My letter to the Assistant Chief Executive and Chief Librarian of the National Library Board
July 9, 2014, 3:23 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Singapore

Ms Tay Ai Ching
Assistant Chief Executive and Chief Librarian
Public Library Services Group
National Library Board

Dear Ms Tay,

I am writing in response to the news that two books have been taken off the catalogue and shelves of your libraries after receiving feedback that these books run in contrary to Singapore’s “pro-family” position.

I would like to emphasise that the two books which have been withdrawn from your shelves, are in no way contrary to Singapore’s “pro-family” position. As experience has informed me, “atypical” family units, for the lack of a better term, have been wrongly misunderstood and discriminated for far too long.

Having been an early childhood educator for the past 10 years, I have met and worked with children from different family backgrounds. While most of them come from the typical family unit consisting of biological parents who are in a heterosexual union, there are some who come from single parent families. I have also met children with parents of the same gender, as well as children living with adopted or foster parents. In most of these families, there exist a large amount of love and care despite the common fallacy that only families that derived from heterosexual unions are morally functional.

Due to society’s over-emphasis on what a typical family unit should be, some children from “atypical” family backgrounds do sometimes feel out of place. Being the odd ones out can hamper young children’s socio-emotional development, which in turn affects other areas of development. Hence, it is highly important that educators make the effort to create an inclusive learning environment that encourages acceptance and respect for one another. Furthermore it is the responsibility of educators to expose our students to concepts that exist in reality, in order to inculcate a sense of acceptance and respect for diversity within the local and global communities. This is one of the key purposes of education.

To achieve the abovementioned goals, educators should ideally provide materials that go beyond the narrow scope of what constitutes “normality” or “typicality”. This includes books such as And Tango Makes Three by Richardson and Parnell (2005), and The White Swan Express by Okimoto and Aoki (2002). Therefore I view the news with severe disappointment, especially when similar materials are few and rare in this overly conservative society.

Last but not least as a resource centre of knowledge, the National Library Board (NLB) should maintain a diverse collection of reading materials in your libraries that will cater to the educational needs of everyone from as young as 18 months old to those who are 60 and beyond. It should not limit the availability of knowledge by pandering to the standards of a conservative minority. I would like to take this opportunity to implore the NLB to put these two books back on the shelves of your libraries, as well as acquire a wider variety of such materials for the educational well-being of the public that the board seeks to serve.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,
Rachel Zeng (Ms)



Statement by civil society and general public over the treatment of alleged vandals
May 16, 2014, 3:45 am
Filed under: Announcements, Singapore

15 May 2014

Alleged vandals should be treated in accordance with UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

We, the undersigned, wish to raise our concern regarding the treatment rendered by members of the broadcast and print media and the District Court towards the five teenagers (aged 17) arrested on 10 May 2014 for their alleged involvement in a case of vandalism in Toa Payoh on 7 May 2014. As a signatory of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Singapore is obligated to fulfil the commitments set in the CRC which are all aimed at achieving its noble purpose of protecting the rights and welfare of all children.

According to Article 16 of the CRC, “No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation”.

Under Article 40(1), parties to the Convention, “recognize the right of every child alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth, which reinforces the child’s respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of others and which takes into account the child’s age and the desirability of promoting the child’s reintegration and the child’s assuming a constructive role in society”.

Article 40(2)(b)(vii) further states that privacy of the child must be guaranteed and respected at all stages of the proceedings.

Although Article 1 of the CRC defines a child as an individual who is below the age of 18, Singapore’s Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA) only provides protections for individuals below the age of 16.

Therefore, the actions of the broadcast and print media in revealing the identities of the five accused aged 17, run counter to the spirit and intent of the CRC, particularly Articles 16, 40(1), and 40(2)(vii).

In addition, a request made by one of the teenagers to inform his parents about his arrest was denied by the judge at the first mention of his case in court. This denial of assistance by the district judge is a violation of Article 16 of the CRC; however, since the CYPA does not cover individuals 16 years and above, the judge had acted within the boundaries of our laws.

We, the undersigned, believe that Singapore’s laws, and especially the CYPA in the area of children’s rights, should be aligned with the provisions of the CRC. This is to ensure that individuals below the age of 18 are duly protected in accordance with international human rights norms.

Further, we note that the five accused teenagers have yet to be proven guilty in a court of law. As such, we urge the Attorney General to look into possible violations of the CRC by members of Singapore’s print and broadcast media as well as provide adequate protection for these teenagers, adhering fully to the spirit of the CRC.

We also urge the Attorney General and the Singapore Police Force to grant the accused five immediate communications with their families as well as access to immediate and adequate legal representation.

