More foreign wives seek help after Singaporean husbands abuse them, leave, land in jail or die

Chinese national Ning Lei, who gave birth to triplets last year after her Singaporean husband walked out on the marriage, had to stay at a church friend's home. The three girls, who were stateless previously, were granted citizenship last month.
Chinese national Ning Lei, who gave birth to triplets last year after her Singaporean husband walked out on the marriage, had to stay at a church friend's home. The three girls, who were stateless previously, were granted citizenship last month.ST FILE PHOTO

More foreign wives seek help after S'porean husbands abuse them, leave, land in jail or die

More foreign brides are seeking help after being left to fend for themselves due to absent or abusive Singaporean husbands.

This follows the surge in the increase in the number of local men marrying women from various parts of Asia in the last decade.

These women find themselves in a quandary, especially those with children, when their spouses abandon them, turn violent, land in jail or fall ill and die.

The Catholic-run Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI) received 240 calls for help from foreign wives, and handled 46 cases involving them last year, compared to 210 calls and 30 cases in 2011.

The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) got 55 similar calls for help last year, a fivefold increase from just 10 in 2011.

  • 240

    Calls for help from foreign wives received by the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People last year. In 2011, the figure was 210.

    5,126

    Number of Singapore men who married non-resident brides in 2014. In 2002, the number was 3,988.

    7,146

    Number of babies born to Singaporean fathers and non-citizen mothers in 2014. Out of them, 2,185 had mothers who were Malaysian.

Fei Yue Family Service Centre has also seen an increase of 20 to 30 per cent in the number of such cases compared with five years ago, according to its principal social worker, Ms Joanne Tan. She said: "The rise in transnational marriages here means that more such marriages may be on the rocks."

UNAWARE OF THEIR RIGHTS

If they have Singaporean children, there are schemes to help them but the issue is that some of them are not aware of their rights or do not know where to turn to.

MRS CINDY NG, an assistant director at Methodist Welfare Services, on the lack of knowledge among some foreign wives on where to get help.


MARRIAGE BREAKDOWNS

The rise in transnational marriages here means that more such marriages may be on the rocks. ''

MS JOANNE TAN, principal social worker at Fei Yue Family Service Centre.

Latest figures show that 5,126 citizen grooms married non-resident brides in 2014, nearly a 30 per cent jump from the 3,988 in 2002. Such unions accounted for about one in five marriages in 2014.

Over the last decade, more than 50,000 Singaporeans married foreign women who are not citizens or permanent residents.

Social workers say these women tend to be more vulnerable when their husbands leave because of a change of heart, jail or death, as they do not have residence status in Singapore or any family members here to rely on. Some also endure spousal abuse as they depend on the support of their husbands when it comes to renewing their visit passes so they can stay in Singapore.

Those on a long-term visit pass plus can stay here for three years and up to five years for each subsequent renewal. Long-term visit pass holders can typically stay up to a year.

Said Ms Vivienne Wee, Aware's research and advocacy director: "Renewals are not guaranteed and there is no clear timeline or criteria for obtaining a more stable basis of residence."

Said Ms Tan: "When they come to us, most of them already show some form of depressive symptoms."

Finding a job to support themselves and their children is tough.

Those on social visit passes cannot be employed here. Those on long-term visit pass can work but employers need to get permission from the Ministry of Manpower first. And even if they do get jobs, these are usually daily rated or low paying, as these women typically lack qualifications, said Mrs Cindy Ng, an assistant director at Methodist Welfare Services.

Some women also do not turn to their husbands' extended family since ties often sour when the marriage breaks down. Some may be kicked out of their homes and are faced with another predicament - they are not eligible to rent or buy a public flat.

Chinese national Ning Lei, a 35-year-old who gave birth to triplets last year after her Singaporean husband walked out on the marriage, had to stay at a church friend's home, for instance.

The three girls, who were stateless previously, were granted citizenship last month.

Singaporean children from foreign spouses can benefit from government subsidies in aspects such as childcare, education and medical care, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

In 2014, 16.9 per cent of all babies, or 7,146 newborns, had a Singaporean father and a non-citizen mother, up from 15.6 in 2000. Malaysian mums top the list of foreign women who had babies with Singaporean men. There were 2,185 newborns from such unions in 2014.

 

Social workers say foreign wives who have Singaporean children and go to them for help can be referred to the Social Service Offices (SSOs) for Comcare financial aid.

 

"In addition to SSOs providing financial assistance to the family, we will also partner social workers from Family Service Centres and other community organisations to provide assistance should the foreign parent face other issues such as employment and caregiving," said the MSF spokesman.

Said Mrs Ng: "If they have Singaporean children, there are schemes to help them but the issue is that some of them are not aware of their rights or do not know where to turn to."

Ms Tan recalled a case where an Indonesian wife got help to treat her depression only after the school noticed that her child had behavioural issues and referred the family to the authorities. The Singaporean father left the family last year.

Aware does provide information on their rights and the divorce process here. But social workers have called for more to be done, with some suggesting that non-profit groups or government agencies should reach out to every foreign bride. Ms Esther Chia, ACMI's executive director, suggested getting transnational couples to sign legally binding pre-nuptial contracts that outline the terms each party has to comply with should the marriages break down. Said Ms Chia: "Now, the playing field is not level."

•Additional reporting by Aw Cheng Wei

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 10, 2016, with the headline 'Left to fend for themselves'. Print Edition | Subscribe