I wrote the following to Today on 4 August 2015, in response to two letters regarding unequal benefits for single and unwed mothers that were published on Today. Since my letter was not selected for publication, I am posting it here instead. Interestingly, the writer of the second letter responded to his critics with this letter, published on 6 August 2015, saying that his letter was “perhaps satire, but in bad form”, and he apologised for it.
While I respect everyone’s right to hold and express opinions, I am appalled by the attitude expressed in the letters, “Unwed mums did make choices that led to their situation” (Aug 1) and “Unequal benefits for single unwed mums a matter of deterrence” (Aug 3).
Both letters contain statements that not only support the continued institutionalised discrimination of women based on their marital status, but call upon society to blame women for not falling into line with the status quo. The writers have also failed to see the need for social inclusion or the need for all children to be treated with equity, and have patronisingly insisted that marriage is the only way one can legitimately have children, or engage in sexual activities.
First of all, the role of men seemed to be lacking in their arguments. They seem to have excused the men who have found it right to pack up and leave the women whose children they have fathered, and instead blamed women for finding the courage to take up the responsibility to bring up their children single-handedly.
Secondly, not all unwed mothers are single. Although it is still not very common in our society, there are couples who choose not to go down the path of marriage, but are still committed to one another as well as in their roles as parents. Besides that, there are some same-sex couples who may choose to have children, but due to the fact the same-sex marriage is currently illegal in Singapore, they are seen as single and unwed parents. Does the society then punish children from these non-conventional family units, because some hold contemptuous views against the decisions made by their parents?
In addition, what about women who have made the decision to adopt? It is legal for single and unwed women to adopt, so why should they not be included in the incentives provided by the system?
We should not dictate what women can or cannot do with their bodies and lives, or insist that marriage is the only option for every single member of society who wants to have children or even just sex. We should also reflect upon the way our system seems to hold those who do not fall into line with the status quo hostage through institutionalised discrimination, while at the same time demanding them to contribute to the country’s economy through holding down jobs and paying taxes.
Finally, premarital sex and having children out of wedlock are not crimes, nor are they immoral. The “threat of inequality” as a deterrent to prevent unwed women from engaging in premarital sex and having children, is grossly authoritarian, sexist since men are rarely held to the same standards, and the imposition of patriarchal values on women who deserve the freedom to choose what they do with their bodies, their sexualities, and their reproductive lives. We should become a more inclusive society that favours equal opportunities and incentives, over discrimination.
Screenshots of the letters, for archival purposes:
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Singapore, Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign
At the High Court this morning, Court 6C appeared more crowded than usual. It was then I realised that besides the re-sentencing of Cheong Chun Yin and Pang Siew Fum, it was also the day of sentencing for Michael Anak Garing and Tony Imba.
Anxious faces could be seen, and I was too, a bundle of nerves. Silently, I wished that everyone would go home with a sense of relief. I distracted myself by looking at what the security officers were doing, and tried to eavesdrop on the chatter between the lawyers present and the Prosecutors. Then we were called to rise as Justice Choo Han Teck took his seat.
Then the first process of the day began.
The microphones did not work too well, so we had to lean forward to hear what was going on. It did not help that my brain was having a conversation on its own – “Which one of the accused is Michael, and which is Tony?”, “Will we receive bad news today?”, “Chill woman, focus!”, and “Why am I suddenly so sleepy?”.
My heart sank a little when Tony, the second accused, was asked to stand. It is usually not a good sign for the first accused. Justice Choo announced that Tony would be sentenced to life imprisonment, and 24 strokes of the cane. Then, the Court was asked to rise for the sentence of death to be read out.
The mood was sombre. Everyone was silent, but I thought I could hear a sniffle from the row behind me. Michael’s death sentence was then passed.
“… you are hereby sentenced to be taken from here to a lawful prison and then to a place of execution where you shall be hanged by the neck until you are dead…”
Despite the fact that I have been on the campaign for 6 years now, that was actually the first time I was present in the courtroom when an individual was sentenced to death. I am still overwhelmed by how that moment felt, but I am unable to articulate it well enough to fully describe the intensity of it all.
Certainly, the victims did not deserve to be harmed. However, two wrongs do not make one right. State murder is still murder, and even more deliberately planned than the original crime, which was robbery with hurt (which led to the death of their victim). Michael, 26, is younger than me, and if all other avenues become exhausted in due time, he will no longer have a future or a chance to make amends in any other ways… for the noose is already halfway on its way to his neck.
Originally posted on Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign:
Number of executions in 2010:…
Number of executions in 2011: 4
Number of executions in 2012:…
Number of executions in 2013:…
Number of executions in 2014: 2 (July 2014)
Number of executions in 2015: 1 (April 2015)
20 April 2015 – Cheong Chun Yin‘s case will be reviewed in the Supreme Court at 9.30am.
View original 3 more words
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.
Rachel Zeng (Ms)
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.
|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:
Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign
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.
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:
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.
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…
Oh yes, censorship is so PAPPED up, don’t you think?
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.