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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Singapore

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Singapore, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Singapore, a city-state of 3.2 million people, has a republican form of government based on the parliamentary system. The majority of the population is ethnic Chinese (78 percent), with Malays (14 percent) and Indians (7 percent) constituting substantial minorities. Politics is dominated by the People's Action Party (PAP), which has held power since Singapore gained autonomy from Great Britain in 1959. Goh Chok Tong completed his third year as Prime Minister in 1993. Lee Kuan Yew, who served as Prime Minister from independence in 1965 until 1990, remains active politically, holding the title of Senior Minister. The current Parliament was elected in August 1991. The PAP holds 77 of the 81 parliamentary seats.

The Government maintains active internal security and military forces to counter perceived threats to the nation's security. It has frequently used security legislation to control a broad range of activity. The Internal Security Department (ISD) is responsible for enforcement of the Internal Security Act (ISA), including its provisions for detention without trial. All young males are subject to national service (mostly in the military) and receive nationalistic indoctrination conforming to the credos held by the PAP.

Singapore's open economic system has achieved remarkably steady growth in recent years, with GDP climbing 9.8 percent in 1993. There are no duties on over 95 percent of its products. As a result, Singaporeans have an annual per capita income over $15,000. Individual ownership of housing, mostly government built, is enjoyed by 90 percent of Singaporean families. Wealth is distributed relatively equally in what is essentially a full-employment economy.

Intimidation of opposition politicians, exclusion of opposition presidential candidates, and restrictions on press freedom were among human rights concerns in 1993. In May Dr. Chee Soon Juan, a prominent opposition politician, lost his teaching position at the National University in a politically motivated action officially justified as dismissal for misuse of university funds. In August two opposition politicians were declared unqualified, on the basis of personal character and financial experience, to run as candidates in Singapore's first presidential election. In July the Government placed limits on the circulation of The Economist because of a dispute over the Government's insistence that it has the right of unedited reply to what it considers inaccurate reporting or unfair allegations.

The Government retained wide powers to detain people and subsequently restrict their travel, freedom of speech, and right to associate freely, and to handicap political opposition. There was no evidence of a change in the Government's basic willingness to restrict human rights when it deemed that necessary in the pursuit of its policy goals.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no known instances of such killing.

b. Disappearance

There were no known instances of politically motivated abduction, secret arrests, or clandestine detentions by either the Government or the opposition.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Torture is prohibited by law, and government leaders have stated that they oppose its use. However, there have been credible reports of police mistreatment, some of which have been reported in the press. Reliable reports indicate that interrogations at times take place in very cold rooms where prisoners may be stripped of their clothing and doused with water. A reported case in April involved two men arrested for rape. One of the accused claimed that the police obtained his confession during a 17-hour nonstop interrogation in a cold room, during which police punched and physically abused him. The second defendant protested that police stripped him naked and interrogated him in a cold room. The judge in this case rejected the confession of the first defendant. Both men, however, were convicted and sentenced to prison. In a separate case of alleged police mistreatment in March, murder charges were withdrawn against a person who claimed that he was forced to make a confession as a result of police interrogation methods. The police maintained that all proper procedures were followed in taking the confession and that the defendant raised the issue of a forced confession only after many months had elapsed.

The Government reserves the right to use indefinite confinement to pressure detainees to "rehabilitate" themselves as well as to make admissions of wrongdoing. In the past, the Government has acknowledged that in the case of detentions without trial under the Criminal Act, the indefiniteness of detentions served to pressure the detainees. Persons alleging mistreatment under detention may bring criminal charges against those in the Government who are alleged to have committed such acts, but may be discouraged from making accusations for fear of government retaliation in the form of redetention under the ISA.

