With husband in jail, wife and 2 kids rely on handouts

When her Singaporean husband was jailed for drug offences three years ago, Madam Siti became head of the household and sole carer of their two sons.

"It's not easy," said the 36-year- old Indonesian. "Every day, I am busy cooking, cleaning and taking my children to school."

Without her husband's $1,700 monthly income from his job as a driver, the family has to rely on about $900 a month, given by the Community Development Council, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore and her mother-in-law.

Her sons, aged three and five, attend pre-school at different times, and she shuttles them around in the day and prepares their meals. The rent for their one-room unit in Jurong is $50 a month after subsidies, and as long as their utilities bill is under $60, they do not have to pay it.

"I am most scared about my children falling sick," said Madam Siti. Last month, her older son caught a cold and she could not afford $60 to take him to a private clinic. They waited for three hours at a polyclinic. Groceries, transport and phone charges add up to about $780.

She said her husband's incarceration has made her more independent. "He didn't allow me to go out without him," said Madam Siti.

"Without him, I learnt to take the bus and train to different places."

She is sometimes afraid to venture out as "my English is no good". "I want to work so I can stand (on my own)," she said. "I am scared my husband will go to jail again."

Her husband is due to be released in 2018. Madam Siti is currently on a long-term visit pass that needs to be renewed every year. She is eligible to work here, provided an employer applies for a letter of consent from the Manpower Ministry.

She has lost count of the number of part-time jobs she has applied for - from cleaning to waitressing. But no employer has contacted her.

"I don't try any more," she said.

She married her husband five years ago and she suspects he may have been incarcerated previously. They met through a mutual friend in Batam in 2009.

Madam Siti's "dream" is to work as a masseuse for women who have just given birth.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 10, 2016, with the headline 'With husband in jail, wife and 2 kids rely on handouts'. Subscribe