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Here's how law protects seniors from neglect by their children

The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, ensures that senior citizens are not abused by their children. If they have already transferred their property to their children on condition that they will be looked after, and if the children fail to keep their promise to do so, such transfers can be made void.

March 18, 2023 / 01:27 PM IST
The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, was enacted by Parliament to provide financial security, welfare and protection to senior citizens.

The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, was enacted by Parliament to provide financial security, welfare and protection to senior citizens.

India is a country rich in emotion. Indians believe in the age-old system of joint family and the institution of family is deeply rooted in the country. Abuse of the elderly has never been considered an Indian problem, rather it has always been seen as a problem in the West.

In recent times, as more and more elderly started depending on their families and young children, the coping capacity of the children has been challenged. As parents get older and start facing mental health issues and their bodies start deteriorating, the relationship between the parents and children has only gotten worse. Young adults have started neglecting their parents and often end up abandoning them.

Cases of elder abuse are reported throughout the country, no matter the state, caste or social status.

What is abuse? 

The term abuse doesn’t always necessarily mean physical abuse. It has a broader meaning, which includes physical abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse and neglect as well. These include infamous but common examples such as children forcing reluctant parents to transfer assets, not checking up on their parents, leaving them lonely and miserable and oftentimes asking them to leave their own house.

In unprecedented times like these, it was necessary to legally protect the rights of parents and senior citizens through legislation. The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, was enacted by Parliament to provide financial security, welfare and protection to senior citizens. This landmark legislation was initiated by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

This Act made it a legal obligation for sons and daughters to take care of their parents. According to the law, a parent could mean biological, adoptive or a step-parent, whether or not the father or mother is a senior citizen. A senior citizen means any citizen of India who has attained the age of 60 years.

The Act has provided the definition of “Maintenance” under Section 2(b); it includes provisions for food, clothing, residence and medical attention and treatment. Pursuant to an amendment of the Act in 2013, the Act empowered older adults to complain against their children; the sons could be legally held responsible for not supporting their parents. The Act also specifically states that abandoning a senior citizen is a criminal offence.

Also read: Seniors may earn risk-free income on investing up to Rs 1.1 crore. Here's how

Knowing the rights of senior citizens 

Under the Act, senior citizens and parents, who are unable to maintain themselves from their own earnings or out of the property owned by them, can file an application under Section 5 of the Act. Section 4 of the Act provides the obligations of the children and/or relatives towards a senior citizen. The obligation to maintain the senior citizen/parent extends to their needs so that they can live a normal life.

The provisions of the Act have also taken a step forward and provided for punishment in case of abandonment of senior citizens/parents. The Act also provides that the children/relatives pay an amount of Rs 10,000 per month as maintenance to their parents/senior citizens. The daughter-in-law and son-in-law are an exception to this because they do not come under the purview of “children” under Section 2(a) of the Act.

This was upheld by a Bombay High Court bench led by Justice S.S. Shinde and Justice Revati Mohite Dere on Writ Petition No. 3323 of 2019.

Apart from these monetary provisions, the act instructs the State Government to establish old-age homes for indigent senior citizens and provides for improving healthcare services available to them. The Act also established a Senior Citizens Welfare Tribunal to quickly and effectively dispose of complaints made by senior citizens.

The Act’s provisions protect the property of senior citizens from being taken away through unlawful and wrongful means by their children. Senior citizens who have transferred their movable or immovable property, on condition that the transferee shall provide them basic amenities and take care of their physical well-being, are protected by a provision that deems such a transfer to have been made by fraud or by coercion or under undue influence. Such a transfer can be made void.

Penalties for not caring 

In a recent case of Hemant Gamanlal Mehta and Anr. vs. the State of Maharashtra and Ors., the High Court upheld an order passed by the Senior Citizens Welfare Tribunal directing a man and his wife to pay monthly maintenance of Rs 10,000 and vacating a flat and handing over its possession to the man’s 88-year-old mother. On the same matter, the High Court also held that the son can be evicted from the house of the mother if it is necessary and expedient to ensure the maintenance and protection of a senior citizen or the parent.

The High Court of Punjab and Haryana, in the case of Manmohan Singh vs U.T. Chandigarh and other, held that the children at most are licensees living in their parent’s house on the basis of a concession given by them to live on the property. And the children should leave the house as soon as the permission is revoked by the parents.

The Act has also made provisions to approach an appellate authority in case a party is aggrieved by an order passed by the Tribunal. The right to appeal extends to both the parties and is not restricted only to senior citizens.

This Act has given senior citizens a much-needed feeling of protection. The Act ensures that senior citizens have access to a better lifestyle and are prevented from being subjected to any type of abuse by their children.

Purvi Asher is Partner at Mansukhlal Hiralal & Co., Advocates & Solicitors
Juhi Shah is an Intern, Mansukhlal Hiralal & Co., Advocates & Solicitors