The Penal Code mandates caning in addition to imprisonment as punishment for offenses involving the use of violence or threat of violence against a person, such as rape, robbery, and extortion. Singapore law also mandates caning in other areas, such as for certain convictions under the Vandalism Act and for specific immigration offenses. Caning is discretionary for convictions on other charges involving the use of criminal force, such as kidnaping and aggravated outrage of modesty, or voluntarily causing grievous hurt. The law prescribes a maximum or minimum number of cane strokes in many of these cases. Women are exempted from caning, as are men over 50 and those determined unfit by a medical officer.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Arrest without warrant is legally permitted under the ISA, the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, the Misuse of Drugs Act, and the Undesirable Publications Act. Those arrested must be charged before a magistrate within 48 hours. At that time, those detained under criminal charges may obtain legal counsel. There is a functioning system of bail for those charged. There were no reported abuses of the bail system in 1993.

The ISA and the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act authorize detention without trial. The latter act is used almost exclusively in cases involving narcotics and secret criminal societies and is not used for political purposes. According to the Government, 759 persons were in detention under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act as of September, of which 320 were for secret society activities and 439 for drug trafficking. The Director of the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) can also commit suspected drug users for up to 6 months, with subsequent extensions, to a drug rehabilitation center in cases of positive urinalysis tests.

Those persons detained without trial under the ISA or the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act are entitled to counsel but have no legal recourse through the courts to challenge the substantive basis for their detention. The ISA also gives broad discretion to the Minister of Home Affairs to order detention without charges if the President determines that a person poses a threat to national security. The President may authorize detention for up to 2 years; the detention order may be renewed for a 2-year period, with no limitation on the number of times the detention order is renewed. A detainee's case is reviewed periodically by an advisory board, to which the detainee may make representations. The board can make nonbinding recommendations that a detainee be released prior to expiration of a detention order. If the Minister wishes to act contrary to a recommendation for release by the board, he must seek agreement of the President.

The ISA empowers the police to detain a person for up to 48 hours; any police officer at or above the rank of superintendent may authorize that the detainee be held for up to 28 days longer. ISA detainees normally have been allowed access to lawyers and visits by relatives once initial interrogation has been completed.

No one has been under ISA detention since 1990. The Government maintains some restrictions on the rights of two former ISA detainees to travel abroad, make public statements, and associate freely. This was one less than in 1992; restrictions on Teo Soh Lung were allowed to lapse on their expiration in January.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Singapore judiciary system is based on the British model, but there are significant differences (see below). There are two levels of courts – the Supreme Court, which includes the high court and the court of appeal; and the subordinate courts. In normal cases the Criminal Procedures Code provides that a charge against a defendant must be read and explained to him as soon as it is framed by the magistrate. The accused has the right to be represented by an attorney. Trial is by judge rather than jury. Persons detained under the ISA or the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act are not entitled to a public trial, which is accorded in all other cases. Judicial review of the ISA and subversion laws is severely restricted, in effect giving the Government a free hand in such cases.

Amendments to establish a single court of appeal, combining the former court of appeal (for civil cases) and court of criminal appeal, took effect in July. The creation of a single court of appeal marked another step toward the Government's objective of eliminating referrals to the Privy Council in London. The Privy Council still remains the last resort for appeals under certain circumstances such as convictions for life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President and may remain in office until the mandatory retirement age of 65, after which they may continue to serve at the Government's discretion for brief, renewable terms at full salary. Judges on the court of appeal receive permanent appointments.

Subordinate court judges are appointed by the President. These appointments are for renewable 2-year terms. Subordinate court judges and magistrates, as well as public prosecutors, are civil servants whose specific assignments are determined by the Legal Service Commission which can decide on job transfers to any of several legal service departments. Judicial officials, especially in the Supreme Court, are well entrenched in the Singapore establishment and have close ties to the Government and its leaders.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Government uses its wide discretionary powers when it determines that national security is threatened. In most cases, search warrants, normally issued by the magistrate court, are required for intrusion into the home. Law enforcement officers may, however, search a person, home, or property without a warrant if they decide searches are necessary to preserve evidence.

