Are “Non-Traditional Families” Broken?

I on Singapore
Are “Non-Traditional Families” Broken?
13 October 2017

In a letter to the Straits Times, “Don’t undermine families when championing issues” (7 October 2017), Mr Christopher Goh “as a husband and a father”, expressed his concerns at the joint report on gender discrimination submitted by various non-governmental organisations to the United Nations.

Among other things, he wrote:

Similarly, the call to remove all “legal and policy” distinctions between single/unmarried parents and the traditional family nucleus unwisely legitimises broken marriages and relationships, and will impose tremendous costs on the state and society.

Such a move is the start of a slippery slope that will invariably lead to more broken families.

This drew a response from Ms Tomoe Suzuki in her letter, “Non-traditional families are different, not ‘broken'” (13 October 2017):

While Mr Christopher Goh Chun Kiat’s dedication to family is admirable, as the daughter of a single mother, I found his description of other families as “broken” deeply problematic (Don’t undermine families when championing issues; Oct 7).

That label assumes that something has failed with that family simply because of how it is structured, based on parental marital status and number of parents.

However, a family is a family when there is love. Families that fall outside the “normal” structure are not broken; they are merely different.

Contrary to Mr Goh’s assertion, I would argue that it is the presence of the legal and policy distinctions between single/unmarried parents and the traditional family nucleus that imposes tremendous costs on the state and society.

The married family unit with children is granted various forms of assistance by the state, especially access to housing. Single parents, however, have many obstacles to surmount in order to have housing.

For instance, the income cap for rental housing is $1,500. This is a catch-22 situation for single parents, as they cannot increase their earnings to better support their families, for fear of losing their housing.

Discriminatory legislation and policies serve to compound existing inequalities in Singapore, and low-income single/unmarried parents and their children are hit the hardest.

My mother and I were fortunate enough to be able to move in with my grandparents after my mother divorced.

But not everyone has this kind of privilege in terms of familial resources and support.

If we wish not to undermine families, then let us support them instead of invalidating them.

While the legal and policy issues are certainly important and have wide-reaching implications (which I have addressed in other posts), this post will focus only on a narrow question, namely: Are “non-traditional families” “broken”?

Two Views of “Family”

As explained in “The Family on Trial: Two views of “family””, at the heart of the debate lies two very different views of “family”.

The classical view affirms the intrinsic link between marriage and family. Marriage is regarded as a comprehensive, exclusive and permanent union, based on the sexual complementary of man and woman, which is intrinsically ordered to produce new life. This comprehensive union of husband and wife, together with their offspring, form a family. This is sometimes referred to as the natural family unit, such as under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There is an inherent biological connection in the natural family unit under the classical view.

The revisionist view, on the other hand, regards the family as rooted in commitment between people. Sometimes, the word “love” is used. Therefore, this does not only include the “traditional” family structure of father, mother and child(ren), but includes those led by grandparents, single parents, and same-sex couples. Flesh-and-blood ties may or may not exist under the revisionist view. If they do, they are not necessarily relevant either.

There are good reasons to support and affirm the classical view of the family. Most fundamentally, this is the model which best protects the rights of children. Every child has the right to know and be cared for by his or her father and mother, as far as possible.

As the Singapore Court of Appeal opined in CX v CY (minor:custody and access) [2005] 3 SLR(R) 690 at [26], “There can be no doubt that the welfare of a child is best secured by letting him enjoy the love, care and support of both parents.”

Are “Non-traditional Families” “Broken”?

What about “non-traditional families”, such as single mother households?

There can certainly be no doubt about the beauty of the natural bond between a mother and her child. In the case of Soon Peck Wah v Woon Che Chye [1997] 3 SLR(R) 430, the Singapore Court of Appeal had this to say about motherhood:

45 … The bond between the natural mother and her child is one of the most unexplainable wonders of human nature. It should never be taken for granted or slighted. We have all heard of the story of the mother who fought a tiger with her bare hands to save her child from the ferocious beast. Such is the love and sacrifice of the maternal instinct. Since the beginning of civilisation to this age of consumer materialism, the mother’s love for her child remains just as strong and unchanging. This court would be doing a disservice to justice and humanity if it turned a blind eye to the most fundamental bond of mankind – between a mother and her child, by taking the child away from the mother…

By equal measure, the natural bond between a father and child is a great marvel of nature and should also be affirmed and respected.

It is important to bear in mind that single or unwed mothers do not land in their position overnight.

