by: Leong Sze Hian
Miss Lee (not her real name) is a 37-year-old Permanent Resident (Malaysian citizen), with four young children. Her husband is a 39-year-old Singaporean businessman and they have been married for about ten years. He abandoned her and the children, after leaving for China to do business. Taking with him their entire life savings of more than $100,000. He also sold their HDB flat.
No Birth Certificate for the Fourth Child
When she gave birth to her fourth child, a boy who is seven months old, the authorities refused to grant him a birth certificate, citing the unknown whereabouts of her husband as a reason. She went to see her Member of Parliament (MP) twice regarding her predicament, and the MP wrote twice to the authorities, but nothing came out of it.
She then went to another MP (her identity card had the address of the HDB flat which her husband had sold) and this MP referred her to a lawyer from his grassroots. The lawyer acted pro-bono for her and wrote to the authorities on her behalf.
Three Citizens and One Non-Citizen
After about seven months (following the child’s birth), of filing reports to the Police and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) with regards to her husband missing in China, she finally got a “non-citizen” birth certificate. According to MFA, the address in China that was given by her husband was fake and he never stayed there.
As Miss Lee is in a homeless shelter, she arranged for her four children to stay with her retired mother in Penang, Malaysia on a temporary basis.
I asked her what her greatest concern was, and she said, “I cannot understand why after having three children as Singaporeans, my fourth child was denied citizenship? At the interview, they asked me how do I know that my latest child is my husband’s, since he is missing? I felt so insulted and humiliated.”
Searching for a Job, a Special Needs Child, and Undefined Marital Status
Miss Lee has a degree from a Malaysian university but has only worked for a year in the last decade, as she was helping her husband in his business. I asked her what her plans were and she said, “I am trying very hard to get a job, so that I can earn enough to take care of my children. One of my children has to be in a special school due to his behavioral problems. I am very grateful to the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), for referring me to this homeless shelter, and also the very kind volunteer at my MP’s Meet-the-People (MPS) session, who brought me to MCYS”.
I asked her if she plans to remarry and she said “Maybe, but I have gone to the Legal Aid Bureau, and was told that since my husband is missing, I will have to wait four years, before I can be divorced, legally; but who will marry a ‘married’ woman with four kids?”
Alex Lew, Lee Mei Wei, Ko Siew Huey and Leong Sze Hian provide free financial counseling every Thursday from 8 – 10 pm., at Block 108, Potong Pasir Ave 1