Warrantless searches can also be conducted under the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act in dealing with drug- and secret society-related offenses. Judicial review of such searches can be undertaken by the courts at the request of the defendant but it is not automatic. Divisions of the Government's law enforcement agencies, including the ISD and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Board (CPIB), have wide networks for gathering information.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution permits official restrictions on the freedom of expression and freedoms of speech and press are circumscribed. The Internal Security Act permits the Government to prohibit or to place conditions on publications that incite to violence, that counsel disobedience to the law, that might arouse tensions among the various classes (races, religions, and language groups) or that might threaten national interests, national security or public order. The Government has in some cases applied a broad definition of these laws to restrict political opposition and criticism.

The Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) is owned by the Government and operates under a statutory board of the Ministry of Information and the Arts. The SBC develops censorship standards with the help of advisory panels with a membership representing a cross section of society. The SBC has a near monopoly on broadcasting, operating all 3 free television channels, all 3 pay channels and 9 of 12 radio stations. Two of the other three radio stations are operated by the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC), which is closely affiliated with the Government; the third is the BBC World Service, available 24 hours a day on the FM band. In addition to the BBC World Service, Malaysian television and radio broadcasts and Indonesian radio broadcasts are received uncensored. Satellite dishes are banned with few exceptions.

All general circulation newspapers, with the exception of a small circulation Tamil-language newspaper, are owned by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), a private corporation which has close ties to the national leadership. SPH is required by law to issue ordinary and "management" shares; holders of management shares have the power to control all SPH personnel decisions. The Government must approve, and can remove, holders of management shares. Hence, while Singapore newspapers, especially the English-language Straits Times, print a large and diverse selection of articles from their domestic and a variety of foreign resources, editorials and coverage of domestic events closely parallel government policies and the opinions of government leaders. Government leaders have criticized the "Western model" of journalism in which the media have unrestricted freedom to report the news as they see it. Singapore officials argue that the role of the domestic media is to support the goals of the elected leadership and not to advance its own political agenda.

A case by the Government against the editor of the Business Times, the leading business daily, and 4 other persons, remained before the courts at year's end. The editor and three others – a government official and two employees of a foreign securities firm – were charged in December 1992 for violation of the Official Secrets Act in regard to a report in the Business Times of unreleased government growth figures. A fifth person – another journalist – was charged in the case in July. In December the presiding judge ruled that there was no proof that the accused government official passed classified information and amended the charge to failing to protect the secrecy of official information.

A wide range of international magazines and newspapers may be purchased uncensored in Singapore, although newspapers printed in Malaysia may not be imported. A 1990 law requires foreign publications that report on politics and current events in southeast Asia to register, post a bond the equivalent of $118,000, and name a person in Singapore to accept legal service. These requirements strengthen government control over foreign media. The Government may ban the circulation of domestic and foreign publications under provisions of the ISA and the Undesirable Publications Act. Under amendments to the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, it may limit the circulation of foreign publications which, by the Government's broad determination, interfere in Singapore's domestic politics.

In its relations with foreign media in 1993, the Government relaxed restrictions in some areas and introduced new ones in others. In August the Government limited ("gazetted") the circulation of The Economist to 7,500 copies per issue after a dispute over the Government's "right of reply," i.e., the Government's insistence that it has the right of unedited reply to what it considers to be inaccurate reporting or unfair allegations. While this limit equaled The Economist's circulation at that time, it prevents any increase. The Government also required The Economist to register in Singapore and meet other requirements of the 1990 Press Law Amendments from which it previously had been exempted.

The Economist was the first non-U.S.-owned publication to be gazetted. The Asian Wall Street Journal (AWSJ), Asiaweek, and the Far Eastern Economic Review, all gazetted in 1987, remained gazetted. However, the limits were raised to 5,000 per issue on the AWSJ and 12,000 per issue for Asiaweek, bringing them back to approximately their full circulations at the times they were gazetted. From 1988 to 1991, the AWSJ was not permitted to have a correspondent in Singapore. Beginning in 1991 an AWSJ correspondent was permitted on a part-time basis. This restriction was further eased in July 1993 with a government decision to accept a full-time AWSJ correspondent.