Yours sincerely,

Amy Lauschke Jevon Ng Rachel Chung
Adrian Gopal Jocelyn Yeo Rachel Zeng
Andrew Loh Joe Tan Raymond Chan
Ariffin Sha Jolene Tan Robert Yong
Betty Tan Jolovan Wham Roger Yap
Braema Mathi Joshua Chiang Roy Ngerng Yi Ling
Bryan Choong Jufri Salim Sarah Sidek
Chan Wai Han Kirsten Han Shelley Thio
Chng Nai Rui Koh Eng Thiem, Ronald Sidek Mallek
Chng Suan Tze Kokila Annamalai Siew Kum Hong
Chong Kai Xiong Kumaran Pillai Sophie Tan
Chong Wai Fung Kwan Jin-Ee Stephanie Chok
Clarence Lenon Dorai KZ Arifa Steve Chia
Constance Singham Law Kah Hock Suziana Mohd
Damien Chng Lenney Leong Sylvia Tan
Dana Lam Leow Yong Fatt [Liao Yangfa] Tan Elice
Dr. Paul Ananth Tambyah Lim Han Thon Tan Kin Lian
Dr. Vincent Wijeysingha Lim Jialiang Tan Simin
Dr. Wong Wee Nam Lim Kay Siu Tan Tee Seng
Eddie Ng Low Yit Leng Teo Soh Lung
Emily Boo Lujahhan Mohd Islam Terry Xu
Evan Ong Eng Ann Lukas Godfrey Timothy Soh
Fong Hoe Fang Lynn Lee Vanessa Ho
Francis Law Mahaboob Baatsha Veronica Denise Goh
Frederique Soh Mansura Sajahan Vincent Cheng
Han Hui Hui Martin Ferrao Vincent Law
Ho Choon Hiong Melissa Tsang Vivian Wang
Howard Lee Miak Siew Wong Chee Meng
Immae Tham Ng E-Jay Wong Souk Yee
Isrizal Mohamed Isa Ng Joo Hock Woon Tien Wei
Jacob George Nicholas Harriman Xu Zhi Long
Jacqueline Tan Noor Effendy Ibrahim Yap Ching Wi
Jaslyn Go Nurul Huda Yeo Yeu Yong
Jean Chong Pak Geok Choo Zeng Ziting
Jennifer Teo Patrick Ong

And the following organisations:

Function 8
MARUAH
Restore
Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign
Think Centre
We Believe in Second Chances

Erratum: An amendment has been made to the statement. The definition of the child under the Convention for the Rights of the Child (CRC) is anyone below the age of 18 years and not 18 years and below, as previously stated. The definition of a young person is anyone below the age of 16, and not 16 years and below.

 



Graffiti, the Circle A, and hilarious censorship
May 8, 2014, 12:56 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Singapore

On the third anniversary of our last General Elections in Singapore where the People’s Action Party (PAP) saw a 60.1% victory and thus remained as the dominant political party in Parliament, some unknown individuals commemorated it by sprawling graffiti on the rooftop of a HDB flat at Toa Payoh Lorong 4. The graffiti said “F*** the PAP, wake up Singapore“, along with the Circle A which is the symbol of Anarchism. Here, take a look at it:

tpy1

What really amuses me was the effort put into scouting for a high rise building nestled in the heartlands, where surveillance cameras were nowhere in sight. I assumed that this was done by more than one individual, probably with a belay, and possibly inspired by this banner (see below) which was part of the effort to protest against the World Trade Organisation in Seattle in 1999. Visibility is always the main priority, and they’ve nailed it. I will give them an A+ for this.

Hanging In The Seattle Sky. Activists warn that the WTO is dangerous to democracy

However, I just don’t understand why the Circle A has to be used here. It is totally irrelevant.

An anarchist who knows and understands the fundamental principles of the ideology is not in support of any political parties and structures including the opposition parties. A real anarchist will write “Sack the Government, give the power back to the people“, “Down with the establishment“, and/or “Kill capitalism, it kills” instead of wasting such a prominent space for such a weak message that actually sounds kind of juvenile. This is obviously not an attempt to promote the anarchist cause, and will certainly lead to a lot of misunderstandings about the fundamental principles of the ideology. I may be wrong but then again, they get an F grade for the wasted opportunity to express a more substantial message, and the misuse of the Circle A.

Then again, the award of Epic Failure of the Day goes to the Straits Times for their censorship of the image published on their website. Here, I’ve got a screenshot:

By pixelating “PAP” along with “F***“, it certainly gave new significance to the acronym of the party’s name…

10277833_10152021838477026_5932669481039574994_n

Oh yes, censorship is so PAPPED up, don’t you think?



Some thoughts on the debate surrounding the Women’s Charter
April 26, 2014, 2:05 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Gender, Singapore

womens charter

The debate on the whether the Women’s Charter should be reviewed and renamed has surfaced again, and rightly so.

For many years now, I view it with disdain as I consider many aspects of the Women’s Charter outdated and hence, irrelevant to our society in this day and age.

Being outdated, several aspects of the Women’s Charter have contributed to the flawed understanding of feminism and feminists, as well as the movement to achieve gender equity. Unintentionally, these aspects also contribute towards the continuation of gender stereotypes, and gender discrimination.

Now, the Women’s Charter was relevant at a time when women were held disadvantaged by feudal practices when it came to marriage and gender. It was indeed a great achievement in the quest to emancipate women from such disadvantaged positions. In order to maintain its relevancy however, it should also be progressively reviewed so as to achieve greater equity within the society whose members the Act strives to protect.

