Religious bodies have key role in tackling family violence in S’pore: Sun Xueling

Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling (centre) and representatives of various faiths at a panel discussion on how religious organisations can identify and help victims of family violence. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

SINGAPORE – Religious organisations play an important role in Singapore, where 80 per cent of residents have a religious affiliation and their beliefs shape their attitudes towards familial roles and responsibilities. 

Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling made this observation on Saturday at an interfaith event, and said religious organisations can provide a safe space for people to talk about family violence and seek help.

She added: “Our ethnic heritage, cultural traditions, religious beliefs, societal norms... form our attitudes towards how men and women engage each other. They also influence... the mutual respect we pay each other and behaviours we deem appropriate and acceptable.” 

She was delivering the opening address at the event held at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability. It was attended by 110 participants, most of whom are from religious organisations and social service agencies. 

The event was organised by the Jurong Family Violence Working Group, which brings together social service agencies, religious institutions and other stakeholders in the area, to address family and domestic violence.

Underlining how family violence remains a concern, Ms Sun said that in 2017, the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s Child Protective Service and Adult Protective Service received 3,300 and 480 inquiries, respectively. By 2020, these had risen to 5,200 and 1,200. 

Family violence goes beyond physical abuse, and includes neglect as well as psychological, sexual and emotional abuse, Ms Sun said. She also noted how violence that takes place in a domestic setting may be less visible. 

She said: “We need the helpful eyes of the public to identify these cases and report (them) where possible and necessary so that survivors can seek help.

“No one should suffer in silence. We can build a safer environment for the next generation and strengthen our family unit.” 

On Saturday, representatives of various faiths held a panel discussion on how religious organisations can identify and help victims of family violence. 

Ms Susila Ganesan, a member of the Hindu Advisory Board, said that in 2022, she learnt that a housewife in her 40s was being beaten by her husband, after the woman told a temple volunteer about her situation. 

Ms Ganesan said: “At temples, it’s common for people to seek divine help when they are going through a tough period of time. We train our temple administrative staff to identify issues we can address.” 

In her speech, Ms Sun had noted that there may be instances of people misinterpreting religious verses or using religion unjustifiably to commit violence. 

Ms Ganesan said the husband used the Hindu concept of karma to justify his actions and the breakdown of his marriage. During counselling, she advised the man to consider how his actions have hurt his wife and will affect his karma. 

After the panel discussion, a participant asked how religious organisations can balance the virtue of forgiveness, which many faiths believe in, with the need to tackle abuse. 

Reverend Terry Kee, the pastor of Jurong Christian Church, said: “Forgiveness does not mean someone should subject themselves to abuse again and again. Retaliating will aggravate the situation, but not doing anything will not solve the problem.” 

Church leaders conduct regular house visits, Rev Kee said, and when a family seeks help, the leaders do their best to listen and understand the situation before offering emotional support or other forms of help such as counselling and financial aid.

With regard to family violence, Rev Kee said: “It’s natural to be angry, but you have to learn how to deal with your anger. These actions can cause long-lasting impact. Physical hurt can heal quite quickly, but the emotional hurt sometimes lasts a lifetime.” 

People can call the National Anti-Violence and Sexual Harassment Helpline on 1800-777-0000 if someone they know is experiencing violence.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.