While it is vital to have legislation to protect vulnerable individuals such as the late Annie Ee, the wider community must work with government agencies to support persons with disabilities, said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee in Parliament on Tuesday (9 January).
Lee noted that there is an existing set of laws in the Penal Code that allows the authorities to take action against abusers, while the proposed Vulnerable Persons Bill will enable them to intervene even behind closed doors.
“But none of this would be effectual unless family members, colleagues, neighbours, passers-by, people who interact and suspect something amiss happening, to not just persons with intellectual disability, but to persons with disability, to children, to vulnerable adults, step forward, raise the alarm bell and bring their suspicions to the attention of authorities,” said the minister.
The 41-year-old was responding to a supplementary question from Jalan Besar Member of Parliament Lily Neo, who asked if Lee’s ministry could have prevented the “unfortunate circumstances” that caused the death of Annie Ee. “Could she have been put under a Public Assistance scheme where she could have received more assistance and need not have to stay with the people who abused her?”
Ee, a 26-year-old restaurant waitress with intellectual disabilities, was tortured by a couple – her flatmates – over eight months and eventually succumbed to her injuries in April 2015.
Lee noted that the “horrific” case of Ee had caught public attention and “tremendous unhappiness”. He added that the Vulnerable Adults Bill, which his ministry hopes to introduce in Parliament this year, will allow the government to protect individuals with physical and/or mental disabilities and who cannot protect themselves from abuse, neglect and self-neglect.
Last year, the Ministry of Social and Family Development also launched a three-year Break The Silence programme, to encourage members of the public who witness suspected domestic violence to report such acts.