Singapore censors movies, video materials, and music. Some publications are barred from importation. Censorship of materials and the decision to deny the importation of specific publications is based on the determination that such materials would undermine the stability of the State, are pro-Communist, contravene moral norms, are pornographic, show excessive and/or gratuitous sex and violence, glamorize or promote drug use, or incite racial, religious, or language animosities. There is strong public support for continued censorship of sex and violence in films.

Faculty members at Singapore public institutions of higher education are government employees. A number of university lecturers are concurrently PAP Members of Parliament (M.P.'s). Academics sometimes criticize government policies, but avoid public criticism of individual government leaders and sensitive social and economic policies because of possible sanctions, such as in the case of Dr. Chee Soon Juan. Publications by local academics and members of think tanks rarely deviate substantially from government views.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Assemblies of more than five persons in public, including political meetings and rallies, must have police permission. Those who wish to speak at a public function must obtain permission from the Public Entertainment Licensing Unit, a division of the police Criminal Investigation Department. Opposition politicians have experienced delays as long as 26 days, according to police records, before receiving notification of action on their applications.

The Government closely monitors political gatherings regardless of the number present. Associations, societies, clubs, churches, and other organizations with more than 10 members must be registered with the Government under the Societies Act. The Government denies registration to societies it believes likely to be used for unlawful purposes or for purposes prejudicial to public peace, welfare, or public order. The Government has absolute discretion in applying this broad and vague language to register or dissolve societies. It prohibits organized political activities, except by organizations registered as political parties. This prohibition extends to the opposition, but it is not clear that it applies to the PAP, which enjoys the support of residential committees and neighborhood groups ostensibly organized for nonpolitical purposes but whose leadership contains many grassroots PAP members (see also Section 3).

c. Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion is provided for in the Constitution and respected in practice with a few exceptions. There is no state religion and most missionaries are permitted to work and to publish religious texts. However, all religious groups are subject to government scrutiny and must be legally registered. The Government restricts some religious sects by application of the Societies Act and has banned others, such as the Jehovah's

Witnesses and the Unification Church. At year's end, five members of Jehovah's Witnesses were reportedly free on bail pending trial after having been charged under the Undesirable Publications Act. The 1990 Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act made illegal what the Government deemed to be the inappropriate involvement of religious groups and officials in political affairs. The Act also denies the judiciary the competence to review possible denial of rights which could arise from the application of the act, and specifically denies judicial review of its enforcement.

The Government provides financial assistance to build and maintain mosques.

Singapore's universal conscription into military service does not allow conscientious objectors' status based on religious beliefs. The law provides that those who refuse to be inducted into the military may receive prison sentences of up to 3 years. Those who refuse on religious grounds to perform annual reservist duty may be jailed for 40 days (or for 4 months if court-martialed) every year for such refusal.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

All Singapore citizens and permanent residents over the age of 12 are required to register with the Government and to carry identification cards. After the completion of national service, enlisted men remain liable for reserve training until the age of 40, and officers to age 50. Reservists who plan to travel overseas for less than 6 months must advise the Ministry of Defense. For trips longer than 6 months, reservists must obtain an exit permit. Males approaching national service age must obtain an exit permit in order to study outside Singapore. The Government may deny a passport, and has done so, in the case of former ISA detainees.

The ISA allows the Minister for Law and Home Affairs to suspend or revoke a detention order or to impose restrictions on former detainees' activities, places of residence, and travel abroad. The right of voluntary repatriation is extended to holders of Singaporean passports. In 1985 Parliament provided for the loss of citizenship by Singaporeans who reside outside Singapore for more than 10 years consecutively. Action under this law is discretionary and has been taken in at least one case involving a well-known government opponent, Tan Wah Piaow.

