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Singapore Government

Closing Address by Minister Masagos Zulkifli at the Consortium of Institutes on Family in the Asian Region Regional Symposium & MSF Asian Family Conference (CIFA-AFC 2022)

Closing Address by Minister Masagos Zulkifli at the Consortium of Institutes on Family in the Asian Region Regional Symposium & MSF Asian Family Conference (CIFA-AFC 2022)

Mr Chuti Krairiksh, Minister of Social Development and Human Security, Thailand

Ms Zifleena Hassan, Minister of State for Gender, Family and Social Services, Maldives

Mrs Patricia Chu, Chairperson, CIFA 

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I. Introduction

1. Good morning. It is my pleasure to be here at the CIFA Regional Symposium and MSF Asian Family Conference 2022. 

2. First and foremost, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to everyone for making this conference a success. 

a. To the organisers, speakers, session moderators, thank you.

b. I hope each of you had a fruitful time exchanging insights with one another.

3. This year’s Conference has chosen the theme of “Empowering Asian Families: Embracing Challenges and Building a Better Future”.

a. Over the past few days, we discussed ways we can build strong and resilient families, shared on innovative ways that can sustain family services, and considered the importance of mental health for our families. 

b. Strong families are the cornerstone of resilient societies. We need to continue to empower our families to overcome adversities and flourish.  In doing so, we are building a better society that can achieve a better future.

c. Singapore’s pro-family policies reflect that marriage is between a man and a woman, and children are born and raised in such families. We continually take steps to strengthen the institution of marriage and family as they undergo stressors and life changes. We designated this year as the Year of Celebrating SG Families to galvanise a whole-of-society effort to support families. 

4. Conferences like the CIFA Regional Symposium and MSF Asian Family Conference and organisations like CIFA are much needed to build a body of knowledge and to inform policies and practices for our contexts.

a. Such platforms enable us to exchange learning points and leverage research to strengthen families within our various societies. 

b. Families are complex and there are many socio-cultural factors and dynamics at play. Research which takes these into consideration is better able to unpack the issues and more effectively inform policies and practice.  

i. Where marriages may break down, the impact to children is not trivial but research can help us better understand and find ways to mitigate the negative impact. For example, through a research study on families in Singapore, my Ministry found that cooperative co-parenting can mitigate the negative outcomes on children arising from parental separation. As a result, we updated our counselling programme for divorcing couples with children to introduce cooperative co-parenting, as shared by MOS Sun earlier.

5. Families remain important in many societies, we know this is true for Asian societies. We have heard the sharing of the Ministers from Qatar and Thailand and the Minister of State from Maldives on the importance of families in their countries earlier. Indeed, many of us view the family unit as foundational to our societies and continue to place families at the centre, rather than focusing on the individual only. In the last few months, I had the opportunity to meet many of my counterparts. The one thing that was common when I talked to them about families was this: Everyone agreed that families are our starting point for how we build society. 

6. Indeed in families, our starting point is not demands, but rather our roles and responsibilities towards each other. It is our innate sense of duty and love that spurs us to make sacrifices and want to bring about good for our children, parents, siblings and other family members. 

7. Our families also plant our sense of care for others in society and teach us how to relate to each other in society, so that each of us think for the collective good of society, and not just look out for our own self-interest. 

8. Because many of our societies are family-oriented, the way we approach issues must involve the family. 

a. In Singapore, we have included this familial lens in our approach towards women’s development. Rather than detaching women and men from their roles in the family, we want to build a fairer and more inclusive society where men and women respect each other, and partner each other in all aspects, including the family. We believe that with an equal partnership approach, both men and women can fulfil their aspirations freely and fully.

b. Likewise, our philosophy for protection and rehabilitation work in Singapore focuses on reunifying families safely. For example, our protective services, take the approach of bringing the children, their families and community stakeholders together to create a safety plan that keeps the survivors safe at home; and to assist the family in strengthening their relationships. For youth offenders, our rehabilitation officers work in close relationship with the family and the community to address the risk and needs of offenders, and provide a supportive environment for these persons. This has helped to keep youth recidivism low.

9. How we view families within our societies informs the design of our policies and programmes. If we view individuals as the primary unit, our focus will be on uplifting individuals and helping them achieve their aspirations only. However, if we view families as the building block of society, our policies will centre around the family. Such that even when we empower individuals, we do so within the context of their families. From the policy perspective, focusing on the family allows pragmatic implementation at scale, rather than at the individual level. 

10. Family-centricity is a key feature of many social policies in Asian societies. Our efforts centre around families. We consider the circumstances of families as a whole and see how we can best uplift the family together.

11. One key initiative that exemplifies this in Singapore is Community Link or ComLink, which was mentioned by DPM Heng. ComLink supports families with children living in rental housing. Under ComLink, we proactively reach out to families to understand their needs and aspirations and pair families with befrienders who journey with them. Playing a coordinating role, the Government partners with social service agencies, corporates, and volunteers and organises resources on the back-end to curate services and programmes to meet the needs and aspirations of each family. Through this, we may find out that an individual is unable to find employment and their children are not attending school, or other challenges the family is facing, and can journey with them to begin addressing these challenges.

12. We started out piloting ComLink in four towns, and the outcomes were positive. We are now rolling ComLink nationwide to 21 communities over the next 2 years to support 14,000 families. 

13. The aim of ComLink is to provide Comprehensive, Convenient and Coordinated support to help ComLink families attain Stability, Self-Reliance and Social Mobility, what we call the 3 S’s.  We have adopted a data-driven approach to identifying the needs of ComLink families, and the new approaches that we are trying out can themselves be sources of rich data to inform our analysis of what works and what does not.  I hope that future editions of the Asian Family Conference will further strengthen the policy-research-practice nexus, enable practitioners to share best practices in data-driven social service delivery, and the implementation of family-oriented programmes and services. 

14. I also hope that institutions like CIFA can continue to bring together academics and researchers to look across the region for family-centred social policies for their research so as to build up a robust body of knowledge that informs the work of policymakers and practitioners. Apart from applied research, we need to develop basic knowledge which our applied knowledge and families can take reference from – just like how we know why a plane flies because we apply basic Newtonian physics laws. 

15. Last but not least, Governments are critical in developing policies that support families and shaping family-friendly societies. In Singapore, as we draw the curtains on the Year of Celebrating SG Families, I am happy to note that three announcements have been made, to ensure we celebrate families not just for one year: 

a. One, our National Family Week, which was announced in June by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 

b. Two, A Singapore Made For Families 2025 announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Tuesday, and

c. Three, a Constitutional Amendment to prevent the definition of marriage from being constitutionally challenged in the Courts, at the end of this month.

16. Moving forward, as we seek to empower and strengthen families, we encourage like-minded countries and partners to come together to collaborate and exchange best practices. Singapore stands ready to learn from your experiences and likewise, share our knowledge and practices. In addition, we look forward to deeper regional cooperation to continue building on our efforts around values reflective of our contexts, to strengthen the family institution.

II. Conclusion

17. In closing, I hope that the learning and connections facilitated through CIFA-AFC 2022 will continue to yield value and rich insights. Let’s build better and stronger across Government, institutions and practitioners, towards our common objective of empowering and strengthening families. 

18. Thank you.

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