A woman may find herself in such a position in one of three ways:

1. Out-of-wedlock childbearing;
2. Divorce; or
3. Death of a husband (i.e. being widowed).

In each of these cases, there can be no doubt that there has been a loss to the child, since a fundamental bond has been broken in the child’s life: the natural bond with the child’s father. In many ways, the mother of the child has also suffered loss in each of these circumstances.

I certainly salute Ms Suzuki’s mother and grandparents for their sacrifices, and appreciate Ms Suzuki speaking in honour of them. While it is not my place to speculate as to the reasons for her parents’ divorce, there can be no doubt (and certainly is affirmed in her letter) that great hardship is vested on a mother and child when the husband and father leaves the family.


So, are “non-traditional families” “broken”?


When a child is separated from his or her father or mother, despite the natural bond that the child has with the two very people whose genetic material he or she inherits, there is a loss to the child in the breaking of those very fundamental bonds.

Likewise, whether a person becomes a single parent through out-of-wedlock childbearing, divorce or death of a spouse, a deep and personal bond is broken.

Of course, this is not to demean those in single parent households. Instead, just as we treat wounds with special care, tenderness and compassion, by recognising brokenness, society can learn to restore those wounds and begin to make things right.

#Sg #singapore #singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot

Are “Non-Traditional Families” Broken?

No Free Trade Without Freedom

The Huffington Post
Without Freedom, There Is No Free Trade
Chee Soon Juan
13 November 2014

Trade agreements are often promoted as a means to keep prices down and employment up. The matter, as one might expect, is not so straightforward especially when political freedom is not part of the equation. 

The Singapore experience with free trade agreements is, perhaps, instructive. For years, human rights in the city-state have been dirty words, it was taboo to speak of them. 

This has not, however, stopped Western leaders, both in the economic and political spheres, from continuing to disregard the lack of democracy and the abuse of human rights in Singapore in favor of trade and commerce. 

In 2003, Singapore signed a trade pact with the US. At that time, the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA) was touted as a job creator and that the world needed more, not less, free trade. The US Ambassador to Singapore at that time said that as many as 50,000 jobs would be created in Singapore by the trade pact.

I wasn’t so sanguine. Without clauses to guarantee human rights and rights of Singapore’s workers, the agreement would just help the business elite in the US and Singapore to exploit cheap labour. And I said so when I visited the US then. Of course, given the might of the corporate interests, I couldn’t get in a word edgewise.

That was in 2003. Ten years have since passed and the results are in:

According to the International Labor Organization, Singaporean workers have worked more hours than in most countries, and, perhaps unsurprisingly it has resulted in the workforce being the unhappiest in the world.

  • Income inequality in Singapore is higher than that in the US. While the city-state has the highest proportion of millionaires in the world, nearly 5 percent of its workforce have an annual income of less than US$5,000.
  • Despite the Economist Intelligence Unit ranking Singapore as the most expensive city in the world, there is no minimum wage law in the country.
  • It’s not just the lower-income workers who are getting pounded. A recent study showed that almost 50 percent of Singaporeans subsist from paycheck to paycheck.
  • We have a pension savings system that is broken. An entire generation of workers is in danger of not having sufficient income to retire on. 
  • As for the younger generation, there is significant underemployment and limited opportunities for graduates. 
  • The rich in Singapore, in contrast, have never had it so good. The island, out of 23 economies, ranks 5th on the Crony-Capitalism Index compiled by The Economist.

It is clear that the benefits of the USSFTA have not accrued equitably. One reason for such a skewed outcome, at least for Singaporeans, is, as I’ve mentioned at the outset, the lack of democratic rights of the people. 

The labour movement is under firm state guidance (the umbrella National Trade Unions Congress is headed by a cabinet minister), the print and broadcast media are owned by the government (Singapore ranks 150th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom index — even Myanmar is higher at 145th), the ranks of the political opposition and civil society have been decimated through decades of state harassment, and fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly and association are severely proscribed.

More free trade in the pipeline

The European Union (EU) is about to sign its own FTA with Singapore. The proposed agreement makes extensive provisions for the protection of the rights of businesses, but almost nothing in it speaks of the protection of the rights of workers.

The US has also embarked on the expansive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which seeks to, among other things, “support the creation and retention of jobs.”

I understand the importance of trade. Without it, modern world comes to a standstill. I also understand that in an imperfect world, no one expects perfect equality. 

