Couples at risk of family violence to get more help at improved marriage preparation programmes

The Task Force on Family Violence recommended changes to marriage preparation programmes for young couples who may be at higher risk of family violence. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Couples who are likely to face more hurdles in their married life will get more help when improved marriage preparation programmes are rolled out as part of efforts to better tackle domestic violence.

This includes couples who marry and have children before age 21.

They are part of a group of people that is disproportionately more likely to have applied for a personal protection order (PPO) or have one filed against them, a study done last year by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and National Council of Social Services found.

Out of about 50,000 people who have been married at least once and was born in 1980 and 1985, 831 filed a PPO application.

On the other hand, 630 people had a PPO application made against them.

The study found that 28 per cent of those who had applied for PPOs got married and became parents at an early age.

It also found that of those who had PPOs filed against them, 17 per cent had married and had children early.

The Taskforce on Family Violence, in a report released on Thursday (Sept 23), recommended changes to marriage preparation programmes for young couples who may be at higher risk of family violence.

Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling, when asked at a media briefing if the programme should be made mandatory for couples aged above 21, said: "Our study has shown that when they marry early, and when they are financially not so stable, indeed, they are presented with more risk. We would like to strongly encourage them to attend these marriage prep courses.

"For those who are slightly above 21 years old, whether or not we can make this mandatory for these couples, I think we would like it to be, but I think… we would wait to hear from (the Government) as to their views on it."

Ms Sun helms the task force with Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.

The task force report said the marriage preparation programme has been modified to include topics such as negative childhood experiences and their impact on relationships, couples' assessment of the health of their relationship, and more resources to support couples in their marriage journey.

The report also recommended that couples who have had contact with MSF protective and rehabilitative services be encouraged to attend the marriage preparation programme.

Currently, under the Women's Charter and Administration of Muslim Law Act, only couples who are minors - at least one person is aged 18 but under 21 - are required to attend the programme before submitting a marriage application.

The moves are part of a raft of recommendations aimed at raising awareness of family violence, changing negative perceptions among people and boosting preventive efforts for those at risk.

A key thrust of the report is a set of initiatives to detect and prevent family violence before matters come to a head.

The task force report also recommended updating the MSF Break the Silence public awareness campaign against family violence, which began in November 2016.

When MSF evaluated the campaign in 2020, its survey results suggested that the campaign has not reached a sizeable proportion of Singapore's population.

In future versions of the campaign, the task force suggested that different types of abuse be better explained, and to send a message that those who engage in family violence can get help.

It also recommended looking at ways to encourage quick and discreet reporting by those who are victims of violence.

For example, a hand signal could be adopted as a subtle call for help, as has been done in other countries, and the use of this method could be promoted as part of the Break the Silence campaign.

Age-appropriate material should also be developed to educate children and young people on healthy, respectful interactions and relationships, the task force report said.

Ms Sun said: "We also would like these initiatives to start young so that young children, boys and girls, recognise that violence is not the way to resolve conflict."

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