Singapore

New alliance seeks to boost marriages, strengthen family ties

Providing support for single parents and newlyweds among areas it will focus on

With more recent marriages ending earlier and the Covid-19 pandemic causing multiple stressors to lives and livelihoods, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is partnering the community, religious groups and Singaporeans to find ways to strengthen marriages and family ties.

The ministry yesterday launched the Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships, which will focus on six areas.

It will provide support for newly wed couples, parents, single parents and "families with early risks" such as couples who wed before they turn 21.

It will also focus on strengthening marriages and families among the different religious faiths, and conduct outreach to families in general through its community partners.

The alliance is led by Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling, who said the recent trends were a source of concern.

Of particular concern is the fact that more of the recent marriages are not surviving the test of time, Ms Sun said.

Of those who wed in 2006, 16 per cent of the marriages ended before their 10th anniversary - almost double the 8.7 per cent of those who were married in 1987.

Ms Sun said the long tail of the pandemic continues to affect families, from depressing their finances to straining relationships as people spend more time at home.

For example, about 2,000 individuals sought help from the online counselling service run by the Community Psychology Hub between April 1 last year and June 30 this year. More than 80 per cent of them had marital problems, divorce, parenting and family issues.

One area the alliance is focusing on is single parents, an issue raised by various Members of Parliament on Monday, as they called for more help for unmarried mothers.

Ms Sun said in Parliament that the Government has given substantial support to unwed mothers over the years, and that certain benefits, like the Baby Bonus cash gift, are aimed at encouraging parenthood within marriage.

'ECOSYSTEM' OF SUPPORT

Referring to the alliance, Ms Sun said that while people tend to focus on the financial assistance that single mothers get from the Government, it is also crucial to look at the "ecosystem" of support available to these mothers.

Hence, the alliance is reviewing the gaps in support services for single parents and looking to boost the support rendered.

Ms Sun, who is also Minister of State for Education, said the alliance is planning to help parents understand their children's needs better.

She said: "Through this Alliance for Action, and in close partnership with the Ministry of Education (MOE), we hope to better equip parents so that they are able to have a better understanding of emotional literacy, as well as to better understand their children's needs, to spend more time with their children, to listen to their children, and also to help children regulate the use of social media, as it can have certain influences on the young people's mental well-being."

Ms Sun, who chairs Compass, the national advisory council that advises MOE on ways to strengthen partnerships between families and schools, said it had identified three goals to focus on: Working with parents to broaden the definition of success; cyber wellness and digital literacy; and youth mental wellness.

She said Compass had identified these areas last year, before a 13-year-old student was killed in River Valley High School, allegedly by a schoolmate, on July 19, but the tragedy meant that Compass and its partners have to "double down" on these efforts.

National helpline for family violence received 3,700 calls in 6 months

There were about 3,700 calls made to a 24-hour helpline for the public to report family violence in the first six months of this year.

Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling revealed this figure pertaining to the National Anti-Violence Helpline, which started operations in January.

She was speaking during the launch of the Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships yesterday.

She said the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) received about 6,420 inquiries on family violence last year - a 44 per cent increase from 4,450 in 2019.

The number of family violence cases investigated by MSF rose by 13 per cent, from about 1,310 cases in 2019 to 1,480 last year.

One area the alliance hopes to look into is the rehabilitation of the person who inflicted the violence on his or her family members, Ms Sun said.

Singapore Muslim Women's Association president Hazlina Abdul Halim said the stress of having to stay at home for prolonged periods during the Covid-19 pandemic could lead to increased tension at home.

Coupled with more financial stressors caused by the pandemic, and marital and parenting woes, this could add up to greater tension and even violence, she said.

In particular, there was a sharp rise in the number of child abuse cases investigated last year, with the MSF's Child Protective Service probing 1,313 cases, 21 per cent more than the 1,088 cases in 2019.

While pandemic-related stressors could have led to more abuse at home, the MSF previously said that the rise in child abuse cases being investigated was due to more outreach efforts and public awareness of family violence.

Ms Sun, who co-chairs the inter-agency task force formed last year to tackle family violence, said yesterday it will release its recommendations very soon. - THE STRAITS TIMES

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