September 28th, 2012

Parliament Primer: Family matters

The following are excerpts of debates on unwed mothers, sex education, pregnant employees, paternity leave, domestic violence, and the role of the new Ministry of Social & Family Development. These took place during the Aug 13, Sept 10 & 11 sittings of Parliament.

UNWED MOTHERS

Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing:

From 2007 to 2011, the average number of single parent births registered without the father’s name was about 550 each year. About 60 per cent of these births were by mothers between the ages of 15 and 24 years old. 80 per cent of the mothers had secondary and below education. Data on their income levels is not available. In the last five years, there was an average of 7 cases a year, where the mother’s age was below 15 years.

SEX EDUCATION 

Minister for Education Heng Swee Keat:

As Sexuality Education (SEd) deals with growing-up issues and societal norms, thoughtful and mature handling is required. The two staple SEd programmes are the Growing Years Programme and the classroom-based segment of the ETeens. Teachers delivering the programmes should: (i) Believe in the importance of sexuality education;(ii) Be comfortable teaching the subject; (iii) Possess good facilitation skills and able to establish good rapport with their students; and (iv) Hold values aligned to those underlying MOE’s sexuality education programme.

Regardless of whether teachers are teaching sexuality education or other subjects, all of them would play a key role in values inculcation. All teachers are guided by the Ethos of the Teaching Profession (‘Ethos’) which encapsulates the values, beliefs and practices of our profession.

The Ethos serves as a compass for all our teachers and sets the foundation for their professional practice. It ensures that congruent values are upheld and transmitted across the entire teaching service. For example, our teachers place the child at the centre of what they do and believe that every child can learn and achieve.

Teachers are also committed to nurturing the whole child holistically, shaping their character and honing in them an instinct of right and wrong. Continual professional conversations and guidance from mentors and school leaders, further serve to remind teachers of the ethos and values to be upheld by the teaching fraternity.

PREGNANCY AND MATERNITY-RELATED COMPLAINTS BY EMPLOYEES

Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin:

Our female employees must be protected against unfair dismissal during their pregnancy or when they are on maternity leave. Our laws also ensure that they are entitled to paid maternity leave. Female employees who feel that they have been unfairly dismissed due to their pregnancy may appeal to the Minister for Manpower. If the Minister finds that the employee has been dismissed without sufficient cause, he may reinstate the employee or order compensation to be paid to her.

Since the Marriage and Parenthood Package was enhanced in 2008, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has received an average of about 100 pregnancy- and maternity-related cases each year. Most cases involved disputes over the dismissal of the pregnant employee.

Others relate to the denial of maternity leave entitlements. Of the cases lodged at MOM, about one in four were withdrawn by the employees after they have had the opportunity to assess the merits of their case. Cases where the female employee is denied her statutory maternity leave benefits, either in full or partially, are referred to the Labour Court for adjudication. These form less than 7 per cent of the total number of pregnancy- and maternity-related cases referred to MOM.

Enforcement action will, and has also been taken against employers in egregious cases involving a clear breach of the law. In the last four and a half years we have taken action against 17 such employers. However, the majority of dismissal disputes referred to MOM are not clear-cut cases in that both the employee and employer are unable to clearly substantiate whether the dismissal was with or without sufficient cause.

In such cases, MOM provides mediation services to help the parties settle their disputes expeditiously and cordially. Mediation is often the best way to resolve such employment disputes. Some 90% of such cases were amicably resolved through mediation.

Where mediation fails, the employee has the option to appeal to the Minister for Manpower to ask for reinstatement. On average, there are about three such cases each year. The Minister will personally look at each case on its own merits. Employers are reminded to comply with the law in the provision of maternity leave benefits and treat their pregnant employees fairly. MOM will not hesitate to take action against employers who violate the law.

PATERNITY LEAVE

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean:

Based on the latest Conditions of Employment Survey by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), about 48 per cent of companies with at least 25 employees offered paternity leave in 2010. This figure has been gradually increasing, from 40 per cent in 2004, to 43 per cent in 2006 and to 47 per cent in 2008.

MOM does not collect data on the median length of paternity leave offered. The Government is currently reviewing policies and measures to support marriage and parenthood. As part of the review, we have been engaging various stakeholders to discuss new ideas and enhancements to existing measures. We will take all suggestions into consideration, including the introduction of paternity leave.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Teo Chee Hean:

The number of reports of domestic violence perpetrated against women by their unmarried live-in partners is a very specific statistic. As the Police does not track such cases as a distinct category, I am unable to provide the statistics requested.

The Government does not condone acts of domestic violence, regardless of the marital circumstances. The Penal Code criminalises acts of violence, ranging from criminal intimidation and voluntarily causing hurt, to rape. This applies equally to perpetrators of domestic violence who might commit such acts against their unmarried live-in partners.

Protection Orders (POs) were created under the Women’s Charter to send a strong signal that domestic violence within the context of the family would not be tolerated, while creating opportunities for families, victims and perpetrators to heal these relationships. The Government has adopted this approach in recognition that family ties are life-long and rehabilitation plays a crucial role in preserving these relationships.

Hence, although Domestic Exclusion Orders are a possible condition within the POs, the PO may also require other measures, such as counselling for all parties involved. In addition to legal recourse available to all victims of domestic violence, non-legal interventions are of equal, if not greater, importance in meeting the needs of victims of domestic violence.

The National Family Violence Networking System, jointly administered by MCYS and SPF, coordinates interventions for both the victims and the perpetrators of family violence, regardless of marital status, in a holistic manner. A wide range of services is available through this system, including counselling, medical services and temporary crisis shelters.

Any victim of domestic violence in Singapore, including women facing violence from unmarried live-in partners, can seek assistance from this system by approaching the Police or a Family Service Centre, or by calling the Comcare Helpline. While a range of legal and non-legal interventions already exist to help victims of domestic violence, the Government will monitor the situation to determine if additional measures are necessary.

NEW MINISTRY OF SOCIAL AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT

Chan Chun Sing:

Given the emerging demographic, economic and societal challenges Singapore faces, the formation of the new Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will bring a sharper focus to the Government’s work in the development of families, social services and social safety nets.

At this point, our immediate priority is to ensure continuity in our current areas of coverage from family and social services to community development, youth and sports, even as we work towards a successful transition to the new Ministry.

Looking forward, MSF will focus on three key areas following the transition. First, we will enhance social safety nets for low-income and needy individuals and families. Some amongst these groups have complex needs beyond financial assistance. They may need help in areas such as housing, education and employment, counselling, caring for an elderly or rehabilitation. We will develop more effective initiatives to reach out to them and render help and support to enable them to improve their circumstances.

Second, we will improve the delivery of social services by working closely with the people and private sectors. These include services for the elderly, families, persons with disabilities and caregivers. We will work on accessibility, affordability and standards, and ensuring more responsive and citizen-centric delivery of services.

Third, we will further strengthen families. The family unit is the bedrock of our society, but it is coming under increasing strain with our changing demographics. We will create a more conducive environment for family formation and the strengthening of family bonds and resilience. We will also review our policies to meet family needs such as childcare and eldercare more effectively.

A strong social service sector is critical to support each of these three focus areas. The Ministry will therefore invest more resources to develop the sector. We will do more in working with the sector to attract, develop and retain social service professionals, raise sector capability and productivity, and improve service co-ordination. Through these efforts, we hope to bring about more resilient individuals and families, and play a part in helping our citizens achieve their hopes and aspirations for themselves and their families.

Read the the full transcripts here, here and here.

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