Regarding the debate, some have called for the total abolition of alimony while others think that alimony should stay. I feel that the issue cannot be debated or discussed based on such a binary as there are many factors we have to consider. So here are my thoughts:

For those seeking for the abolition of alimony, I hope you will consider this -

Although in this day and age whereby the employment opportunities and education levels of women have improved, it is still not going to be a smooth sailing journey for women to immediately get a job after being full time home makers for several years. Alimony when granted, should cover this period of time as it is just fair to ensure that women who were fully dependent on their former partners, are able to financially survive while attempting to get back into the workforce again. The amount should be reasonable, and equivalent to the amount she was being supported with before.

For those who insist that alimony should solely be granted to women -

This is pure sexism, and promotes the idea that women are an inferior and are not able to support themselves. This insistence also discriminates men who have been home makers, and dependent on their wives financially. They should equally be eligible for alimony as well, in the time where they try to get back into the workforce.

This hasn’t been brought up as far as I have read, but should be considered -

Where children are involved, I am of the opinion that both parents should contribute to a child support fund, that will ensure that children coming from broken families do not suddenly become financially disadvantaged as a result of the divorce – something which they did not ask for.

Custody of children – 

Granting of custody should seriously cease to be bias. Society should cease to see men as inferior individuals when it comes to providing a nurturing and supportive environment for their children, and women should ceased to be seen as having more ability to do so.

In addition, no parent should restrict the other of visitation rights unless there are concrete evidences that this will put their children in dangerous positions of being harmed (e.g., all forms of abuse).

Regarding the name of the Women’s Charter -

Let’s just name it the Family Charter, or Family Law Act instead, because this is what it is all about.



No abandoned migrant workers in Singapore?
March 19, 2014, 11:55 pm
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Singapore

COIMr Kevin Teoh, MOM’s divisional director for Foreign Manpower Management who represented the ministry at the Commission of Inquiry claimed that he was “surprised that he (Mr Russell Heng from TWC2) made the assertion” that destitution exists among low-waged migrant workers in Singapore.

Okay. He should step out of the comfort of his white-collar office, and check out the shelter at Cuff Road for a start.

Oh wait, Minister Tan Chuan Jin conducted a fact-finding visit to TWC2’s soup kitchen and Cuff Road Project in 2011. He also met with the executive committee of the NGO to talk about the issues faced by low waged migrant workers (see report here). Since it was a fact-finding visit, one would assume that being the ministry’s divisional director for Foreign Manpower Management, Mr Teoh must be aware about the issues discussed during the meeting but it seems that he does not.

So what, is it due to the lack of communications within the ministry, or is he sleeping on the job?

Or is this simply a case of a civil servant who is in denial of the issues faced by low waged migrant workers, including delayed salaries and accommodation issues?

Well whatever the reasons are, I must say that I am shocked that he was surprised by Mr Heng’s “assertions” that destitution exists among our low waged migrant workers here.



Some thoughts about the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill
February 21, 2014, 12:44 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Singapore

Photo credit: TODAY

Photo credit: TODAY

After a four hour debate in Parliament, the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill was passed on Tuesday.

Alright so, the result is hardly a surprise but I strongly oppose the passing of the additional measures, especially due to the following reasons:

1. While I acknowledge the government’s intentions to ensure that a similar riot does not occur, we have to bear in mind that the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) is currently on-going. However the government might have, in the absence of actual data and recommendations, assumed the causes and went on to establish preventive measures. Such an action also might weaken the status and standing of the CoI whose role is to work independently, with the objective of identifying the factors leading to the riot, which may also include any possible failures of law enforcement agencies as well as the government. (Yes this is all debateable)

2. The Bill grants the police and auxiliary police officers extensive discretionary powers to arrest anyone who they deem offensive or suspicious without a warrant. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I do expect them to do so reasonably. On the other hand, the lack of external oversight opens doors to abuse of authority. Being witness to several instances of racial profiling and rough treatment towards migrant workers in Little India whenever I am in the area, I feel rather uncomfortable with such a power being granted to the police and auxiliary police officers. On a related note but not limited to the Bill, should any police officers be granted the authority to search the premise or personal belongings of individuals without warrants, especially in the absence of violence?

3. Clause 19(3) of the Bill states that the government cannot be held liable for actions in respect of the act. This seems to suggest that victims of wrongful arrests or rough handling cannot seek redress by undertaking legal actions against the government or law enforcement agencies.

In addition, I find the Bill problematic because it assumes that all members of the law enforcement agencies hold unquestionable ability to be reasonable in actions and accurate in their assessment and decisions on who makes a suspicious individual.

I disagree with such harsh measures undertaken in response to the riot at Little India on 8 December. It is a rare incident that had occurred due to factors that are currently in the process of being identified by the CoI. In my opinion, it may be an emotional response to the sight of a fellow migrant worker being crushed under the bus. It may also be the perceived lack of emergency response. Whatever it is, the reasons are currently not fully known. So while I agree that the security in the area can be heightened to give the residents in the area a peace of mind, I am apprehensive that extensive discretionary powers should be granted to the police and auxiliary police officers.



Little India Riot: Repatriation frenzy
December 21, 2013, 12:25 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Singapore

lir repatriation




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