Former Singaporean members of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) residing outside Singapore must appeal to the Government to be allowed to return. They must renounce Communism, sever all organizational ties with the CPM, and pledge not to indulge in activities prejudicial to Singapore's internal security. In addition they must be prepared to be interviewed by the ISD and to abide by any restrictive conditions imposed on them.

Singapore neither accepts the Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indochinese seeking refugee status nor offers first asylum to refugees. Prior to 1991, the Government permitted Vietnamese asylum seekers to disembark if a resettlement country promised to remove them within 90 days and if the rescuing vessel was in Singapore on a scheduled port of call. In June 1991, the Government halted disembarkation on the grounds that resettlement countries had not honored their guarantees of removal. As of September 1, there were 95 asylum seekers at the Hawkins Road camp, all of whom had been denied refugee status through screening procedures conducted by the local office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Persons of other nationalities in Singapore who make claims for asylum are permitted to have their status determined by the UNHCR for possible resettlement elsewhere.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Constitutionally, Singaporeans have the right to change their government peacefully through democratic means and, in fact, the voting and vote-counting systems in elections are fair, accurate, and free from tampering. This was the case in the August presidential election in which the former PAP Deputy Prime Minister received 59 percent of the vote. However, the Government has extensive powers which it uses to place formidable obstacles in the path of political opponents. It also resorts to intimidation, attempting to intimidate the opposition through libel suits and potential loss of employment or professional licenses.

Opposition parties have been unable seriously to challenge the PAP since the late 1960's. Consequently, the PAP's domination of politics in Singapore continues as it had for three decades under the authoritarian leadership of Lee Kuan Yew. The PAP's political success in large part results from government policies which helped Singapore achieve rapid economic growth, thereby enabling the Government to provide a wide array of public services. The PAP enjoys a broad base of popular support, sustained in part through neighborhood, youth, and labor associations.

Political parties, while legally free to organize, are subject to strict regulations on party constitutions, fundraising, and accountability. While the PAP has been able to enjoy the support of ostensibly nonpolitical organizations, the Government has used its broad discretionary powers to hinder the creation of support organizations for the opposition parties. The PAP's grip on power has also been enhanced by patronage; political control of the press, courts, and, to some extent, religion; strong party discipline and performance; and its access to the instruments of power. For example, a government program to refurbish public housing gives priority to PAP constituencies. Government regulations also hinder attempts by opposition parties to rent office space in government housing estates or to establish community foundations which run private kindergartens. The PAP attributes the lack of an effective opposition to disorganization, lack of leadership, and lack of alternative policy programs.

In August Singapore held its first presidential election under 1991 legislation that instituted an elected presidency with expanded powers over civil service appointments, government and statutory board budgets, and internal security affairs. Presidential aspirants were required to obtain prior certification from the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC), a body composed of the Chairman of the Public Service Commission, the Chairman of the Public Accountants Board, and a member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights. The PEC was responsible for screening applicants on the basis of integrity, character, reputation, ability, and experience in managing the financial affairs of a large institution. Eligibility was considered automatic if the candidate had 3 years' experience as a high-ranking public servant or chief executive officer of a large corporation. The committee rejected the applications of two opposition figures – J.B. Jeyaretnam, Secretary General of the Workers' Party and a former M.P., and another Workers' Party member – for not satisfying the eligibility criteria regarding character and financial expertise.

In 1993 two prominent opposition figures were the targets of investigations conducted by government entities that served to intimidate the political opposition. Dr. Chee Soon Juan, a lecturer at the National University of Singapore and deputy secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party, was dismissed from his teaching position in May after a university audit of his financial records uncovered an alleged irregularity involving his use of research funds to express mail his wife's doctoral thesis to her university advisor in the United States. Chee defended his action by arguing that his wife's thesis was relevant to his own research and that he had received prior approval for the mailing from his department chairman, a PAP M.P. Chee, one of the first university lecturers to join an opposition party, rose to prominence during an unsuccessful bid against Prime Minister Goh in the December 1992 by-election. Chee now faces defamation suits from university personnel that stem from remarks he made defending his actions. In the second case, the Singapore Medical Council, a statutory board under the Ministry of Health, found Dr. Tan Bin Seng, chairman of the Workers' Party, guilty on seven counts of "professional misconduct" for overprescribing sleep medication. The Council struck Tan from the medical register, thereby stopping him from practicing medicine. Tan chose not to appeal the case. He can apply for reinstatement on the register after 1 year.

