MARRIAGE, DATING AND DIVORCE IN SINGAPORE

MARRIAGE IN SINGAPORE

In 2009, the number of marriages rose for a sixth successive year. The figure went up by 6 percent to 26,081. Statistics also show that both men and women are marrying later. For men, the average age when they take their marriage vows is now 29.8 years. Women are also taking longer. For them the average marriage age is 27.5 years. [Source: S Mustafa, Today, June 18, 2010]

Muslims in are allowed to have up to four wives. For other groups marriage is defined by law as monogamous. In a 2001 Time sex survey 79 percent of males and 80 percent of females said that monogamy was important to them; and 38 percent of males and 36 percent of females said it was important to marry a virgin. The percentage of unmarried Singaporeans over the age of 35 increased from 19 percent in 1990 to 30 percent in 2000. Three days of paid leave is promised to newlywed couples.

Marriages across ethnic lines occurred, but not often. Between 1954 and 1984, intermarriage rates remained at 6 percent of all marriages. None of the traditional cultures encouraged marriage outside the group. The Hindu traditions of caste endogamy and the Malay insistence on conversion to Islam as a condition of marriage were major barriers to intermarriage. Shared religion encouraged intermarriage, with marriages between Malays and Indian Muslims the most common form of ethnic intermarriage. Interethnic marriages included a disproportionate number of divorced or widowed individuals. [Source: Library of Congress, 1989]

Marriage and wedding customs generally are in accordance with the customs of the ethnic or religious group getting married. Arranged marriages, using matchmakers and go-between, are still common, particularly among Hindus and Malay Muslims.

In the late 2000, singles made up 55.7 percent of all households in Singapore, compared to 50.1 percent 10 years earlier. In 2010, 43 percent of Singaporean men between 30 and 34 were single. The figure was 31 percent for women.

Singapore’s low birth rate is not just a manifestation of couples not having babies. It is also a result of couple not getting married. The marriage rate hit 6.6 marriages per 1000 residents in 2009, down from 7.8 in 1999, the Straits Times said, citing government statistics.

Under Singapore law, if either partner in a partnership preparing for marriage is under 18 both must undergo a special marriage-preparation programme. Of about 150 couples who went through the course in 2000, 20001 and 2002, virtually all the young women were pregnant, a ministry spokesman told the Straits Times. [Source: AFP, 2002]

Dating and Efforts to get People to Marry in Singapore

Surveys in the early 2000s showed only 57 percent of people in Singapore list marriage as a life goal, while the number wanting to start a family is even lower, at 47 percent. In one survey published in 2001, two-thirds of Singaporeans said they had no objection to marrying a non-virgin, but they drew the line at tying the knot with smokers and drinkers.

As part of its effort to increase the local population and create more babies, the Singaporean government is encouraging more singles to get married. In 2012, Bernama reported: “Deputy Prime Minister and Minister-in-Charge of Population Issues Teo Chee Hean says the government would like to encourage more singles to get married. Singapore''s fertility rate has been falling in recent years, and hit a record low of 1.15 in 2010. But it went up slightly last year, to 1.20. "I am very happy to see that when couples get married, they do want to have children. What we need is an environment which is supportive of families...we need everyone - community, parents, grandparents, family and friends to support young families to have kids. "There are already many initiatives to have babies and the government can only do so much. A lot really depends on individuals," Teo said. [Source: Bernama, April 22, 2012]

Describing dating in the old days, Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “Young men had to get parental permission before they could take girls for a Saturday movie (“Back by 11pm!”), which made the past seem like cavemen culture compared with the new world of smooching teens. In the past, most schools were mono-gender, and boys and girls could meet only on special occasions like schools sports or debates – or church functions. I remember an old auntie at Katong, who used to organise regular dance sessions at her house to enable boys and girls to meet. They would sit at opposite ends and as the music (Tennessee Waltz) started, she would encourage the boys to invite the girls to dance. It took a lot of tugging and pulling. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, December 13, 2008]

Singapore Dating Services

As part of an effort to boost Singapore’s population growth rate, the government has sponsored mixers and activities for singles in hopes that they would get married and have babies. Among the activities has been free “date-introduction” rickshaw rides for company coworkers, dance parties, speed dating with matches made according to Chinese zodiac signs, websites that offer dates via cell-phone text messages.

