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Singapore: Update to SGP27100.E of 23 June 1997 regarding the recourse and protection available to women who are victims of spousal abuse; whether restraining orders are issued and enforced; whether men who abuse their wives are prosecuted

Publisher Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 28 April 2003
Citation / Document Symbol SGP41069.E
Reference 2
Cite as Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Singapore: Update to SGP27100.E of 23 June 1997 regarding the recourse and protection available to women who are victims of spousal abuse; whether restraining orders are issued and enforced; whether men who abuse their wives are prosecuted , 28 April 2003, SGP41069.E , available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3f7d4e173.html [accessed 20 April 2014]
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.

On 1 May 1997, the government of Singapore enacted the Women's Charter Amendment Bill, which "include[s] provisions for the protection of victims of domestic violence and giv[es] the police more power to arrest abusers" (SCWO 2002). According to the Women's Charter, "'[f]amily violence' means the commission of any of the following acts":

(a) willfully or knowingly placing, or attempting to place, a family member in fear of hurt;

(b) causing hurt to a family member by such act which is known or ought to have been known would result in hurt;

(c) wrongfully confining or restraining a family member against his will; or

(d) causing continual harassment with intent to cause or knowing that it is likely to cause anguish to a family member, but does not include any force lawfully used in self-defence, or by way of correction towards a child below 21 years of age (Singapore 1997, Sec. 64).

The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), a non-governmental women's organization working towards gender equality in Singapore, reports that

in recent years, there has been greater co-ordination to manage family violence among the various agencies involved such as the police, the courts, the hospitals as well as Voluntary Welfare Organizations [and], in particular, Family Service Centres (FSCs) which are community based and have social workers who are trained to deal with family violence (15 Apr. 2003).

In their consideration of Singapore's initial and second periodic reports, the United Nation's Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) acknowledged "with appreciation" Singapore's amendments to the Women's Charter, including "the Government's multidisciplinary and inter-agency approach to victims of family violence involving the courts, police, hospitals and social service agencies" (UN 31 July 2001).

According to the Director of AWARE, the legislation on spousal abuse is enforced in Singapore and

allows the court to issue a Personal Protection Order (PPO) or Expedited Order (EO) restraining someone from using violence against a spouse, ex-spouse, child or family member. The court can also order the person to move out of the residence by issuing a Domestic Exclusion Order (DEO) to the perpetrator.

A point to note is that this applies to married women against (ex)-spouses under the Women's Charter; a single woman cannot file for a protection order against her partner who does not come under the definition of family member. In such cases the victim may have to engage a private lawyer to pursue the case through a private complaint (commonly known as a private summons).

[Moreover], [t]here is ... no recognition of Marital Rape. Under Penal Code 375 (1985 Ed.,) "sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 13 years of age, is not rape" (15 Apr. 2003).

Either a victim of domestic violence or, in cases of minors, a guardian or relative can file an application for a protection order against a violent spouse, or any violent family member, in Singapore (Singapore 1997, Sec. 65). However, as noted above, couples who are cohabitating are not eligible to apply for a protection order under the Women's Charter (The Straits Times 19 July 2001).

Protection orders, depending on the type, may exclude a violent person from a shared residence or from a specified area within a residence, direct a violent person to counselling services or provide other relevant recommendations (Singapore 1997, Sec. 65). An expedited order may be issued by the court if a person is in "imminent danger" of violence (ibid., Sec. 66).

Regarding the enforcement of protection orders, AWARE states that

[i]n seizable offences (eg. Criminal intimidation and Voluntary causing grievous bodily hurt under the Penal Code) the police can arrest the alleged offender without an arrest warrant. The Police can also arrest those that breach the protection order (issued after 1 May 97). [Protection orders] issued before 1 May 97 with an attached warrant of arrest also result in arrest should there be a breach.

Perpetrators who are ‘recalcitrant' and have breached the [protection order] twice before will not be released on bail and can be charged in court within 48 hours of custody (15 Apr. 2003).

A person who knowingly breaches their protection order "shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to both" (Singapore 1997, Sec. 65). Repeat offenders are subject to higher fines or a prison term of one year, or both (ibid.).