Government leaders continued to use the threat of civil libel or slander suits against opposition leaders. Singapore's Legal Code also provides for criminal defamation offenses, but these provisions are seldom used. In January Singapore Democratic Party politician Ashleigh Seow was threatened with a slander suit by four PAP M.P.'s for making allegedly defamatory remarks during the December 1992 by-election campaign. In his rally speech, Seow called joining the PAP "a very smart career move," and gave examples of Members who had done well since their election to Parliament. Seow settled out-of-court. He agreed to pay the equivalent of $15,000 to charity, pay all legal costs, and place a public retraction and apology in the Straits Times. In April former President Devan Nair withdrew certain statements made in 1988 comparing the behavior of opposition figure Francis Seow with that of Lee Kuan Yew and himself when they were members of the political opposition in the 1960's. Those remarks had prompted a libel suit against Nair filed by Lee Kuan Yew in 1988. Nair's retraction opened the way to a settlement in which Lee waived damages and costs.

There are no female cabinet members and only 2 of the 81 parliamentary seats are occupied by women. Women are also underrepresented in the highest levels of the civil service.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There are no nongovernmental organizations, with the exception of the opposition political parties, that actively and openly monitor alleged human rights violations. While the Government does not formally prohibit them, efforts by any independent organizations to investigate and criticize publicly government human rights policies would face the same obstacles as those faced by political parties. The Government denies that international organizations have any competence whatsoever to look into human rights matters in Singapore. Visa regulations do not recognize monitoring human rights as a "business purpose" for visiting Singapore, but neither is such activity regarded as a "social visit." Amnesty International is not allowed to operate in Singapore.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Because of Singapore's history of intercommunal tension, the Government takes affirmative measures to ensure racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural nondiscrimination. Social, economic, and cultural facilities are available to all citizens regardless of race, religion, or sex. Minorities are constitutionally afforded equal rights, actively participate in the political process, and are well represented throughout the government.


Women enjoy the same legal rights as men in most areas, including civil liberties, employment, commercial activity, and education. The Women's Charter, enacted in 1961, gave women, inter alia, the right to own property, conduct trade, and receive divorce settlements. Muslim women enjoy most of the same rights and protections of the Women's Charter, except that Muslim men are allowed to practice bigamy and may divorce unilaterally whereas Muslim women may not. In 1962 the Government instituted the principle of equal pay for equal work in the civil service and announced the abolition of separate salary scales by 1965. Some areas of discrimination remain. For example, children born overseas to Singaporean women are not granted automatic citizenship as are children born to Singaporean men. Female civil service employees who are married do not receive health benefits for their spouses and dependents as do male government employees. Singapore's Constitution contains no explicit guarantee of equal rights for women.

There is no evidence of any widespread practice of violence or abuse against women. Laws such as the Penal Code and the Women's Charter protect women against domestic violence and sexual or physical harassment. A battered wife can obtain court orders barring the spouse from the home until the court is satisfied that he will stop his aggressive behavior. The Penal Code prescribes mandatory caning and a minimum imprisonment of 2 years for conviction on a charge of outraging modesty that causes the victim fear of death or injury.

Women make up over 50 percent of the labor force and are well-represented in many professional fields, but still hold the preponderance of low-wage jobs as clerks and secretaries. As a result, their average salary levels are only 70 percent those of men. Women hold few leadership positions in the private sector.