However, extremes in income inequality does not conduce to society’s well-being. Without freedom there can be no free trade; without democracy there can be no workers rights’ and without workers’ rights, FTAs are only tools for exploitation. 

If we are going to ensure that trade remains sustainable, then we must strive to make trade pacts beneficial for all — from the lowliest worker to the mightiest CEO. For this to happen, free trade agreements cannot continue to ignore human rights.

Read the comments to the full article on

#Sg #Singapore #Singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot #CheeSoonJuan

No Free Trade Without Freedom

Countless Rape & Death Threats

Her World
Nicole Seah: ‘I got countless rape and death threats’
9 June 2014

In Her World’s May issue opposition party member Nicole Seah spoke to writer Ankita Varma about her year of self-doubt, physical exhaustion and death threats.

Nicole Seah story from her world magazine may 2014

“A friend once told me that your 20s are like walking in the wilderness. You have enough idealism for ambition but not enough experience to know right from wrong. That statement couldn’t be more true of the last four years of my life. My walk in the wilderness is more poignant only because, for years, everyone around me assumed I had my life all figured out.

Perhaps it’s because I got into politics at 24. You would assume I have stellar academic records and a successful career, right? In fact, I have none of these things. I was a mediocre B-average student throughout my school years. When I graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS), I got a job at a public relations consultancy only after a six-month internship, during which I bought office supplies and made coffee runs.

Most surprisingly, I was apathetic about local politics until I enrolled at NUS. Politics wasn’t actively discussed in my household. I only knew that my parents had always supported the opposition. My mother had been against the government’s Graduate Mother Scheme in the 1980s, having raised three well-educated children despite being a non-graduate herself. (Editor’s note: This scheme provided financial benefits for mothers who were university graduates and school enrolment privileges for their children.)

The seeds of my political awakening were planted when I edited an independent online newspaper in NUS called The Campus Observer. I wrote about controversial topics like student complaints about private dormitory housing and the xenophobia foreign students faced. I was struck by how students remained apathetic to such issues and did not rally for change. It sparked a new consciousness in me. Shortly after graduating, I joined the Reform Party, where I stayed for two years before leaving to join the National Solidarity Party (NSP).

“You look like a mei-mei”

I worked largely behind the scenes at the NSP. Having studied communications at NUS, I advised the party on how to deal with the media. But when the party heads offered me the opportunity to run in the 2011 general elections, I gave it serious thought. My family was concerned about how it would impact my life and career. Still, I decided to go for it.

Somehow, the idea of campaigning in Marine Parade – a constituency that hadn’t been contested since 1992 – appealed to me. The nine days of campaigning were a firestorm. We didn’t have the time or resources to prep or train. The days before the election were a mad dash to raise money, print flyers and get campaign materials ready.

I was forced to go from a wallflower to addressing hundreds of thousands at political rallies. I remember rewriting the speech of my inaugural address over and over again, and practising to make sure it was clear and impactful. I felt intense pressure to keep my guard up. One slip could cost me my reputation or lead others to brush me off as naive and inexperienced. I didn’t want my youth to be thought of as a handicap.

But I was affected when people left nasty comments on my Facebook page attacking my age (“She looks like a mei-mei!”), appearance (“Her forehead looks like a horse’s!”) and intellect (“She’s probably a bimbo”). Having strangers bash you is something you never get used to. Friends and family encouraged me, but I became a harsher critic of myself in a bid to prove the naysayers wrong.

“I saw my future in five-year blocks”

2011 was a watershed year for Singapore politics. Many Gen-Yers were voting for the first time and there was a presidential election the same year. I was fired up to see people interested in politics. But I also knew how much more had to be done. Campaigning had exposed me to those who were falling through the cracks in society and this made me determined to run again for the 2016 elections.

Politics is all about staying relevant, so I jumped at every opportunity given to me post-election. I spoke at events, sat on panels, went on walkabouts and discussed policy at the grassroots level. I clocked 16-hour days on average. Days were spent at my advertising job. Evenings I filled with talks, forums or walkabouts. Afterwards, I’d head back to the office to finish up work.

By 2012, I was pulling all-nighters, sometimes working until 6am. I had a never-ending to-do list. Even cab rides were spent furiously thinking up talking points or planning speeches. If I had time for lunch, it would be a 10-minute affair at my desk.

Harder still was the emotional toll. I had relatively no policymaking experience and felt out of my depth. I remember being invited to a panel session where I spoke alongside another opposition party member, a minister and an academic – all much older than I was, and more experienced. I forced myself to appear confident, but I thought I sounded superficial compared to the other panelists. I felt like a fraud.

