Why It Matters

Protecting married women

There may soon be an end to the law that grants immunity to men who rape their wives.

Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said in Parliament last week that a review of the law on marital rape is under way to ensure that married women have the same protection against violence as unmarried women.

The move would take Singapore a step further in sending a strong signal that violence within marriage will not be tolerated.

The laws were last changed a decade ago to recognise marital rape - but only under certain circumstances, such as if divorce proceedings had begun.

Until 2007, the concept of marital rape was not recognised here.

It was a point of contention for many, including the Association of Women for Action and Research, whose head of advocacy and research Jolene Tan said "any non-consensual penetration is rape".

As law don Eugene Tan puts it, letting men violate their wives betrays a misogynistic mindset.

Singapore has done a lot to promote the equal treatment of women in schools and the workplace.

But the immunity clause seems to say that women have no control over their bodies once they enter into marriage.

The Government may be wary that abolishing immunity may lead to false allegations of rape, or open up criminal proceedings that are overly intrusive to families.

But these are issues that can be worked out through consulting various stakeholders.

Taking husbands to task for rape would present a more consistent and coherent image of the state's view on women.

It would also bring the law in line with other existing forms of protection for women, like those against marital violence.

Most importantly, it makes clear that marriage does not absolve men who commit any form of violence against women.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2017, with the headline 'Protecting married women'. Print Edition | Subscribe