Shedding light on ‘silent suicide’

Shedding light on ‘silent suicide’

by Tahsin Noor Salim | Published: 00:05, Mar 26,2018

The doctor’s eyes glistened with tears as the woman (Ms Sabr, pseudonym) in the wheelchair left his room. She seemed to be in her mid sixties, full of high-spirit. Had I not been there in the room, I could barely tell that the woman glowing with mental strength and grace was so feeble inside that she needed immediate hospitalisation.
Indomitable as she was, she had all the strength to battle her ailment all alone. Her loved ones tossed her aside in a time when she needed them the most. Realising that it was crucial for his patient to have someone by her side, the doctor could not help but call up Ms Sabr’s emergency contact, her daughter. To his utter disappointment, the daughter blatantly said, ‘I will not be able to come as I have two children of my own, I need to be with them.’ Time being a limited resource, considering ‘opportunity cost,’ she would rather spend time with her children than her mother.
She was too caught up with life — the ‘gift of life’ — that was given to her by the woman she chose to ignore. Ms Sabr, however, without a second thought defended her daughter. She was quick enough to come up with explanations that she had worked out for her own consolation. The doctor sighed and said, ‘Why do we even bother to have children?’ after Ms Sabr left his chamber in her wheelchair.
Ms Sabr reminded me of someone who would stand up strong no matter how many times life knocked her down. She was pragmatic, a self dependent warrior, fighting her own battles.
Some, however, are not that strong. Engulfed with despair and hopelessness, they tread the path that leads to the ‘silent suicide’. Neglect of their children encourages them to surrender. They stop taking care of themselves and eventually life simply becomes a longing for death.
Imagine a parent calling up their child and saying, ‘My child, I am not feeling well, can you take me to doctor? The child, on the other side, hangs up without any warning after a brief, indifferent response, ‘I have a lot of work to do!’ The parent, hoping to get lucky the second time, asks again only to find out that the child is too busy for him/her and has other priorities. Some, with a heart full of hope, may even try a third, a fourth time, till they shut themselves completely and become reclusive. Abandoned and isolated, they give up on life. They hesitate and do not even bother to ask for medicines, money or to accompany them to visit the doctor. They feel captivated in the dungeon of darkness without any hope of light. The resulting poor mental health not only makes life dismal but proves detrimental to their physical health.  The path to ‘silent suicide’ then becomes an easier option or a coping mechanism to deal with the negligent attitude of their loved ones. Unknowingly, the children act as abettors of suicide, by their negligent attitude. They commit not only a moral wrong but a legal one too — a crime often committed indirectly behind scene.
In Bangladesh, we do have the Maintenance of Parents Act-2013 in force which makes maintenance of parents a legal obligation for children. Maintenance is defined rather broadly and includes not only essentials such as food, clothing, medical care, but companionship as well. In the event, they do not abide by their legal obligation, a complaint can be brought to the First Class Judicial Magistrate’s Court or Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court. Unfortunately, incidents like elder abuse, neglect are not reported to authorities as the victims are mostly reluctant to do so when their abusers tend to be their loved ones. Perhaps the reluctance lies in the notion that while one can bring an action to claim for material things, can one bring an action simply for love and care?
The child that meant the word to them merely treats them as something insignificant. How can a parent even show the mental scars, the aftermath of the neglect and verbal abuse? A parent should not even have to ask for being cared, let alone fight for it.
Elderly people having their rights violated or being discriminated is not uncommon. Even then, the focus on safeguarding older people’s rights by governments, and NGOs has, sadly, been inadequate. Although we see key facts pertaining to children and women abuse in human rights reports prepared by NGO’s, issues on elder abuse is not recorded or highlighted in these reports. I would love to believe that it is because elder abuse does not occur and that is why we do not have enough information, but sadly that is not the case.
To this end, Open-ended Working Group on Ageing, a UN working group, was established to fortify and safeguard the human rights of older people. During the OEWG sessions, UN Member States scrutinise how to augment the protection of older people’s rights, through the creation of conventions or new human rights instruments, and address the gaps and problems. The ninth session of the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing will take place between 23rd and 26th July 2018. As a member state of UN, Bangladesh too could look at how to better protect older people’s rights during the OEWG sessions. Bangladesh could also consider ratifying the new international convention that the UN is currently reflecting upon and talking about.
As Tang and Lee put it, the convention would demand positive obligations on the part of any nations to bring to fruition equality and the enjoyment of rights by older people. The treaty would expand the concept of human rights protection for older people, as it would be imperative for national governments to make sure that the rights in the convention were reflected in their national legislation (Doron I, and Apter I, The Debate Around the Need for an International Convention on the Rights of Older Persons, The Gerontologist, 50(5), 1 October 2010, 586–593).
It is time that we developed zero tolerance for elder abuse and acknowledged our collective responsibility to take adequate measures to protect the rights of our elderly population.

Tahsin Noor Salim is a research assistant at Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs.

Source: New Age.


  1. There is no easy answer to this issue. For those financially solvent, can afford 24hr nurses/ maids on payment. But those who are in hardship, like many I have seen, its a tough choice for the sons/daughters.

    Daughter-in-laws in our country, as in most other similar countries, have resisted taking responsibility of older mother/father-in-laws, inspite of husband’s eagerness to do just that. Surprisingly, this very lady (daughter in law ) would try bring her mother/father over to husband’s place for long stay & nursing.

    Strange behaviour from the the same woman !!
    Is there a solution in sight ??


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here