Earlier on Wednesday (27 January), Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling appealed for donations on behalf of a Vietnamese woman, who has been chased out – along with her seven-year-old daughter – by her husband from their flat.
Ms Sun, a Member of Parliament (MP) for Punggol West SMC, in her Facebook post recalled how the woman – who was only identified as Madam N – approached her during Meet the People Session (MPS) last December to ask for help.
With no family relatives to turn to, Madam N shared that her daughter will be starting school in January but they have no transportation and expenses.
Ms Sun said that Madam N only had S$85 with her at the time, unemployed, and was living at a crisis shelter in Serangoon.
“Her 7-year-old was with her and looked lost and confused as her mother was crying as she pleaded for help,” she wrote. “That night we piled the child with all the confectionery we could find in the branch and we gave them some cash to tie over.”
The Minister noted that a rental flat has been allocated to Madam N on Wednesday and shared a photo of the rental flat.
However, she noted that Madam N could not buy any furniture and house appliances due to her financial condition.
Ms Sun then appealed to Singaporeans to donate a list of furniture to Madam N and instructed those who are willing to make donations to leave a comment on her Facebook post.
Members of the public responded with donations just 10 minutes after the post was published, with some even offering to donate fridge and washing machine.
“Thank you, you wonderful wonderful people! My colleague David Ong will be in contact via your FB entries below. You are the reason Singapore is strong, beautiful and kind!” said Ms Sun in an update.
Her Facebook post has garnered about 975 comments at the time of writing, with most offering to donate house appliances, groceries, cash and furniture to Madam N.
Nevertheless, some netizens pointed out that the authorities should take action against Madam N’s husband.
One netizen urged the Minister to look into the “root cause” of the issue, asking whether it would be legal for a husband to chase out his migrant wife and child without being liable to their welfare.
“How can a man conveniently chase out a wife? & is the act justified? Donations are one thing but is the root cause of the issue being looked into?” she commented. Another user asked if a migrant spouse can be listed as the co-owner of the HDB flat.
“In that case, can’t someone just marry a foreign spouse (especially one from a disadvantage socioeconomic background) to get a HDB to himself while still under 35 years old, then secretly kick out the spouse from staying in the HDB?” she asked.
AWARE details how S’pore immigration policies pose challenges to migrant wives in escaping spousal violence
The Association of Women for Action & Research (AWARE) last June revealed that Singapore’s immigration policies on the spouses of migrant workers — the vast majority of whom are women — presents challenges in the process of escaping abusive marriages, obtaining custody of children and securing housing rights in the country independently of their citizen spouses.
“Our hidebound immigration policies inadvertently compound the challenges of migrant wives,” stressed AWARE’s head of Research and Advocacy Shailey Hingorani, noting that non-resident spouses “are not eligible for the same relief schemes as Singaporeans, and their chances of employment are diminished”.
According to AWARE, wives make up 70 per cent of migrant spouses in Singapore to date, many of whom originating from developing countries across Asia and “poorer socio-economic backgrounds” with “limited social capital and support systems in Singapore”.
“These women [migrant wives] are integral parts of Singapore communities and families, yet too often they are treated as visitors,” said Ms Shailey.
Noting that around one in four of all citizen marriages is between a non-resident migrant and a Singapore citizen, AWARE said that these non-residents “depend wholly on their citizen spouse for the right to reside in the country if they are not on a work visa”.
“The power imbalance that arises can lead to abuse and violence on the citizen spouses’ part,” it added.
AWARE noted that migrant wives who are not eligible for employment-based passes would have limited access to legal aid in obtaining divorce and children’s custody, and uncertain right to remain in Singapore.
It argued that migrant wives in Singapore are often disadvantaged in terms of divorce due to the absence of an independent right to reside in the country, as the sponsorship of their passes end after the marriage is terminated.
For migrant spouses who remain married to their citizen spouses and whose passes are cancelled or not renewed by the said citizen spouses, they cannot be sponsored by any other party, AWARE highlighted.
In addition to such restrictions on the renewal of their passes, migrant spouses have also reported being “denied legal aid elsewhere because they are neither citizens nor permanent residents”.
“For low-income migrant spouses, legal fees incurred in divorce proceedings could be prohibitively high if they engaged private lawyers. This limits their options when it comes to legal representation, and puts them at a disadvantage in divorce proceedings,” it explained.
AWARE added that according to then-Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong in 2016, a non-citizen, non-resident spouse of a Singaporean can retain the deceased citizen spouse’s flat if the migrant spouse becomes a Singapore citizen or PR within a one-year period.
The migrant spouse can also retain the flat if they include a Singaporean or PR family member who is at least 21 years of age and satisfies the eligibility rules and conditions to own a flat.
“If the non-citizen widow or widower has Singaporean children who are minors, HDB can consider exercising flexibility, on a case-by-case basis, for the flat to be held in trust by a Singaporean or PR trustee, on the condition that the flat is to be given to the Singaporean children when they reach 21 years old,” said Mr Wong, in a written answer to a Parliamentary question on ownership of HDB flat of deceased Singaporeans with foreign spouses and children.
AWARE, however, said it has encountered several cases in which “the ownership of the flats went to another Singaporean citizen family member”, for example, an in-law who may already have been a joint-owner.