Ms Junie Foo, President, Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good evening everyone, I am happy to be here with you today. I understand that many of you are current or previous clients of our shelters. Some of you are also our corporate donors and I am very grateful that we have all come together tonight to celebrate how we have come so far together.
2. I believe that families face many difficulties and I see amongst us many women and children. Family violence is not something we can accept and condone as a society. It is something that the Government is working very actively on, but we need to do this together with our community partners.
3. I co-chair the Taskforce on Family Violence with MOS Faishal from MHA. During my time with MSF and MHA, I have seen these two Ministries work very closely when it comes to family violence. While we need strong enforcement from the police, we also need to work very closely with social workers and shelters because we know that for families in crisis, for the women and children, sometimes they do need to be away from their homes and the perpetrators, and be in a place where they can feel safe and recover.
4. I also know that our crisis shelters, Star Shelter, Casa Raudha and Anglican Family Centre, not only provide shelter services, but they also look at counselling and sometimes even job placements. Apart from the things that we can do for families living at the crisis shelters, I am fully aware that more needs to be done to tackle family violence and we intend to do it in many ways.
5. Last year, the Taskforce on Family Violence released 16 recommendations to tackle family violence. One of the first and most important areas is to raise awareness and increase the number of channels for victims to report family violence. I heard from a social worker that sometimes, victims of family violence have to think through several times before they decide to report the violence they are experiencing. This is because the perpetrator is often a loved one and nobody really wants to call the police to arrest this family member who has caused harm and hurt to them.
6. So, you can imagine that this poor lady, and I say lady because 75% of personal protection orders are applied for by women, considers the option seven times, which probably means she has already been hurt seven times before she even decides to make a call for help. We know that calling for help is not easy if you are staying at home with the perpetrator.
7. Another important thing we have done apart from having a National Anti-Violence and Sexual Harassment Helpline, is the institution of other channels for reporting, such as through the web and text. We have also launched the Signal for Help which is particularly useful when it comes to children, as they may not know how to verbalise what is happening at home or share if they are experiencing harm. But this hand signal is simple and something we can use to teach our children, so that they know if they want to reach out for help, they can use the hand signal and their teachers will recognise what this means - I am hurt and in trouble, please rescue me. This is just one of the very important things we have done, and there are other things that we are doing as well.
8. Last week, I announced our Emergency Response Team. Sometimes, when someone calls the police to ask for help in their home, the police may assess upon arrival that the situation does not warrant an arrest of the perpetrator. From next April onwards, we are starting an Emergency Response Team where the police officer goes down with a social worker, and the social worker will be given the powers to issue a time limited Emergency Notice. While the details are still being worked out, the notice will dictate a period where the perpetrator is not allowed to threaten and cause harm within 72 hours or an arrest will be made.
9. One other thing that we are looking at, is for Personal Protection Orders to be applied for by third parties. Some of you may have read about the unfortunate situation of a mother in her fifties or sixties, who was abused and badly injured by her son. But being a mother, she never reported him. For such situations, we are now putting in place the powers for a third party, such as a social worker or the Director-General of Social Welfare at MSF, to apply for the Personal Protection Orders on behalf of the person who is abused.
10. This is particularly important for elderly persons, as unfortunately, the number of elder abuse cases are increasing. And sometimes, these elderly people can have different problems and situations coming together. For example, the elderly person may have a child with certain mental health conditions or is stressed, and they take it out on the elderly person. Apart from that, the elderly person, if not physically abused, could also be neglected. Some elderly people are very weak, and they need to be bathed, have their adult diapers changed, or have their food brought to them. Imagine if this elderly person is very dependent, but the grown-up child is not taking care of the elderly person. This constitutes neglect and is a form of abuse in family violence.
11. Apart from these enforcement measures, it is important to keep our families strong and make sure that when there is conflict within the family, it does not degenerate into family violence. On a positive note, we are trying to encourage families to stay close to each other and get people to learn how to manage relationships should there be conflicts. Things like respectful relationships and respectful parenting may sound like common sense, but it is something that we reiterate and remind people around us.
12. This afternoon, I was at Gardens by the Bay because we launched the Family Zone, an area for families to engage in activities like picnics and flying kites. The Government is actively pushing out more of such activities, which are affordable, for family members to come together and have fun. When we spend happy moments together, it lessens the likelihood that when things go bad, one resorts to something as egregious as family violence.
13. Lastly, the Government also recently announced the Made for Families 2025 plan. We are doing many things to lead up to that, which include reviewing our benefits and incentives, such as the Baby Bonus, to see how we can better support families.
14. Thank you. I hope you enjoy the evening.