Singapore wants erring spouses to pay

Maxwell Coopers
Free Malaysia Today

Ever true to its paternalistic mien, the tiny city-state of Singapore will now demand that ex-husbands pay alimony and child support or face the threat of sanctions.

For an issue that seemingly affects everybody, it hardly raised a peep when newspapers widely reported of the threat of jail time, financial counselling or even of ex-husbands requiring to post a bank guarantee, if and when they lapse in their payouts whether by accident, design or even if extenuating circumstances reasonably allow for it.

Also left unanswered was the ever important question if men would still be required to pay if the divorce were initiated owing to the “unreasonable behaviour” of women, which is climbing in instances as well as in official statistics chronicling the data for marital breakdowns.

It is no secret that marriages are breaking down.

Almost 6 percent of couples who married in 2004 had divorced by last year the nation’s widely circulated Straits Times daily noted. 

No probable explanation exists to why the nation which first bandied about the idea of Asian and communitarian values – whose centrepiece with the family as being the most important social unit to the world – should suddenly see a spike in divorces and the social dislocation it brings.

Yet there is very little explanation that behind the ‘façade’ of many marriage bureaus proven for their counselling prowess and ability to reconcile feuding couples – a phenomenon that simply ought not have been the ‘Asian way’ just not only exists, but is surging ahead in record numbers.

Divorces, in so small measure are sobering.

And the outbreak of marital disunion across the nation interspersed randomly with memories of the Asian values debate, surely now leaves the republic it in a cleft and morally indefensible position – an outcome it surely would want to wish away with.

For beginners what had long once been associated as a Western ‘vice’ now stands glowering at the republic.

It almost surely stands to rob the nation of the credibility it once sought in being able to showcase how a tightly organised tight ship with a paternalistic sweep can bring about not just economic progress and political stability but social accord.

And just no better way of understanding this is more evident than in a quip “of an entire of children growing up the care of maids”; the country’s founding father and now Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew remarked about in his traditional National Day Rally address in the 1980s.

That entire generations of the nation’s young have grown up under the wings of maids deputising as ‘surrogate mothers’ thus depriving them of the much needed transmission of Asian values concerning the sanctity of marriage, may just be one way of having a macro understanding of marital discord.

Social engineering

The larger question is something else. It is about the openness of her society and its global bearings.  

The huge infusion of foreigners including women from China seeking work in karaoke lounges, restaurants and hotels and who venture out of their way for cupboard love, gives not just a flip understanding of the real situation but also of the weakness of the social bonds that Asian values presumably was required to have forestalled.

Just within that subtext and how anecdotal evidence tells foreign women have been the cause of many divorces.

“Yes divorces are rising. For the Chinese it is usually straying husbands trapped by many of these women from China. For the Indians domestic violence is the primary cause and for the Malays, their habit of abusing drugs and being indolent is what causes divorces”, highlighted a lawyer to Free Malaysia Today.

And the upshot of all these wayward activity, he adds, is the slow erosion of financial support that then slowly moves to tearing marriages apart.

However, it is not just marital accord and the need to pre-empt defaulters that bothers Singapore.

Like in how it once banned the chewing of gum, moves are also afoot to pattern and ‘programme’ human behaviour by the enforcing of filial piety.

Along with ensuring that ex-husbands meet their moral obligation by the disbursement of funds the city-state is making no bones in how the young in the country must now view their elderly ageing parents.

It will soon be adding more teeth to the Maintenance of Parents Bill, according to the country’s Community and Youth Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

There is no secret that all of these are indeed noble experiments aimed at social engineering with the only drawback being that it has to take the stroke of a legislative pen than the public education campaigns the nation is so much inured to.

Or as leading dissident Chee Soon Juan once said in his book, “Dare to be Different”, all of it smacks of a masterly attempt by the authorities to wash its hands of its social responsibilities.  

Maxwell Coopers is a freelance writer based in Singapore.

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