Cohabitation, relaxing divorce laws contradict S'pore family values

While I appreciate the insight and empirical data provided in the report to raise the marriage and fertility rates, I have deep reservations about the policy recommendations (Marriage, families under stress as norms change; May 17).

The writers have reminded us of the Singapore family values of love, care and concern; filial responsibility; mutual respect; commitment; and communication.

However, their recommendations of cohabitation before marriage or relaxing divorce laws contradict these values, especially the value of commitment.

It is impossible to reconcile the ideas that "there is a way out if the marriage does not work out" or keeping spouses "on their toes" through the possibility of easier divorce with the notion of genuine love, care and concern between a husband and wife.

They have also offered no evidence for their argument that cohabitation or relaxed divorce laws may increase the number of marriages.

Instead, available evidence shows that cohabitation and divorce have negative effects on children.

At the 17th Conference of Chief Justices of Asia and the Pacific last year, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon highlighted the findings of American psychologists that "children of divorced families are more than twice as likely to have behavioural, social and academic problems as are children of intact families".

It is impossible to reconcile the ideas that "there is a way out if the marriage does not work out" or keeping spouses "on their toes" through the possibility of easier divorce with the notion of genuine love, care and concern between a husband and wife.

According to a 2015 study published in the Future Of Children journal, cohabitation has also been linked to reduced well-being in children, including poverty, lower education and family instability.

Children should not be regarded as objects in this discussion on fertility.

Rather, the best interests of children should be considered and their needs must take precedence over the desires of adults.

This includes the inherent right of every child to know and, as far as possible, be cared for by his mother and father.

In an increasingly ephemeral age, the fundamental cultural shift and institutional adaptation our society needs is not to further embrace the temporary, but to uphold the values of unconditional, lifelong love.

Darius Lee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2018, with the headline 'Cohabitation, relaxing divorce laws contradict S'pore family values'. Print Edition | Subscribe