I was so bent on proving myself that I allowed no room for mistakes. I guilt-tripped myself into working all the time. More than anything, I felt so alone. I found out that people whom I had thought were friends were gossiping about me. I didn’t know who to talk to. It came to a point when I could only see my future in five-year blocks. My only thought was: Am I doing enough to stay relevant for the next election?

“I was stalked”

And then there were the death and rape threats. They started right after the elections – every Facebook post I made was followed by vicious emails, with comments ranging from the mean (“Were you drunk when you wrote that?! You’ve just lost my vote”) to the frightening (“Are you still alive?”).

Even my personal Twitter account wasn’t spared. I lost track of the number of threats I received daily. Netizens posted my office address and contact details, along with the time I usually got off work. I was paranoid when I left the office, knowing that someone could be watching me.

The worst incident was a call the office receptionist unknowingly put through to me. I picked it up and heard breathing followed by two minutes of maniacal laughter. I should’ve hung up but I was so shocked; my arms were covered in goosebumps.

Early last year, I began noticing that a piece of pink tinsel would be tied to my gate every day. I also received illegible notes, left at my door. When I left my house in the mornings, I would see a woman in her early 30s lurking around my estate, often staring at me from behind a pillar. But I couldn’t confront her without evidence. The “gifts” at my door continued for weeks until she finally wrote her name and address in one of her notes. I went straight to the police. I still periodically receive tinsel now, but much less frequently than before.

I didn’t share all this with my family as I didn’t want them to panic. I bottled it up and maintained a brave front. But soon, it would blow up.

“My body shut down”

The day I got my first anxiety attack started innocently enough. I was at work when my family SMS-ed to say my grandmother had been diagnosed with third stage stomach cancer. Something inside me snapped – my hands shook and I had trouble breathing. I got up to walk out for fresh air but ended up blacking out for a few minutes in the hallway. When I came to, I shrugged it off as a one-off thing.

A few weeks later, I contracted dengue. I spent nearly a month in and out of the hospital for IV drips and blood tests. Even after I recovered, I felt sickly and fatigued. After a month and a half of deteriorating health, I had to quit my job.

Two months later, in April last year, a friend introduced me to an entrepreneur who worked with technology companies in India. He offered me a position where I’d help acquire business for the company. I accepted his offer as it came at a time I was desperate for a clean slate.

But I would soon realise that the job wasn’t for me. There was a cultural mismatch with the way companies over there do business. My forward personality was not taken too well either, in fact male clients often ignored me when I was speaking. In September – four months into the job – I was asked to leave.

By this time, my health and emotions had taken a real beating. Friends and family began commenting worriedly about my appearance, which had been whittled to skin and bones. On Oct 1, a family friend checked me into a hospital, where I stayed for 18 days, cut off from the world. I turned off my phone. I spent my time sleeping and reading, and saw only close friends and family.

After I was discharged, I kept my phone off for three weeks and stayed off social media. I never sought professional help, relying on my family and friends for encouragement. Only their opinions mattered – everything else was just noise. Perhaps the meltdown was for the best – for the first time in two years, I was forced to take a break.

“Starting from ground zero”

I know now that much of the pressure that resulted in my breakdown was self-imposed. I didn’t let myself enjoy the opportunities I was given, choosing instead to doubt myself. The drive to prove myself was the most destructive. I’ve realised that the public scrutiny will never go away. After I shared my story on Facebook, a picture I uploaded of my then-partner sparked speculation that I was dating a married man.

Instead of supporting me through the ordeal, he left me to deal with the aftermath alone. Concerned about his reputation, he distanced himself from me. Though I would have struggled silently in the past, this time I refused. I ended the eight-month relationship, and I’m now single and happier than before.

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt from 2013 is to be kinder to myself. I spent two years telling myself I wasn’t good enough. Now, I know it’s okay to fail. You know what’s great about starting from ground zero? There’s nowhere to go but up. I’m excited about 2014, including my move to Thailand for my new job at an advertising agency.

Will I stand for election in 2016?

Your guess is as good as mine. I’ll still be very involved in the NSP during the elections and my goal will always be to serve Singapore – but whether I do that as a politician remains to be seen.”

Taken from‘i-got-countless-rape-and-death-threats’

#Sg #Singapore #GE2011 #NicoleSeah

Countless Rape & Death Threats