Members of the Committee on the Rights of the Child,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Social and Family Development, and the Ministry of Education. I am honoured to present Singapore’s Fourth and Fifth Periodic Reports on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to the Committee today.
We would also like to congratulate the new Chairperson and Vice-Chairpersons on their recent appointment, and we look forward to a fruitful discussion with the Committee.
In these opening remarks, I will share Singapore’s vision for our children. First, how we provide a good start for every child. Second, how we provide a nurturing environment where they can thrive. Third, how we defend and support our children who are vulnerable. Fourth, how we partner non-governmental organisations to provide stronger communities and support networks for our children.
II. SINGAPORE’S VISION FOR CHILDREN
This year, Singapore celebrates our bicentennial. Building a fair, just, and inclusive society has always been the top priority for the Government. In particular, we aim to be a nurturing and endearing home for our children, for this generation and the ones to come. We want every child to be safe and secure, and to have opportunities to develop to his full potential and to fulfil his dreams.
We invest heavily in our children to secure their future and well-being. We strive to ensure that every child has a good start in life, so that no child is disadvantaged because of his circumstances of birth.
Our world is fast-changing. Our children are faced both with greater opportunities to pursue their dreams and succeed, and new and evolving challenges. We want to ensure no child is left behind, and every child can face the future with hope and confidence.
Singapore has a long-established Inter-Ministry Committee which coordinates and implements policies and programmes for children in Singapore. This Inter-Ministry Committee has served us well. There is collective ownership of children’s issues by the different agencies, each of whom are clear about their roles and responsibilities, and who also work closely with non-government parties including community partners, as we see ensuring the rights of children as a whole-of-society effort.
We are grateful for this opportunity to share with the Committee what we have achieved in the area of child rights since our last review in 2011. Singapore is fully committed to promoting and advancing the rights of our children. The Committee’s comments and recommendations in our last oral presentation and concluding observations have helped us further strengthen our own policies and programmes for children. We have made progress in many aspects, even as we recognise that much more can be done. We look forward to hearing and learning from the Committee on the areas Singapore can further strengthen.
III. SINGAPORE STRIVES TO PROVIDE OUR CHILDREN WITH A GOOD START
To realise our vision, we first strive to provide a good start for every child. Our children must be provided the means and opportunities to succeed. We have implemented measures to ensure our children are provided a good start to help them reach their maximum potential.
Singapore believes in education as a key social enabler. Our education policies ensure that our children have access to quality education and no child will be denied an education because he cannot afford it. Our literacy rates are high – almost 97% of each Primary One school cohort progress to post-secondary education. Singaporean children are also not required to pay any school fees for their Primary education. The Government also provides financial assistance to children from low-income families through various schemes.
Singapore is investing heavily in the early childhood sector. We are more than quadrupling our annual spending on the preschool sector over a ten-year period, from SGD 360 million (USD 264 million) in 2012 to SGD 1.7 billion (USD 1.2 billion) by 2023. Over the same period, we are more than doubling the number of full-day preschool places, and working towards providing at least 2 in 3 children with access to affordable and quality preschools funded by the Government.
Singapore provides additional support to children from less privileged backgrounds. We have been piloting a KidSTART programme since 2016 to provide upstream support for health, learning and development needs for children from low-income families. We have also established an inter-agency taskforce called UPLIFT – Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Task Force – since 2018 to further strengthen support for under-performing children from disadvantaged families.
Singapore is taking a holistic approach towards early intervention. We have enhanced the continuum of early intervention services to be more customised to different children’s needs. We will integrate oversight of early intervention and early childhood development services of preschool-aged children under one agency, to better coordinate support services for children with developmental needs and their families.
IV. SINGAPORE IS COMMITTED TO PROVIDING OUR CHILDREN WITH A NURTURING ENVIRONMENT WHERE THEY CAN THRIVE
To realise our vision, we are also committed to provide our children with a nurturing environment that will help them thrive. Our families exert the greatest nurturing influence on our children’s lives. The Government therefore partners with and supports families in nurturing our children.
Singapore supports parents in their care for their children. The Government helps parents with child-raising costs, through measures such as the Baby Bonus cash gift and government co-savings into the Child Development Account, on top of an initial first step grant. This account can be used to pay for approved child-raising uses, such as preschool and medical expenses. In addition, we have several parental leave schemes coded into our legislation. Employers are strongly encouraged to introduce family-friendly work practices such as flexible work arrangements, and the Government works with them to do so. We also support parents by providing localised, research-backed parenting information and resources through the Baby Bonus Parenting Resources portal, and have made it easier for parents with newborns and young children to access useful services and information through a single platform – the Moments of Life (Families) app.