The government has traditionally run two matchmaking services: one for university graduates and another for people who are less educated. Lee Kuan Yew reportedly launched the program in the 1980s because his daughter was having a difficult time finding Mr. Right. Much of the matchmaking effort for university graduates originally revolved around moonlight boat trips. Those without university degrees met through tea dances and dinner parties.

Some found the whole idea of government involvement in romantic affairs intrusive and smacking of Big Brother. Other found the whole affair rather sad. Many of the events were sponsored by the Social Development Unit, which many Singaporeans joked stood for Single, Desperate and Ugly.

In November 2009, Channel News Asia reported: “According to a recent survey of 500 individuals, four in 10 singles said they are open to using a dating agency to meet new people. But half of them are unsure if the matchmaking agencies were reputable or suitable for them. There are 22 dating agencies in the database of Singapore’s Association of Dating Agencies and Matchmakers. Violet Lim, president, Association of Dating Agencies & Matchmakers, said: "Recently we did a survey, and the survey results have shown that there are quite a lot of singles out there who are open to using dating services. However they are not sure of what are the types of services that are out there and they don’t even know the type of services that would be comfortable or good for them.They also might have some concerns such as prices, the quality, because they feel that obviously dating services in their own website would just say good things about themselves." [Source: Channel News Asia, November 27, 2009]

Yet More Singapore Dating Campaigns

In August 2010, AFP reported: “Singapore is launching yet another campaign to promote dating among its notoriously love-shy singles as the city-state grapples with low birth and marriage rates. The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) issued a tender this month through the government's official procurement website calling for proposals on how to encourage singles to date. "This tender is called to engage a communications agency to conceptualise, plan and implement a public communications campaign to promote dating," said a notice monitored on the government's online procurement website GeBIZ. [Source: Agence France Presse, August 12, 2010]

“No details of the tender were given on the website, but the Straits Times said the winning bidder will produce a television commercial to promote dating and draw up a "unique dating concept" to get singles to interact. Targeted at people aged 20 to 35 who do not date, the initiative is the latest effort by the government to act as matchmaker for its loveless singles population. Earlier, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged citizens to ignore superstitions about the Chinese zodiac and make more babies during the Year of the Tiger in order to reverse falling birth rates.

Initial reaction to the government's latest campaign at playing Cupid was cool. "I think it's a bit silly," Koh Hoon Kiat, 25, a university graduate who is single, told AFP. Asked if the television commercial will prompt him to find a dating partner, he said: "I can say that it's unlikely to do so... I'm not at a very desperate stage yet." Previous government attempts to heat up romance and encourage couples to make more babies have so far failed to reverse the falling birth rates.

In 2010, Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “In an effort to encourage 75,000 singles to wed, the Singaporean government is subsidising 90 percent of their dating costs worth some S$500 each. The state’s matchmakers, who began operation in 1984, are doing this for a crucial objective – to raise matrimonial rates. At the same time, a government campaign will be launched to get singles between 20 and 35 years to actively expand their social circle to find life partners, even using a dating agency. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, August 14, 2010]

Singaporean Men Pay Up to $11,000 for Help Popping the Question

Jessica Lim and Jaleh Abu Baker wrote in the Straits Times, “For a fee that could reach $11,000, the moment of surprise dreamt up by wedding planners could involve framing 'Marry Me' with an ice sculpture or using a helicopter ride to put her on cloud nine. The Association of Bridal Consultants said more wedding planners are creating that lovey-dovey occasion at the request of time-starved and pressured grooms-to-be. 'The men want something different and have no clue over how to make their proposal unique,' said its country director, Mr Jonathan Goh. 'Also, women... expect more. The 'let's buy an HDB flat' proposal doesn't cut it anymore.' [Source: Jessica Lim and Jaleh Abu Baker, Straits Times August 8, 2011]

A check with 10 wedding planners found that demand has grown, and the proposals have become more elaborate. Mr Gordon Ang, owner of Wedding Matters, said he has handled about five jobs a year since 2009. He said that when he began, people were willing to pay only about $500 for a proposal executed in a simple hotel room or chalet. Now, it typically costs about $1,000, including a night's stay in a hotel, romantic dinner and a ring dropped into a glass of champagne served by a butler. Most deals include the service of a cameraman. Some, however, cost up to $11,000, which pays for wow factors such as a one-night stay at a five-star hotel, an ice sculpture of the words 'Marry Me', dinner in a room full of star-shaped balloons and a violinist serenading them.

