry.

'So do children have to support both their biological and step-parents?' she asked.

'It's a heavy burden to shoulder, especially in Taiwan, where 14 per cent of the population will be at least 65 years old in five years' time, while fewer and fewer children are born,' she said.

'So by the lofty standards of the proposed Act, many people would end up breaking the law. It could also create more conflict in the family.'

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