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Are S'poreans being discriminated against? By Leong Sze Hian.

The right to love, marry and procreate?

Leong Sze Hian / Columnist

I refer to media reports about Singaporeans who have been unable to get permission to marry foreigners, despite repeated appeals to the relevant authorities and their members of parliament (MPs).

Singaporeans with lower-income, lower education, or lower-skilled jobs, find it harder to get permission to marry foreigners.

For example, a Singaporean male sales manager in an electronics shop, age 44, earning $1,700 a month, was denied permission, with the reason that his income was deemed too low to support a family. Now, after more than 20 appeals to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), more than four years, a few MPs, the answer is still no despite his salary having gone up to $2,500 now.

I find it somewhat ironic that a Singaporean can go to a neighbouring country like Vietnam, pay a few thousand dollars, and marry a bride whom he has met only a few days before.

In contrast, if he wants to marry a foreigner who has ever been to Singapore on a work permit or S-employment pass, he has to apply for permission.

Surely, a relationship of many years with a foreigner in Singapore, may be a more lasting and lovely one, than a “few days” bride transaction.

Will such policies contribute to more marriage strife and increasing divorce rates? At the end of the day, it may be the children of such failed marriages, who may bear the brunt of the consequences.

There are also cases of Singaporeans who have to travel to foreign countries periodically to meet their foreign wives and children, because permission to marry was denied.

Some of these Singaporeans may decide to migrate eventually.

I find it somewhat contradictory that whilst we are encouraging procreation, and are aware of the increasing trend of Singaporeans marrying non-Singaporeans, which I understand is now at an all-time high of about 4 out of 10 marriages, that we continue to deny permission to marry in genuine cases.

As our constitution and national pledge say equality for citizens, why do we discriminate against citizens on the basis of their income, education and occupation?

If the theory that intelligence is due more to genes than to the environment is correct, are we not in a sense, making the lives of the genetically disadvantaged even harder, by denying their basic human right to love, to marry, and to have children?

I understand that those who have ever worked in Singapore have to apply to the MOM for permission to marry, whilst others have to apply to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA).

Do they use the criteria of assessment? Why not have just one authority so that the process and criteria may be more consistent?

I would also like to suggest that the criteria be made public, so that Singaporeans don't fall in love with the wrong people.

With the foreigner population growing at double digits to more than one million now, this problem may continue to grow.

If we are worried about “sham” marriages to get residency in Singapore, we can perhaps learn from other countries like the United States, which has severe penalties for “sham” marriages, whilst maintaining the right of every U.S citizen to marry anyone they truly love.

I also understand that for Singaporean women, getting permission to marry a foreigner is even harder than for our men, as even higher standards of income, education and occupation are required.

Is this a breach of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women(CEDAW), of which Singapore is a signatory?

References:

"We're not young anymore" (New Paper, Oct 22).

"If only she hadn't worked here before" (New Paper, Oct 21).----------