'Sometimes, couples come to us to discuss wedding plans. After a while, we realise the groom hasn't formally proposed, and we will pull him aside to ask if he wants to plan one,' said Ms Christin Shua, co-owner of Indulgz Weddings, who has planned three proposals this year. One she did in June went to greater heights, via an hour-long helicopter ride that cost more than $2,000. Others like Mr Lucas Chan, 28, forked out $4,000 for his proposal last year to his girlfriend of two years. They engaged Indulgz Weddings to plan their wedding last year before he had even proposed to the insurance planner. 'She was always lamenting that I never proposed to her and that she did not know if I was serious about marrying her at all,' said the management trainee. He made her think they won a trip to Penang and popped the question there in a restaurant in front of a photo montage. 'She teared up and said yes,' he said.

Operations manager Brian Loh, 34, was very nervous about proposing, even though he and his girlfriend of two years, Ms Kym Chong, 29, had arranged to take wedding photos. 'I was more worried about how to surprise her,' he said. Halfway through singing a song at a karaoke lounge with friends on her birthday in January last year, she saw pictures of the couple on the screen. 'I came in from the other room singing the chorus, with flowers and a ring. And, of course, I went down on one knee,' said Mr Loh. He added that the proposal cost him about $1,000. Ms Chong, a project engineer, said she appreciated what he did. 'I didn't suspect a thing. It took a lot of preparation and a lot of lying,' she added, laughing.

Money, Education and Marriage in Singapore

In 2010, Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star,“An official Population in Brief 2010 report showed that significantly more Singaporeans were shunning marriage compared with a decade ago. The proportion of men aged 30-34 who are single has reached a shocking 41.9 percent, and that of women 29.8 percent, it showed. The highest unwed rates are among men with below secondary education and women with university degrees. Both groups are turning more to foreigners. Lee Kuan Yew attributed the cause to a traditional reluctance of Singaporean men to marry women who are better educated. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, August 14, 2010]

In 2001, Seah Chiang Nee wrote: “Census statistics from 2000 showed that one in five men aged 40 to 44 who had not completed their secondary schooling were single by 2000, compared with one in 10 a decade ago. “Singapore women are very pragmatic. The men they want must have money, more money and status in society,” said a bachelor interviewed by a local newspaper. While poor education hindered men’s marriage prospects, it is the opposite for women. Between 30 percent and 40 percent of women over 30 years old who made it to university stayed single, the figures showed. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, December 16, 2001 +++]

“In an online discussion, some 200 women were asked: “Would you marry a lowly-educated man?” The answer has less to do with education than money. Almost 75 percent of the messages said or hinted that money was the key to tying the knot. While romance was crucial, money was more important in expensive, competitive Singapore. “It would be real dumb to say money is not important here,” said one message. Another added: “When money knocks on the door, love flies out of the window.” +++

“Pragmatism, not love, figures more among the present generation. The press is full of reports about couples hiring private detectives to check on their prospective spouses before tying the knot. In an online discussion among professionals, someone wrote about his impression of a recent wedding between two graduates. It was unlike other weddings that he had attended, where the emphasis was on romance and how they met and dated. “This one was very professional and felt like a power lunch,” he added. +++

More Singaporeans Marrying Foreigners

In 2010, Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “Four out of 10 Singaporeans who got married in 2009 married foreigners—78 percent being men taking overseas brides, according to official statistics. The official statistics showed that the rate of Singaporeans marrying foreigners has risen from 30 percent ten years ago to 40.8 percent in 2009. Unable to find a local spouse, more upper middle-age men are turning to Vietnam, China and Thailand – in addition to traditional Malaysia – to find wives. Although lower than men, the rate of women marrying non-citizens has also risen. Some 90 percent of these foreign brides are Asian, but non-citizen grooms come from both East and West. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, August 14, 2010 ||||]

“A growing number of Singaporean ladies are unmarried by choice. Psychologist and author John Marshall Townsend wrote this about them (in part) as follows: “Like women in the United States, Singapore women apparently prefer to stay single rather than marry down. “Those who have succeeded in high-status occupations that were previously closed to them have indeed rejected what is traditionally considered feminine. These women successfully compete with men. They may place their careers above love and marriage for years or even indefinitely, and in their ambition and assertiveness, they are equal or superior to most men in their professions.” ||||

