By Melissa Tsang
The turn out was small at the gathering, which was promptly clarified by organizer Vivian Pan to be an “awareness” event, rather than a protest.
Attendees came dressed in blue, the “color of mercy”, and brought placards expressing sympathy for, and solidarity with Rebecca, the 31-year-old single mother recently charged with the murder of her nine-year-old special needs son. Most were volunteers of the single parents support group and other related groups, but also present were concerned members of the public.
The event was ostensibly a “plea for [judicial] mercy” for Rebecca, as stated by Vivian both on the event’s Facebook page, as well as in her speech. However, she later also expressed that the event was strictly “non-political”, and that she did not want to comment on the judicial process. She wished,instead, to raise awareness of the support group for single parents in light of Rebecca’s story. She urged single mothers “not to give up”, although “being a single parent is doubly hard if life in Singapore is not already tough”.
Speaker Karyn shared her experience as a single divorced mother who had battled with suicidal thoughts during the course of an abusive marriage. Her appeal to single parents was that “you are not alone”.
Attention was also drawn to the pressing issue of single parent discrimination in Singapore. Vivian felt strongly that the poor mental health suffered by many single parents, most of whom are single mothers, are indicative that “we need a more forgiving society”.
The strenuous circumstances under which single parents live and raise their families are the result of “discriminatory policies” which “do not even recognize them as family [nuclei]”, in the words of Mr Leong Sze Hian, the third and last speaker of the day. He described “just two of many stories” he has encountered as a financial counsellor, of single mothers who are victim to discriminatory policies which impede their ability to obtain housing, financial assistance, and employment. He condemned the persistence of single parent discrimination, reminding the audience that Singapore is a signatory of the United Nations Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Mr Leong was also perplexed at the dearth of statistics on single parents in Singapore, saying in exasperation, “I eat statistics for lunch every day and still I cannot even find out how many single parents there are in Singapore!” He emphasized the importance of these statistics – the impact of single parent discrimination is likely growing as divorce rates and teen pregnancies are on the rise.