The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) invited the public to give feedback on the draft Women’s Charter (Amendment) Bill between 19 Oct and 8 Nov 2015. The draft proposed to amend the Women’s Charter in these key areas:
- Putting the child’s interest first in divorce through a mandatory parenting programme for divorcing parents;
- Allowing maintenance for incapacitated men who cannot work;
- Enhancing protection for women, girls, residents at places of safety and professionals engaged in protection work; and,
- Voiding a marriage that is a marriage of convenience under section 57C of the Immigration Act.
During the feedback period, REACH received a total of 112 inputs. Below is an excerpt of MSF’s responses to some of the feedback raised on REACH.
(1) Mandatory Parenting Programme
There were suggestions on REACH that spouses who face family violence should be exempted from MPP for their personal safety.
MSF’s response: Divorcing parents, whether or not there is a history of family violence, have the option to attend the MPP separately. MPP provides a platform for counsellors to triage and surface family violence especially when both perpetrators and victims may not have had an avenue to articulate or be aware of its impact on the family.
(2) Maintenance issues and maintenance for incapacitated men
While REACH contributors agreed maintenance for incapacitated men was a step in the right direction, maintenance should be based on fairness instead of gender. Hence, maintenance should also be available to men “in other appropriate cases, such as men who make economic sacrifices to take a primary role in household labour and caregiving”.
MSF’s response: Under the Women’s Charter, maintenance may be ordered for two broad categories of persons. The first is maintenance for children. Both fathers and mothers are responsible for maintaining or contributing to the maintenance of their children, even after a divorce and whether or not they have custody of the children. Either parent may therefore seek child-maintenance from the other parent, and the courts will take into account various factors such as the financial circumstances of both parents, and the needs of the children.
The second category of maintenance is for a spouse/ex-spouse, which is the focus of the proposed amendment. MSF recognises and strongly supports women’s development in Singapore. We also recognise that there is a growing number of house husbands who leave their jobs post-marriage to look after the children and household. Nonetheless, the vast majority of men continue to work after having children. On balance, MSF has assessed that for now, the proposed spousal maintenance for incapacitated men who cannot work and maintain themselves is appropriate for both men and women.
(3) Protection of Women, Girls and Professionals
There was a suggestion posted on REACH to widen the definition of domestic violence to include people “in an intimate partner relationship in the context of a heterosexual relationship. This would include both those who are currently in a partner relationship or who were in a partner relationship, whether cohabiting or dating”.
MSF’s response: MSF has considered including live-in partners within the coverage of the Women’s Charter. However, doing so, will affect how a family is defined and viewed by the larger society. This also has impact on other pieces of legislation which reference family and marriage. Notwithstanding this, MSF is working with the relevant agencies and stakeholders to enhance support for victims.
Read MSF’s full summary of responses here.