“However, a Singaporean said it was a tough act for a married woman to successfully balance family and career. This is discouraging career women to wed. Among the lamenters was former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew Lee who referred to his neurologist daughter Dr Lee Wei Ling as a case in point. After saying that one-third of men and women in Singapore were single “and quite comfortable with their lives”, Lee said: “My daughter is one of them. What can I do?” Dr Lee, who runs the National Neuroscience Institute, is 55 and single. Her father is worried about who would look after her and the home when he is not around. As for marrying foreigners, some Singaporeans welcome it as a plus point. “Apart from the diversity, this out-breeding is good for society,” a teacher remarked to me. ||||

The Straits Times reported that one in four grooms or 6520 Singaporean men married a foreign bride in 2005, the highest number in the last 10 years. Many are arranged though matchmaking services. Matchmaking agencies charge clients a fee ranging from S$5000 (US$3246) to $20,000 for a bride. [Source: Agence France Presse, December 25, 2006]

Some Singaporeans have trouble brining their foreign wives and children to the city-state to stay permanently. Under Singapore immigration laws, marriage to a Singaporean does not automatically qualify a foreigner to stay in the city-state on a long-term basis or even get permanent resident status or citizenship. [Source: Agence France Presse, May 16, 2004]

Vietnamese Bride Fair in Singapore

News of the public exhibition of Vietnamese brides for "instant marriage" at a fair in Singapore has shocked the public in Vietnam. Tran Dinh Thanh Lam wrote in the Asia Times. Local newspapers reported that young Vietnamese girls had been displayed as "brides" at a trade fair in Singapore. The Singapore paper Today describing how Vietnamese women were "put on display" like products at a trade fair booth at the Golden Mile Complex trading center in Singapore. [Source: Tran Dinh Thanh Lam, Asia Times, April 2, 2005 ~]

“The booth was set up by Blissful Heart Marriage Center, and according to director Francis Toh, the "Vietnamese were there to give potential clients an idea how Vietnamese girls look and [to] give them a feel of the on-the-spot selection process". A Singaporean man was seen distributing leaflets to passersby, promoting luxury cruise packages at a cost of S$13,800 (US$8365). For an extra S$9800 (US$5940), a single man buying a luxury cruise could choose a bride on the spot to accompany him on his trip. ~

"It was like a TV advertisement, and it was so humiliating," the Thanh Nien daily reported, quoting a Vietnamese employee at a computer firm in Singapore. In recent years, an increasing number of Singapore men, unable to find love at home, have sought their brides in Vietnam, China and Indonesia. Many are convinced that foreigners make better wives because they are perceived as more domesticated, less arrogant or materialistic compared to their Singapore counterparts. Quynh Mai, who runs a hotel business in Singapore, said that Vietnamese women were also put on display in other places in the city-state, such as the Fulushou and Orchard Point trading centers. ~

“Braema Mathi, president of Singapore's Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), said the practice of displaying Vietnamese women as brides was humiliating. "I think putting women from any country up like this, almost advertising themselves as brides, is repugnant." ~

Weddings in Singapore

A Chinese wedding in Singapore often features a traditional tea ceremony in which newlyweds express their repsect to their parenst and grandparets by offering them tea and symbolizing the welcoming of the couple in to the family. This is usually followed by a large feast with family and friends. The bride usually wears a white wedding dress. The couple usually have their picture taken at sights around town.

Hindu weddings have traditionally been held at temples. The cermony revolves around the placement of a gold pendant by a groom around his neck. Muslim Malays couples sign a wedding register before a imam in a Muslim ceremony. The marriage is formally announced in ceremony by a bunga manggarm, which symbolizes a mango tree. Comprised of two poles decorated with colored paper, it is often set near the platform where the newlyweds sit and are greeted by guests at the wedding.

Weddings can be very expensive. Some couples save for years to accumulate enough cash for a wedding. Some get married in mass wedding ceremonies that includes a package with a banquet and overseas honeymoon to save money.

