This week, families across Malaysia gathered for Reunion Dinner, the most important meal of the Lunar New Year season. With some travelling across the country to make it home in time, it's an occasion when several generations of a family can sit down to usher in the new year and take stock of their togetherness.
Unfortunately, not everyone gets a chance to spend time with their loved ones during this period. TC Lam* (not his real name), a retiree who stays in a senior citizens home just outside Kuala Lumpur, is spending the holiday season with other residents whose families have not contacted them.
"I wanted to come to the home," said Lam, 91. "When I stayed with my son and his wife I only got scoldings, complaints. I am old, I forget many things, but they will always be upset even if it is a small thing. Once they left me at home and disappeared for three days, later I found out they went on a holiday. Nobody talked to me or told me anything."
Although Lam did not part with his family on the best of terms, he did not expect them to cut off contact. He hasn't heard from them in eight months, and when the new year rolled around he didn't receive a single phone call.
"I don't know what I did," he said.
Lam's story is not unique in Malaysia, where experts claim elder abuse and neglect is prevalent. Although no official statistics exist on the phenomenon, studies from academics affiliated with University Malaya's Prevent Elder Abuse and Neglect Initiative (Peace) posit that one in every 20 elders is abused in rural areas. For urban communities, academics believe the figure is closer to 1 in 10.
Financial abuse is most common in rural areas, while in urban areas psychological abuse was most prevalent. Neglect, too, often occurs in both settings.
This may change soon, however, as the government has announced its willingness to look into a law that will protect neglected parents. Minister in the Prime Minister's Department P. Waythamoorthy said on Monday that an in-depth feasibility study would be required before any laws could be tabled or implemented.
"It is really inappropriate for any child to neglect or abuse his or her parents and I think, if there is a need, we can have a law to protect those senior citizens and to ensure that their children could not simply wash their hands of their responsibility to take care of the parents," he was reported as saying by government news agency Bernama.
The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry is currently conducting this study, although a bill may only be drafted as late as 2020.