Singapore promotes family bonding and positive parenting. The Families for Life Council engages Singaporeans through its 365-day engagement approach with a variety of programmes to encourage family time and enhance family life. Positive parenting is promoted through FamilyMatters!, where a wide range of programmes are offered to equip parents with effective parenting skills throughout the life stages of a child.
Beyond the family environment, we recognise children are impacted by the macro environment. We have taken steps to ensure that our children are healthy physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Singapore has taken major steps to reduce school stress. We have revamped the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) national examination. From 2021, eight scoring bands will replace the PSLE T-score system. This new scoring system will grade each student on their individual performance, which differs from the old T-score system, which grades a student’s performance relative to the rest of the cohort. We have also adjusted school-based assessment structures at the Primary and Secondary levels from 2019 by reducing the number of school-based exams. We are also in the midst of replacing streaming in schools with subject-based banding, in which students can take subjects (at a higher or lower level) based on their strengths.
Singapore embarked on a whole-of-nation effort, NurtureSG, to enhance the health outcomes of our children and youth. In 2016, an Inter-Ministry Taskforce consulted almost 1,000 members of public to seek views on health concerns, and possible ways to address the gaps. Recommendations submitted have been consolidated into an Action Plan, which was launched in June 2017 and focuses on the key areas of physical activity and nutrition, mental well-being, and sleep health.
V. SINGAPORE DEFENDS AND SUPPORTS OUR CHILDREN WHO ARE VULNERABLE
Another important area of work is how Singapore defends and supports vulnerable groups in our midst who require more help.
Low-income Singaporeans, including children, are provided additional assistance. The Community Care (ComCare) assistance scheme provides financial assistance to help low-income Singaporeans and permanent residents cover their basic living needs. Approximately SGD 131 million (USD 92 million) in ComCare Assistance was disbursed in the financial year 2017 to about 30,000 unique households comprising about 70,000 unique individuals.
Additional support is provided for children with developmental needs and special education needs. Currently, children under the age of 7 with developmental needs can receive intervention through Government-funded Early Intervention programmes. From 2019 onwards, Singapore will invest around SGD 60 million (USD 42 million) a year – a 30% increase from SGD 45 million (USD 33 million) in 2018 – to enhance our Early Intervention programmes so that they are better tailored to the varied needs of children, and to make fees for Early Intervention services much more affordable. Our Compulsory Education Act has also been extended with effect from 2019 to include children with moderate to severe special education needs, to ensure they attend regular educational programmes in our national schools.
Singapore has reviewed legislation to better care for, protect, and rehabilitate our more vulnerable children and youth. The Children and Young Persons Act is under review, and we have been consulting citizens on the proposals. The Amendment Bill is expected to be introduced in Parliament late this year or early next year. We are proposing to:
Firstly, raise the age limit of a child and young person, from 16 years to 18 years, bringing the age limit under the Act into alignment with the age of a child under the UNCRC.
Secondly, enhance care and protection of a child and young person. For children who are unlikely to be able to reside safely with their families, we will ensure stable long-term care arrangements are made in a timely manner to safeguard their right to development.
Thirdly, emphasise community-based care and the responsibility of the family to guide their child and resolve familial conflicts for children and young persons who are beyond parental control.
We will also be amending the Penal Code to ensure our children under 18 years are protected from physical and sexual offences. The proposed amendments have been passed in Parliament in May 2019 and include:
Introduction of new offences to prevent fatal child abuse. We will also double penalties for offences committed against children.
Introduction of new offences relating to sexual abuse and exploitation of a child, including the offence of sexual communication, causing a child to look at a sexual image, and criminalising child abuse material.
The Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility will also be raised from 7 to 10 years of age, and the amendment proposal has been passed in Parliament as part of the Penal Code amendments in May 2019.
VI. SINGAPORE PARTNERS NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATIONS TO PROVIDE STRONGER COMMUNITIES AND SUPPORT NETWORKS FOR OUR CHILDREN
Finally, it takes a village to raise a child. The Singapore Government values our NGOs for their work in advocacy as it helps us to enhance our policies and practices. We also partner them as key providers of social services for our families and children.
Singapore encourages an active and caring citizenry, and has been engaging NGOs. We consult relevant stakeholders in policy formulation and legislative reviews.
NGOs are key providers of accessible and people-centric social services. Our Family Service Centres and Child Protection Specialist Centres work with the family to address child protection concerns. For children who have to be temporarily removed from their families, they may either be matched by Fostering Agencies with a kin or foster carer, or placed in our Voluntary Children Homes. Our Child Protective Service works with NGOs to ensure that children are kept safe in their families with supporting services, so that removal is only exercised as a last resort.
Distinguished Chairperson, I have given a brief overview of our latest developments relating to the state of children and how we protect their rights in Singapore. I look forward to the Committee’s comments and a fruitful discussion.