Tardy Wedding Guests Targeted in Singapore "Kindness" Campaign

In November 2004, AFP reported: “The Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM), a partly government-funded charity, has launched a drive to improve punctuality at wedding dinners following an outcry about tardy guests. "Over the years, the starting times of wedding dinners have been delayed by as much as two hours,"SKM chairman Noel Hon said at the campaign's formal launch last week. "It's something that has become a bad habit because there's no real trust that the dinner will start on time. "What we are trying to do is that in some cases we need to actually increase the awareness of the requirement to be courteous." [Source: Agence France Presse, November 14, 2004]

With most wedding receptions held in hotels, the SKM has roped in the Singapore Hotel Association for the 15-month drive. Couples will be asked by hotel staff to remind their guests to be punctual. Pocket-sized calendars -- emblazoned with the words "On our special day, thank you for arriving on time" -- will be given to the couples to be inserted in their wedding invitations. SKM has printed 800,000 calendars. Telecommunications company StarHub has also offered to send free mobile phone text messages that remind guests to come on time. And couples who are able to start their wedding dinners on time will have a chance to win S$100 (US$61) worth of shopping vouchers, courtesy of the National Trades Union Congress.

Twenty-five-year-old civil servant Chng Kai Fong, who is getting married on December 18, is taking the campaign a few steps further. Aside from the pocket reminders and the free SMS service, Chng said he will emphasise on the invitation card that the wedding dinner will "definitely" start on time at 7:30 pm. "I'm contemplating whether to add an extra line that says 'The bride will march in at 7:40 pm' just to drive home the point," he told AFP.

"The whole concern behind this is because we really want to end early because the next day we might be going off for a honeymoon." Starting late is a real fear for many couples. "My bride is actually worried that if she walks down the aisle the crowd will be half full or something," Chng said. Shamla Ramasamy, 30, an executive with the National Council of Social Services, agreed. "When I put myself in the perspective of the bride, it's the one event of your life where you really get to shine," she said. "It's your night. And because it's your night when you walk in you want to see a room full of people... For me, I'm gonna start on time as long as my relatives can make the number." Ramasamy said her friend who is getting married on December 3 has even arranged for "back-up relatives who stay nearby" to turn up at the dinner in case the invited guests arrive late.

Critics say such campaigns to mould moral and social values smack of condescension and reinforce the government's reputation for micro-management. "Kindness and courteousness are supposed to be spontaneous. They arise from values learned as early as childhood, not something to be dictated by the state," a 31-year-old bank employee who did not want to be named told AFP.

Singapore Muslim Marriage Course Encourages Husbands to Beat Sex-Refusing Wives

Tiddy Smith and Bikya Masr of the Independent Egyptian news website wrote: “Singapore’s leading association for Muslim converts, Darul Arqam, has begun an internal investigation into lecturer misconduct after several attendees of the organization’s pre-marriage courses voiced concerns over violent and sexist content in the lectures and course materials. Specifically, attendees allege that male students are encouraged to beat wives who refuse to submit to sex, while female students are taught that if they refuse sex with their husbands angels of Allah would curse them. [Source: Tiddy Smith, Bikya Masr, Independent Egyptian news website, November 4, 2011]

The pre-marriage guidance courses, which are also supplied by other Singaporean Muslim organizations such as the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) and the Registry of Muslim Marriages (ROMM), are a compulsory requirement for all Singaporean Muslims to undertake before they marry. The courses cost between $100-$200 each, and, according to the Registry of Muslim Marriages (ROMM) website, the courses are conducive to developing ‘harmonious family ties’ and ‘communication skills’.

One attendee informed our reporter that a male lecturer demonstrated to the class how hard to beat wives who repeatedly refused to supply sex to husbands. “He pulled out a chair, like this, and then started hitting the chair like it was the wife” an attendee told us. The lecturer is further alleged to have described the kind of rod that was appropriate for wife beating, and where such a rod could be purchased in Singapore.

Photocopies of course materials, which support the students’ allegations, have been passed to AWARE. The materials quote an English translation of the Qur’an, stating “as to those women on whose part you see ill-conduct, first admonish them, next refuse to share their bed, and last beat them”. The course materials recommend that wives be beaten if they commit Al Nushooz. Al Nushooz is defined in the course materials as “the disobeying of the wife toward her husband and elevating herself above what Allah has obliged upon her and her raising herself above fulfilling her obligatory role”.

The course materials specify four ways a wife may commit Al Nushooz: “1) She does not beautify herself for her husband when he desires. 2) She disobeys her husband with respect of coming to his bed [for sex]. 3) She leaves the house without his permission. 4) She does not perform her obligatory religious duties.” The materials advise husbands, “it is your right that they [wives] do not make friends with anyone of whom you disapprove”, and wives are reminded that in the event of a marital disagreement “her husband has to make the final decision and [she has] to respect it.”

