Monday 11 April 2016

More foreign wives seek help after Singaporean husbands abuse them, leave, land in jail or die

Left to fend for themselves
By Janice Tai, The Sunday Times, 10 Apr 2016

More foreign brides are seeking help after being left to fend for themselves due to absent or abusive Singaporean husbands.

This follows the surge in the increase in the number of local men marrying women from various parts of Asia in the last decade.

These women find themselves in a quandary, especially those with children, when their spouses abandon them, turn violent, land in jail or fall ill and die.

The Catholic-run Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI) received 240 calls for help from foreign wives, and handled 46 cases involving them last year, compared to 210 calls and 30 cases in 2011.

The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) got 55 similar calls for help last year, a fivefold increase from just 10 in 2011.

Fei Yue Family Service Centre has also seen an increase of 20 to 30 per cent in the number of such cases compared with five years ago, according to its principal social worker, Ms Joanne Tan. She said: "The rise in transnational marriages here means that more such marriages may be on the rocks."

Latest figures show that 5,126 citizen grooms married non-resident brides in 2014, nearly a 30 per cent jump from the 3,988 in 2002. Such unions accounted for about one in five marriages in 2014.

Over the last decade, more than 50,000 Singaporeans married foreign women who are not citizens or permanent residents.

Social workers say these women tend to be more vulnerable when their husbands leave because of a change of heart, jail or death, as they do not have residence status in Singapore or any family members here to rely on. Some also endure spousal abuse as they depend on the support of their husbands when it comes to renewing their visit passes so they can stay in Singapore.

Those on a long-term visit pass plus can stay here for three years and up to five years for each subsequent renewal. Long-term visit pass holders can typically stay up to a year.

Said Ms Vivienne Wee, Aware's research and advocacy director: "Renewals are not guaranteed and there is no clear timeline or criteria for obtaining a more stable basis of residence."

Said Ms Tan: "When they come to us, most of them already show some form of depressive symptoms."

Finding a job to support themselves and their children is tough.

Those on social visit passes cannot be employed here. Those on long-term visit pass can work but employers need to get permission from the Ministry of Manpower first. And even if they do get jobs, these are usually daily rated or low paying, as these women typically lack qualifications, said Mrs Cindy Ng, an assistant director at Methodist Welfare Services.

Some women also do not turn to their husbands' extended family since ties often sour when the marriage breaks down. Some may be kicked out of their homes and are faced with another predicament - they are not eligible to rent or buy a public flat.

Chinese national Ning Lei, a 35-year-old who gave birth to triplets last year after her Singaporean husband walked out on the marriage, had to stay at a church friend's home, for instance.

The three girls, who were stateless previously, were granted citizenship last month.

Singaporean children from foreign spouses can benefit from government subsidies in aspects such as childcare, education and medical care, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

In 2014, 16.9 per cent of all babies, or 7,146 newborns, had a Singaporean father and a non-citizen mother, up from 15.6 in 2000. Malaysian mums top the list of foreign women who had babies with Singaporean men. There were 2,185 newborns from such unions in 2014.

Social workers say foreign wives who have Singaporean children and go to them for help can be referred to the Social Service Offices (SSOs) for Comcare financial aid.

"In addition to SSOs providing financial assistance to the family, we will also partner social workers from Family Service Centres and other community organisations to provide assistance should the foreign parent face other issues such as employment and caregiving," said the MSF spokesman.

Said Mrs Ng: "If they have Singaporean children, there are schemes to help them but the issue is that some of them are not aware of their rights or do not know where to turn to."

Ms Tan recalled a case where an Indonesian wife got help to treat her depression only after the school noticed that her child had behavioural issues and referred the family to the authorities. The Singaporean father left the family last year.

Aware does provide information on their rights and the divorce process here. But social workers have called for more to be done, with some suggesting that non-profit groups or government agencies should reach out to every foreign bride. Ms Esther Chia, ACMI's executive director, suggested getting transnational couples to sign legally binding pre-nuptial contracts that outline the terms each party has to comply with should the marriages break down. Said Ms Chia: "Now, the playing field is not level."

Additional reporting by Aw Cheng Wei

Being left homeless, cashless, and sometimes with children who are stateless, are just some of the host of problems facing Singapore's foreign wives.
Posted by The Straits Times on Saturday, April 9, 2016

With husband in jail, wife and 2 kids rely on handouts
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Sunday Times, 10 Apr 2016

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.

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