Although the laws to protect victims of domestic violence are enforced in Singapore, the Director of AWARE maintains that "they are not foolproof" (15 Apr. 2003). The Director points out that even after a protection order has been issued, some couples continue to live together and various types of abuse may reoccur (AWARE 15 Apr. 2003). Attached to this Response is a December 2001 Research Bulletin, published by the Subordinate Courts of Singapore, on the effectiveness of protection orders. It indicates that protection orders issued against violent spouses "are highly effective in enhancing the quality of life of the applicants and their children" (Singapore Dec. 2001, 9). However, the Bulletin also states that protection orders are less effective in addressing non-physical forms of abuse such as harassment and threats (ibid.).

Country Reports 2001 observes that the Charter's broad definition of what constitutes domestic violence has resulted in an increase in protection orders being filed against family members in Singapore (4 Mar. 2002, Sec. 5). According to The Straits Times, the number of protection order applications increased from 1,306 in 1996 to 2,730 in 1998 (29 July 1999). The Research Directorate was unable to find more recent reports on the number of protection orders filed in Singapore.

Information on whether men who abuse their wives are prosecuted in Singapore was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. A 7 April 2003 Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) article documents the jailing of a repeat wife-beater; however, The Straits Times reports that some women may "fall through the cracks [of the] networking system used by the police, hospitals and voluntary welfare organizations to alert each other about victims of family violence" (19 July 2001). The Straits Times article discusses the plight of one woman, who, because she was living with an abusive partner but was not married to him, was therefore ineligible for a protection order (19 July 2001). Other factors that can affect whether someone is protected from a violent partner or spouse in Singapore include "doctors avoid[ing] speculation on injuries out of respect for a person's privacy," time constraints at shelters and the victim's readiness for help (The Straits Times 19 July 2001).

An article on spousal abuse published in the Singapore Medical Journal provides a discussion of the legal procedures and actions to protect victims of domestic violence as well as a contact list of temporary shelters, family counselling services, hotlines and legal assistance offices available in Singapore (July 1997). The Director of AWARE provided the following information on agencies and resources in Singapore which assist spousal abuse victims:

Promoting Alternatives to Violence (PAVe) is [a Family Service Centre] which ... specialises in helping families who are experiencing violence at home. There is also a Family Violence Dialogue Group jointly chaired by the Ministry of Community Development and Sports (MCDS) and the Police that was formed in Feb 2001. Regional networking meetings among the various agencies are also organised. The Family and Child Protection and Welfare Branch of MCDS has recently issued a resource entitled "Integrated Management of Family Violence Cases In Singapore" (15 Apr. 2003).

Finally, an 11 November 1999 article in The Straits Times reported that homeless shelters might also be used by abused individuals, families and couples seeking a temporary reprieve from domestic violence.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE). 15 April 2003. Correspondence sent by the Director.

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001. 4 March 2002. United States Department of State. Washington, DC. [Accessed 9 Apr. 2003]

Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA). 7 April 2003. "Singaporean Wife-Beater Back in Jail for Third Time." (NEXIS)

Singapore. December 2001. Subordinate Courts. Research Bulletin. No. 28. "Study of the Effectiveness of Protection Orders." [Accessed 16 Apr. 2003]

_____. 1997. Ministry of Law. Women's Charter. Part VII: Protection of Family.

[Accessed 9 Apr. 2003]

Singapore Council of Women's Organizations (SCWO). 2002. "Milestones: Women in Signapore." [Accessed 9 Apr. 2003]

Singapore Medical Journal. July 1997. Vol 38, No. 7. E Tzer Wong. "What You Need to Know: Spousal Abuse (II)." [Accessed 9 Apr. 2003]

The Straits Times [Singapore]. 19 July 2001. Braema Mathi. "Battered and Blinded, But Help Was Slow in Coming." (NEXIS)

_____. 11 November 1999. Braema Mathi. "Seeking Shelter from the Pain." (NEXIS)

_____. 29 July 1999. Tan Hui Yee. "A Refuge for Victims of Family Violence." (NEXIS)

United Nations (UN). 31 July 2001. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). "Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women: Singapore." Twenty-fifth Session 2-20 July 2001. [Accessed 10 Apr. 2003]

Attachment

Singapore. December 2001. Subordinate Courts. Research Bulletin. No. 28. "Study of the Effectiveness of Protection Orders." [Accessed 16 Apr. 2003]

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB Databases

LEXIS/NEXIS

Internet sites, including:

Asian Women's Welfare Association

Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE)

CNN Asia

Family Town

Ministry of Community Development and Sports

Singapore Council of Women's Organizations

Singapore Association of Women Lawyers

Subordinate Court of Singapore

Think Centre

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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