The allegations are against at least two different lecturers at Darul Arqam, indicating that it is not an isolated case of teacher misconduct. Our reporter wrote to the organization’s head religious counselor, Sister Rusmini Komzani, under the guise of a husband whose wife was refusing to have sex because she was “not in the mood”. We received the following response from Komzani: “Your wife cannot remain silent for a long time if she is unwilling to serve. If she is angry at your advances, I believe she could be having psychological issues.”

Married Life in Singapore

Housing rules keep most young people at home until they get married. Even when couples get married they have to wait until their housing is ready. This can sometimes take several years. Many married couples live with their parents and lack privacy and are forced to have sex in a car or a hotel. Many couples get married on paper and live apart until their housing is ready and have a big wedding bash then.

In 1999, AFP reported: “Singaporeans view equality as crucial to the success of marriage, according to a study. They identified mutual respect and trust, fidelity, open and regular communication and equal responsibilty in the raising of children as among key ingredients for a successful marriage in the survey conducted by leading market information group Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS). The "marriage survey" was conducted face-to-face with 1000 randomly selected respondents aged between 15 and 64 years of age. "The survey helps us define family values and the attitudes with which Singaporeans enter the marriage market," said TNS Singapore's general manager Jocelyn Pantastico. [Source: AFP, September 20, 1999]

"Traditional values of women belonging to home and hearth seem to have been superceded by day-to-day realities where Singaporeans, both men and women, are taking on equally active roles at home and at work," Pantastico said of the TNS poll conducted in July. The study also reported that most Singaporeans seemed like-minded on more controversial issues, with 63 percent against cohabitation outside marriage and 77 percent against having children if unmarried. [Ibid]

Singapore Couples Marry Even Unhappy With Each Other

In 2005, Reuters reported: “Singaporean couples may not be happy with their partners but they will still marry them anyway, a global survey on relationships shows. The poll of 716 couples who planned to wed showed that 39 percent were unhappy in their relationships, the highest proportion of nine societies surveyed by a US-based marriage and family therapy organisation. The poll is the latest unflattering survey of ardour in a wealthy population that chases what is known in local parlance as the Five C's: career, condominium, club, credit cards and cars. [Source: Reuters, March 5, 2005 /*/]

“In the latest survey, only 14 percent of Singaporeans described themselves as "very happy" with their partners, the lowest of the regions surveyed and compared with 48 percent in the United States. The polls were conducted as part of a US-based programme known as PREPARE (Premarital Personal and Relationship Evaluation) led by David Olson, a retired University of Minnesota professor and author of several books on family therapy. Other regions surveyed were Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany and New Zealand. But Singapore's results stood out sharply, said Olson. /*/

"I'm surprised so many premarital Singaporean couples are not as happy with their relationships but are still planning to get married," Olson told Reuters after releasing the findings at a conference in Singapore. Among those in the survey who consider themselves unhappy, most cited disagreements with their partners on a number of issues, or said they disliked their partners' personality or that there were problems communicating effectively. In contrast, US couples ready to tie the knot painted a far more blissful picture with nearly half of 1000 surveyed indicating they were very happy in their relationships. Olson said couples in Singapore -- an island of 4.2 million people -- may be suffering because of a reluctance to speak their minds about problems to avoid confrontation. "They are afraid to say what they think and are afraid to disagree," he said. /*/

Mistresses and Adultery in Singapore

In a 2001 Time sex survey 34 percent of males and 35 percent of females answered yes when asked if they had every been unfaithful

In 2002, Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, ““What was considered a status symbol in the past, keeping mistresses is today unacceptable behaviour among the elite. Last week, a Singapore court decided it should remain so. A Chinese tycoon’s wife, who called her husband “a serial womaniser” and said she could no longer tolerate his behaviour, was granted a divorce to end their 51-year marriage. District Judge Emily Wilfred dissolved the marriage and agreed with Madam Tian Ah Poon, 69, that it was “unreasonable” for Teo Guan Seng, 71, to continue living with his two mistresses. This opens the way for her to fight for her share of the multi-millionaire’s assets. Teo is the executive chairman of the Hiap Hoe and SuperBowl groups of companies. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, January 6, 2002 <~>]