A women's organization founded in 1985, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), enjoys increasing prominence among the educated elite and now has 500 members. AWARE issues research publications and sponsors a 24-hour help line for women suffering from domestic abuse or discrimination. In addition to AWARE, there are over 30 professional and service organizations for women.


In 1993 the Government revised and reenacted the Children and Young Persons Act. This Act establishes protective services for those children who are orphaned, abused, disabled or refractory; creates a juvenile court system; and provides for the licensing and operation of children's homes. The Ministry of Community Development works closely with the National Council for Social Services to oversee children's welfare cases. The operation of most homes for children is carried out by voluntary organizations. The Government funds up to 50 percent of all child costs, which includes normal living expenses and overhead, as well as expenses for special schooling or supervisory needs. A 1993 U.N. Children's Fund report entitled "Progress of Nations," concerning child welfare criteria, rated Singapore very favorably on infant mortality rates, access to primary education, and availability of vaccinations.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Constitution acknowledges the "special position" of Malays as the indigenous people of Singapore, and charges the Government to support and promote their "political, educational, religious, economic, social, and cultural interests." The Government has concentrated on creating equality of opportunity, especially in education, and does not promote the concept of equality in result, instead leaving it up to the ethnic communities, individual initiative, and the marketplace to determine economic success. Malays currently hold 12 percent of the seats in Parliament, in part the result of government legislation requiring a minority representative in selected constituencies. A presidential council on minority rights examines all current and pending bills to ensure that they are not disadvantageous to a particular ethnic group. It also reports to the Government on matters affecting any racial or religious community and investigates complaints.

Unlike the Indian or Eurasian communities, which have achieved economic and educational success rates on a par with the majority Chinese, Malay Singaporeans still have a lower standard of living, although the gap has diminished in recent years. Malays remain underrepresented at the uppermost rungs of the corporate ladder, a reflection of their historically lower educational and economic position, but also a result of de facto employment discrimination. Job advertisements sometimes specify the ethnicity and gender required of applicants or require fluent Mandarin speakers.

People with Disabilities

The Government implemented a comprehensive code on barrier-free accessibility in 1990 which established standards for facilities for the physically disabled in all new buildings and mandated the progressive upgrading of older structures. Although there is no legislation that addresses the issue of equal opportunities for the disabled in education or employment, the National Council of Social Services, in conjunction with various voluntary associations, provides an extensive job training and placement program for the disabled. Informal provisions in education have permitted university matriculation for visually handicapped, deaf, and physically disabled students. The Government allows the equivalent of a $2,000 tax deduction for families with a disabled person.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution gives all citizens the right to form associations, including trade unions. Parliament may, however, impose restrictions based on security, public order, or morality grounds. The right of association is delimited by the Societies Act and by labor and education laws and regulations. The Trades Union Act authorizes the formation of unions with broad rights, albeit with some narrow restrictions, such as prohibitions on the unionization of uniformed employees and of the holding of union office by persons with criminal records. The national labor force comprises about 1.65 million employees, of whom more than 233,000 are organized into 83 employee unions. Seventy-four of these unions, representing almost 99 percent of all unionized workers, are affiliated with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), an umbrella organization which has a close relationship with the Government.

The NTUC unabashedly acknowledges that its interests are closely linked with those of the ruling PAP, a relationship often described by both as "symbiotic." For example, President Ong Teng Cheong served simultaneously as NTUC Secretary General and second deputy Prime Minister before assuming his current position in September. His successor at the NTUC, Lim Boon Heng, was formerly second Minister for Trade and Industry and continues as Minister without Portfolio. In addition, several other high-ranking NTUC officials are PAP M.P.'s. NTUC policy prohibits union members who actively support opposition parties from holding office in affiliated unions. While the NTUC is financially independent of the PAP, with income generated by NTUC-owned businesses, the NTUC and PAP share the same ideology.

