Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A view from Singapore,

Replace Women’s Charter with Family Charter 29th, 2010 | Contributions current surge in gang violence, that not only leads to injury but also death, amongst youths is something we have not witnessed before. Over the last five years, I have been hearing from friends who are police investigators who pointed out to a rising trend in youth gangs, youth violence and juvenile crime across a certain section of youths. My police friends explained that though it is unclear if overall youth crimes and violence is increasing, the rise within that section of youth is worrisome. One police friend shared with me about an incident in Far East Plaza about 5 years ago whereby a CID officer was chased by a group of youths armed with parang. My police friend said “when in the history of Singapore have we ever seen CID officers running and youths chasing and also with a weapon… CID officers always have had a fierce reputation whereby only others flee at their sight”. Another police friend told me that he has been seeing an increase in crimes involving youths as young as 17 years old carrying weapons and stealing or robbing. As I stated earlier, this thing has been a rising trend for last five years. Though the field police officers want to combat this, the police management basically takes the usual complacent Singapore civil service attitude of “lets not open a can of worms”.
Each time my police friends share these stories with me, I always asked them what they thought was the common root problem. They cited that these kids often come from divorced families or seperated parents. They shared that unlike in earlier decades where the divorce families were also often associated with other problems, lower literacy and lower socio-economic status, these kids often do come from families where their single parent having care rights and control rights over them are white coller, well educated and coming from good socio-economic background.
The police officers blamed how womens’ charter was radically implemented in Singapore and pointed out that the women’s charter though having empowered women have instead failed to put in place checks, create a balance or moderation in that empowerment process to allow a peaceful co-existance between seperated or divorced parents for the benefit of the children. When I went to review the women’s charter with friends from other countries who are trained legal experts, they pointed out there is absolutely no check, no balance to prevent even the worst abuses by women against their husbands or ex-husbands. They also pointed out that the womens’ charter has in place only weak, useless and superficial processes for amicable dispute resolution between the mother and father of the child. Instead what is in place is legal ballistic weaponry for full battle against the husband. Hence when the typical mechanisms in the womens’ charter are extremely hostile towards one gender, given seperations/divorces/custody disputes/alimony disputes/maintenance disputes are essentially domestic problems the dispute then only grows bigger and not smaller and drags for a longer period than concluding faster.
When the couple is facing stress in the marriage, the Womens’ Charter provides greater mechanisms for hostile take out than for peaceful reconciliation. The couple basically have just 2 to 3 opportunities at lame and weak counselling or mediating sessions with the least qualified social workers. If that fails, then what is available is operation ‘take out’. Lawyers whom the couple engage from the beginning aggravate the situation because their remuneration lies when the couple go to court and divorce/annul their marriage. The lawyers profit little in peaceful reconciliations.
After the divorce, during the next few decades when the parents are alive, when there is again dispute over maintenance whatsover there is absolutely no proper mechanisms for peaceful and amicable resolution of the issue. Instead they need to go to court again and courts are by nature not positive mechanisms for family issues. There again the womens’ charter provides another set of ballistic missiles for another operation ‘take out’.
In this whole process, the one who reaps no benefit nor even sadistic pleasure is the children. They face enormous mental pressures in such situations. Watching their parents tear each other apart in court itself is not a pleasant experience for them. It does not help their self-esteem at all when they see their friends having normal families doing families activities. Even when the parent remarries, the child cannot refer to that person as father or mother in the presence of his/her friends like how their friends do. The parents also try to make up for the situation through pampering.
I annaecdotally surveyed children from a 2-3 families in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia where the parents divorced and the kids grew up in such a divorced family. I found that in those families in Malaysia and Indonesia where they had great extended family support or relative support or neighbours support on a daily basis, they turned out well in terms of completion of tertiary education, non-participation in crime or violence, non-participation in drugs/smoking/alcohol etc. On the other hand, in the Singapore case since there is no support on daily basis from extended family, neighbours or relatives, the kids tend to end up with the wrong company of friends and aimlessly search for a purpose and self-worth in life and try to achieve it through risk taking activities such as gangs, sex, alcohol, drugs, violence, smoking.
What is clear is that though Womens groups in Singapore, where lawyers are largely represented, may proclaim victories in being able to set up punitive legal mechanisms within the Womens’ charter, they need to claim resonsibility in creating hostile environment for divorced couples to sort out their families issues over their lifetimes and in that process affecting a generation of kids pushing them to resort to directions which society can ill afford to see them head into. They need to take responsiblity for destroying the destiny of a generation of divorced children in order to protect the well-being and rights of divorced women.
What is required now is action to replace the Womens’ charter with Family charter which creates not just checks but also balances and which ensures the lifelong well-being of the child is protected. The primary focus should not be about only the protection of women but instead women, children, men collectively. The reform of the Womens’ Charter to Family Charter need to be headed by non-lawyers and instead by social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists.
Singaporean Observor

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