APRIL 17 — As many of us revel in the joy of Aidilfitri, spending time with loved ones and partaking in the cherished tradition of open house, a poignant story reported by MalaysiaNow titled “Homeless Hari Raya for elderly couple thrown out by son” [1] brings to light a stark reality often overlooked in our society. The narrative unveils the plight of senior citizens in Malaysia, shedding light on the harrowing journey of individuals like Zainab and her husband, who, despite their years of toil and sacrifice, find themselves abandoned and homeless in the twilight of their lives.

In a heartfelt account published on 10 April 2024, we encounter Zainab, a senior citizen whose life has been marked by hardship and resilience. Although life has always been a struggle, she and her husband lived a humble but normal life, until circumstances led them to the unforgiving streets of Kuala Lumpur. The article narrates their descent into homelessness, driven by familial betrayal and societal neglect, encapsulating the struggles faced by many elderly individuals in our midst.

As we reflect on the warmth of family ties and the comfort of home during festive occasions, it is imperative to confront the harsh realities faced by our senior citizens. The reported story serves as a poignant reminder of the urgent need for legal reforms to safeguard the rights and well-being of Malaysia’s ageing population. It beckons us to delve deeper into the systemic issues that perpetuate elder neglect and abandonment, and to advocate for change that honours the dignity and contributions of our elders.

According to the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 33/5, violence against older persons is described as “a widespread phenomenon that includes discrimination in the public sphere, linguistic and employment discrimination, lack of access, isolation, neglect, financial exploitation, physical and psychological violence and the withholding of basic needs, and physical attacks”.[2]


In the Malaysian context, elder abuse poses a troubling social concern that is escalating as Malaysia progresses toward becoming an ageing nation by 2030.[3] According to findings by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, a distressing total of 2,144 senior citizens were abandoned at hospitals across the nation, between 2018 and June 2022.[4] Shockingly, only 914 of these seniors were successfully reunited with their families, accounting for a mere 43 per cent of the total.

In the Malaysian context, elder abuse poses a troubling social concern that is escalating as Malaysia progresses toward becoming an ageing nation by 2030. — Picture by Hari Anggara
In the Malaysian context, elder abuse poses a troubling social concern that is escalating as Malaysia progresses toward becoming an ageing nation by 2030. — Picture by Hari Anggara

In 2021 alone, 752 senior citizens faced abandonment, with 412 of them being placed in welfare homes. Despite efforts by social workers in hospitals to reunite them with family members, their efforts were met by resistance and rejection among family members who managed to be traced, often citing “family problems” as the primary reason for their refusal to accept their abandoned senior family members.[5]


Furthermore, the Ministry’s data indicates that only “23 cases of elder abuse were reported between 2014 and 2016”, suggesting that a significant portion of elder abuse incidents likely go unreported due to fears of abandonment or lack of avenues for reporting. The under-reporting of abuse poses a substantial challenge for the relevant agencies and organisations to combat elder abuse effectively, as it hampers their ability to gather comprehensive data and implement targeted interventions.

With the Government of Malaysia announcing that it will introduce a Senior Citizens Bill in Parliament this year,[6] it is crucial that we take guidance from other jurisdictions that have already set up mechanisms to address senior citizen rights. The experiences of countries like Singapore, India, and the United States offer valuable lessons in formulating comprehensive legislation to address the needs of ageing populations.

In Singapore, the Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents stands out as a pioneering institution dedicated to ensuring the welfare of elderly parents who are unable to support themselves. Through this tribunal, legal provisions empower parents to seek assistance in compelling their children to provide essential financial support, thereby addressing the pressing issue of elder financial abuse and neglect.[7]By incorporating similar provisions into its Senior Citizens Bill, Malaysia can adopt a proactive approach to protecting the rights and well-being of its elderly population.

Similarly, India’s Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 exemplifies a legislative framework designed to address the needs of senior citizens through specialised tribunals. These tribunals possess the authority to intervene in cases where elderly parents require financial assistance, ensuring that children or relatives fulfil their obligations towards their ageing family members. By leveraging the provisions of this Act as a model, Malaysia can develop robust mechanisms to provide comprehensive support and protection for its senior citizens.

In the United States, although the approach may differ in structure, the overarching goal of ensuring the welfare of senior citizens, remains paramount. Family courts play a crucial role in adjudicating cases involving financial support for elderly parents, particularly in states with filial responsibility laws.[8]Through these legal mechanisms, adult children may be compelled to provide financial assistance to their financially distressed parents, reflecting a commitment to familial obligations and intergenerational support.

Furthermore, mediation serves as a notable form of alternative dispute resolution to resolve disputes involving senior citizens. It provides a platform for families to navigate disagreements relating to the care and well-being of ageing parents under the guidance of a neutral, third-party mediator. By facilitating dialogue and negotiation, the mediation process fosters understanding and reaches mutually beneficial solutions for all involved parties.

Most importantly, mediation empowers ageing parents to maintain autonomy and independence in decision-making regarding their care. By actively involving them in the mediation process, it ensures that their preferences and priorities are upheld, thereby promoting dignity and respect in elder care arrangements. Such mechanisms should be studied and incorporated into the proposed Senior Citizens Bill.

In our endeavour to enact meaningful reform and safeguard the rights of senior citizens, the Malaysian Bar, through its Human Rights Committee and MyBar Ageing Rights Advisory (MBARA) Committee, stands ready to lend its expertise and support. With a deep commitment to upholding human rights principles and promoting justice for all members of society, the Malaysian Bar is well-positioned to collaborate with stakeholders in shaping the proposed Senior Citizens Bill. Through collaborative action and a steadfast commitment to human rights, we can work together to build a society where the dignity and well-being of every senior citizen are respected and protected — because one story, like Zainab’s, is far too many.

*Mohamad Ezri b Abdul Wahab, President Malaysian Bar

**This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

[1] “Homeless Hari Raya for elderly couple thrown out by son”, MalaysiaNow, 10 April 2024.

[2] The Human Rights of Older Persons: Resolution / Adopted by the Human Rights Council on 29 September 2016, UNHCR | refworld website, 2024.

[3] “Is Malaysia Ready to Meet Needs of Ageing Population?”, Fokus BERNAMA, 6 October 2023.

[4] “Over 2,100 senior citizens abandoned in Malaysia since 2018, Dewan Rakyat told”, The Star, 21 July 2022.

[5] “Elder Abuse in Malaysia: All You Need to Know”, Homage. 2024.

[6] “Proposed Senior Citizens Bill May Impose Penalties for Sending Elderly Parents to Care Homes”, CodeBlue, 15 March 2023.

[7] Maintenance of Parents Act 1995.

[8] Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.