Workers, other than those in essential services, have the legal right to strike but rarely do so; the most recent strike took place in 1986. Most disagreements are resolved through informal consultations with the Ministry of Labor. If conciliation fails, the disputing parties usually submit their case to the Industrial Arbitration Court, which has representatives from labor, management, and the Government. These labor dispute mechanisms, along with the PAP/NTUC nexus, have played important roles in creating amicable labor relations. The Government also attributes the rarity of strikes to a cultural aversion to confrontation, high economic growth rates, and labor shortages in recent years that have sustained regular wage increases, and to the popular conviction that strikes would undermine Singapore's attractiveness to investors.

The NTUC is free to associate regionally and internationally.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Collective bargaining is a normal part of management-labor relations, particularly in the manufacturing sector. Agreements between management and labor are renewed every 2 to 3 years, although wage increases are negotiated annually. Collective bargaining agreements generally follow the guidelines issued by the National Wages Council (NWC), a group composed of labor, management, and government representatives, that makes annual recommendations regarding salary and bonus packages. The Industrial Relations Act makes it an offense to discriminate against anyone who is or proposes to become a member or an officer of a trade union. The offense is punishable by a fine equivalent to $1,250 and/or a 12-month prison sentence. Labor laws and regulations are enforced uniformly. There are no export-processing zones, nor are special concessions given to firms producing for export.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Under sections of Singapore's Destitute Persons Act, any indigent person may be required to reside in a welfare home and engage in suitable work. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has criticized the coercive terms of this act, which includes penal sanctions, on the grounds that it is not in compliance with the ILO Convention on Forced Labor, ratified by Singapore in 1965. The Government maintains that the act is social legislation providing for the shelter, care, and protection of destitute persons; that no one is coerced to work; and that work programs are designed towards reintegrating individuals back into society.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Government enforces the Employment Act, which prohibits the employment of children under age 12. A child over age 12 and under age 14 must receive written permission from the Commissioner for Labor for "light work suited to his capacity." Through September, no applications were made in 1993, and all seven such applications made in 1992 were disapproved by the Commissioner. Nonetheless, the Government has chosen not to harmonize its legislation with the requirements of the Convention on Minimum Age (Industry), as recommended by the ILO. Employers must notify the Ministry of Labor within 30 days of hiring a child between the ages of 14 and 16 and must forward medical certification to the Commissioner. The incidence of children taking up permanent employment is also low and abuses are almost nonexistent.

Ministry of Labor regulations prohibit night employment of children and restrict industrial work to no more than 7 hours a day. Children cannot work on commercial vessels, with any machinery in motion, on live electrical apparatus lacking effective insulation, or in any underground job. These laws and regulations are effectively enforced by the Ministry of Labor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Singapore has no minimum wage or unemployment compensation. The labor market offers relatively high wages and good working conditions. The Employment Act sets the standard legal workweek at 44 hours, and provides for 1 rest day each week. Laws and regulations establishing working conditions are effectively enforced by the Ministry of Labor, as are comprehensive occupational safety and health laws. Enforcement procedures, coupled with the promotion of educational and training programs, have reduced the frequency of job-related accidents by a third over the past decade. There has also been a reduction in the average severity of occupational accidents. While a worker has the right under the Employment Act to remove himself from a dangerous work situation, his right to continued employment depends upon an investigation of the circumstances by the Ministry of Labor.

Because of the domestic labor shortage, over 250,000 foreign workers are employed legally in Singapore, 16 percent of the total work force. Most are unskilled laborers and household servants from other Asian countries. Foreign workers face no legal wage discrimination; however, they are concentrated in low-wage, low-skill jobs. Some 65,000 foreign maids, mainly from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, are employed in Singapore, and there have been complaints of abuse or poor working conditions. The Government does not bar complainants from seeking legal redress and takes a firm stand against employers who abuse their domestic servants. Foreign workers may find it difficult to obtain legal assistance, however, because the Government closed the Geylang Catholic Center in 1987 and no other organization exists to provide legal aid to foreign workers with less than 3 years' residence in Singapore. Employers who have abused domestics have been fined or imprisoned, often with great publicity.

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