Thu | Jun 4, 2020

Letter of the Day | Covid-19 - Assistance beyond physical care

Published:Thursday | April 2, 2020 | 12:07 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

WITH THE directives for confinement of those of our citizens age 75 years and over, referred to as the ‘elderly’, it is timely to remind ourselves that the maintenance law of Jamaica requires that adults who are able maintain their parents and grandparents who are in need of assistance due to their age, physical infirmity or disability, to do so. It is the same law that places an equal responsibility on a mother and a father to provide maintenance for their children up to 18 years, and, in some cases, older.

In all my years of practice as a lawyer, I have been involved in, and observed, hundreds of court cases where orders are applied for, and made, requiring one parent or both parents to provide maintenance for their children, to the extent that the children need it, and in keeping with the resources of the parent. However, I have never seen or heard of the law being invoked to require an offspring to provide financial support for a parent or a grandparent. If there have been such applications or orders, they must be very few.

DEEPLY EMBEDDED

There could be many reasons for this. Perhaps it is because it is deeply embedded in our culture that adult children do care for and support their parents. Indeed, there is a popular phrase that children are to be their parents’ ‘old-age pension’. Another reason could be that neglected or undersupported parents are too ashamed and stricken by hurt to take action. Still another reason may be that these elderly persons do not know their rights. Indeed, I have recently deliberately shared this aspect of the law with citizens who are otherwise very knowledgeable, and who have expressed their prior ignorance of this protection that the law offers.

However, in the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need all hands on deck. True, we must be mindful of the Government’s obligations to elderly citizens, whose freedom of movement they have restricted. We should also be proud of the community support, which is often evident, particularly in rural areas and small villages where one neighbour looks out for the other. We must also salute those adult children who ensure that their parents are properly cared for. When the announcement of mandatory confinement of the elderly was being announced, I listened keenly to hear what the cut-off age would be and was relieved when I found out that I would still be able to go out and earn a living. At least for the time being.

The current trend worldwide indicates that more and more of us will have to stay home; and even those who are allowed limited mobility will have our incomes incrementally or substantially reduced. Accordingly, our ability to maintain ourselves and provide material support for others will be significantly impaired. This is definitely an unavoidable negative consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the other hand, with more free time on our hands, it will be possible to pay more attention to those for whom we as individuals, as a community, and as a country owe a special responsibility.

On the personal side, we need to keep connected with family and friends, utilising social media and other electronic communication in a measured, sensitive and sensible way.

JACQUELINE SAMUELS-BROWN, QC

Attorney-at-law