“In Tian’s case, the mother of four grown-up children wanted to leave her husband because he has two mistresses and nine more children by them. He had divided his week between his wife and mistresses, but the wife decided it was the last straw when he wanted to spend more time with his second mistress. Instead of spending four nights with her, he had wanted her to give up a day so that he could be with the other woman. <~>

“Polygamy has, of course, long been illegal but having “secondary wives” without registering marriage is not. As a young man I had been hearing stories of Chinese millionaires bringing their mistresses to play mahjong at the rich men’s clubs in Singapore’s East Coast. The practice declined slowly – then rapidly – as progress picked up and Singaporean women became emancipated as a result of protective laws and higher education. Today, many women would ring up their lawyers if they catch their husbands committing adultery. <~>

“In a recent survey, more than half the women polled say they would divorce a cheating spouse. Two out of five of them would insist on divorce even if the spouse repented. Both men and women consider adultery to be the most intolerable betrayal in a marriage. Not only are women emancipated enough to fight back, some become as “promiscuous” as men. The tabloid Streats newspaper found in a recent two-week period that cheating wives were the cause of a third of the marriage breakups in Singapore. According to a recent Time magazine survey of several Asian countries, including Korea, Thailand and Hong Kong, women in Singapore were the most willing to initiate sex. <~>

“In contemporary Singapore, keeping mistresses it is too costly a habit except for the very rich. “It is learnt that an increasing number of Singaporean men are keeping mistresses in Johor and Batam Island in Indonesia, where houses and the cost of living are lower. Besides, it keeps the mistresses away from their ignorant wives – and Singapore laws. For the courts, it is always a major problem whenever mistresses turn up with children to fight for their share of their dead “husband’s” assets, looking for a balance between legal and social needs. Several years ago, a woman who had cohabited with a man for 30 years (and raised three children) without marriage was granted a divorce so that she could claim maintenance and other benefits.

Chinese Playmaids and Mistresses in Singapore

Describing an arrangement between a female Chinese immigrant and a male Singaporean beer promoter, Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “What the middle-age lady wanted was to be introduced to a Singaporean man who was a widower or a divorcee of any age, who could do with a live-in companion. For S$300 a month, she would move in with him as a part-time mistress and home minder. In return she would earn extra money to add to her salary selling beer, as well as free board and lodging that she would otherwise have to spend on herself. It’s mutually beneficial, since the man could have a companion-cum-domestic help at half the cost of a full-time maid (plus levy). No contract, no marriage, no legal complications! It is temporary and no notice of termination is needed. “Just say goodbye and pack your bags’” she said. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, May 30, 2009]

“How widespread such arrangements are is anyone’s guess, but it is believed to be on the rise, particularly in view of the severe downturn when jobs for the ladies are scarce. According to agents importing Chinese workers, the practice has become popular among elderly Singaporeans who are living alone. “These are lonely men whose wife has died or who are divorced, and their married children long gone, so the companionship is as important as the sex,” said one agent. It is useful to eliminate the risk of lonely, vulnerable men being cheated by a foreign spouse. Such cheating cases have been on the rise where the Chinese “wife” disappeared after she had emptied the man’s savings.

“Live-in” companionship is the latest practice to emerge from a society that is fast changing under the weight of an influx of foreign immigrants. While it is deemed harmful to the institution of marriage and family, there is, however, a growing acceptance that it does meet a pressing need of lonely old men. “Since no marriage is involved, it doesn’t change Singapore’s family unit because these men live alone,” a retiree rationalised. “At least no one has to be cheated.” The conservatives, however, disagree. “It just panders to the lecherous demands of the men,” said a housewife.

According to Tian Fu Club, a clan association formed by the mainlanders here, 300,000-400,000 Chinese have become citizens or permanent residents here. Many are young women who have left families behind in rural China to come for that pot of gold after investing a small fortune in fees to agents to fix them a job or a “student” pass (there are 90,000 of the latter). “These women are tough, determined and they believe that Singapore is rich,” said my friend, who once witnessed an angry exchange between two mainland factory workers. One was furious with her friend for dating a China mainland man. “You are silly. You remember why we left our village to come here; it’s to earn money,” she rebuked her. “How can you waste time with a penny-less ‘Ah Tong’ (slant for Chinese man)?” she wanted to know. “Get a Singaporean.”

