Bangladesh, being known as one of the most densely populated country in Asia, with its traditional socio-cultural structure and religious values has persistently fostered the family system. The elderly and parents of the families have always been endowed with the respected social position and valued with proper care and attention. However, at recent times in Bangladeshi societies, there are instances of abuse of elderly of family in general and parents in particular. Bangladeshi legal framework has not comprehensively addressed the issue yet except enacting the Maintenance of Parents Act in 2013. The said Act has put responsibility of providing maintenance to the parents on the children, both reasonably capable son and daughter. It has further prescribes that no children can separate their parents or force them to live in old homes. Certainly, such filial piety legislation is a good initiative but legal provisions alone cannot solve the problem. Moreover, the 2013 Act has some loopholes for which the main purpose of this Act may be frustrated.
Most religious laws, as applicable in Bangladesh, either deprive or discriminate the female population in respect of right to property. In absence of equal rights in inheritance, how the obligation of providing maintenance by daughter as envisioned by the Act may be discharged? As per the socio-economic conditions of Bangladeshi, girls are generally economically dependent and incapable of bearing any obligation to her natural father's family after her marriage.
The said Act has also extended legal obligation of maintenance to the grandparents in the absence of parents. Many consider it as burdensome for the grandchildren. In Bangladeshi societies, people are struggling with high level of costs of living along with other critical issues due to low level of economic development. The current societal scenario makes the undertaking of such huge responsibility by the grandchildren rather uncertain. Unlike other filial laws as applied in different countries of the world, failure to provide maintenance to the parents is an offence as per the Act of 2013. Thus, criminalising whole legal process is another drawback of the legislation. Social costs of getting legal punishment are huge and may make further distance between the parents and the children. Instead, pre-court alternative dispute resolution procedures would have been a better option for all the parties concerned. However, the instant Act provides compromise procedures after the written complaint submitted to the court.
Irrespective of performing parental obligations, the parents may claim the maintenance from the children under this law. Logically, a question may be raised that if the parents did not perform their own responsibility, should they be entitled to claim maintenance from their children? Bangladeshi law does not expressly address the issue. Furthermore, legal protection under this Act is only extended to the biological parents. The Act does not applicable to step parents or adoptive parents even if they have duly performed their parental obligations. Point to be noted that Hindu Shastric Law does not discriminate between natural parents and adoptive parents; but the Act of 2013 impliedly makes distinction between them.
As per the 2013 Act, a court cannot take cognizance of any complaint unless written and filed by the parents. What if the victim parents are incapable to file complaint, is anyone allowed to file it on their behalf? Our law is totally silent on this issue. Quite logically, it would be difficult for the parents in Bangladeshi social context to file compliant directly because of their lack of legal knowledge, illiteracy and socio-economic condition.
The Act does not prescribe any mechanism to ensure speedy and quick trial. The long procedure of getting remedy may inject fresh physiological sufferings to the parents. Certainly, elderly parents need quick legal remedy to reduce their sufferings. From 2013 to current time, there are very few suits instituted in the court under this Act. It demonstrates that law has earned little success in obtaining its purpose. It is, therefore, high time for our government to take necessary initiatives including amendment to the existing law.
The writer is a Lecturer at the Department of Law, East West University.