The vast majority lives a decent, hard-working life and returns home when the time comes, but a minority falls prey to the temptation of easy money. The best pickings can be found among lonely retirees who live alone on their Central Provident Fund retirement savings. The CPF amount, however uninspiring to the locals – is a fortune in most parts of China. For that, a number of women will readily break hearts and families. Worse still, the victim often gets no sympathy among fellow Singaporeans for his “lustful behaviour” chasing after young skirts. One private investigator told the press that his company was getting more requests for help by wives here to investigate husbands who they suspect were keeping a China mistress.

On the average of 50 extramarital cases that his firm handled a month in the last two years, 20 would involve a “China student” as the third party. In a recent reported case, one student-mistress lived off a stockbroker like a rich tai-tai for months, before leaving behind large credit card bills, a tearful wife and a broken marriage. “They are giving a poor – I must say undeserved — image that Chinese women are home wreckers,” said the agent.

Professor Fu Tan-ming, a social behavioural analyst who is based in Beijing, noted that Chinese women with a history of suffering are more resilient than the men. “They have a stubborn streak in them that propels them forward,” he said. “They would not think twice about packing up their bags to begin life anew thousands of miles away from home. Why? It’s because they know they can survive.”

Divorce in Singapore

Channel News Asia reported: According to the Department of Statistics, the divorce rate in Singapore in 2007 was 2.02 per 1000 people. This is lower than countries such as the United States and South Korea, which had divorce rates of 3.7 and 5 respectively in 2007. The number of divorces in Singapore has increased from about 5600 10 years ago to 7200 in 2007. Minister of State for MCYS Yu-Foo Yee Shoon said marriages today are facing more challenges, as couples cope with greater demands at work, competing aspirations and evolving societal values. One concern is that many couples today increasingly see divorce as the first option when their marriage hits a rocky patch. That is why she said it is important to equip couples with the correct mindset and skills to see them through the ups and downs of a marriage. [Source: Channel News Asia, March 28, 2009]

According to the Department of Statistics (DOS), wives initiated 64 percent of all non-Muslim divorces and nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of Muslim divorces in 2009. S Mustafa wrote in Today, “The main reasons cited for almost all non-Muslim divorces last year (97 percent) was "having lived apart or separated for three years or more" and "unreasonable behaviour". Among Muslims, "infidelity" was the main reason (21 percent), followed by "personality difference" (16 percent).A higher proportion of males (29 percent) than females (8.7 percent) petitioned on the ground of "personality difference". [Source: S Mustafa, Today, June 18, 2010]

The median marriage duration for divorces was 10.1 years. For Muslims, it was 8.3 years and for non-Muslims, 10.5 years. The old saying about the seven-year itch may hold some truth here as couples who were married for between five and nine years accounted for the largest group (33 percent) of non-Muslim divorces. In contrast, among Muslim divorces last year, couples who were married for less than five years were the largest group (31 percent), followed by couples who were married for between five and nine years (26 percent). [Ibid]

A Singapore court ruled in 1994 that househusbands have the same rights as housewives in regard to divorce. In the early 2000s, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore and Registry of Muslim Marriages. issued a joint statement, saying that divorces can not be issued by men through cell phone text messages.

In the 1980s, interethnic marriages were somewhat more likely to end in divorce than were marriages within an ethnic group. During the 1980s the divorce rate for Malays fell, while it rose for the other ethnic groups. In 1987 there were 23,404 marriages in Singapore, and 2,708 divorces, or 115 divorces for every 1,000 marriages. The figures included 4,465 marriages under the Muslim Law Act, which regulated the marriage, divorce, and inheritance of Muslims, and 796 divorces under the same act, for a Muslim divorce rate of 178 divorces for every 1,000 marriages. Marriages under the Women's Charter (which regulated the marriage and divorce of non-Muslims) totaled 18,939, and divorces under that law were 1,912, for a non-Muslim divorce rate of 100 per 1,000 marriages. The differential rates of divorce for ethnic groups may have suggested greater differences than were in fact the case. Situations that for Malay families resulted in prompt, legal divorce were sometimes tolerated or handled informally by Chinese or Indian families for whom the social stigma of divorce was greater and the barriers to legal separation higher. For all ethnic groups, the most common source of marital breakdown was the inability or unwillingness of the husband to contribute to maintaining the household. This sometimes led to desertion, which was the most common ground for divorce. [Source: Library of Congress, 1989]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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