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Singapore Government

Speech by Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs at the Engaging Hearts & Minds Seminar

Speech by Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs at the Engaging Hearts & Minds Seminar

Our valued partners

Friends and Colleagues

Ladies and Gentlemen


Good morning everyone. I am heartened to be here today at the fourth Engaging Hearts and Minds Seminar. A platform like this is useful for us to share experiences and exchange views on how to improve and strengthen the marriage and family life of our community. We are living in a fast-changing, more complex environment which can pose many challenges to our families. It is, therefore, important for us to understand these challenges and ensure that our developmental approaches in strengthening families continue to be collaborative and concerted.

Family Stability is Key to Positive Outcomes

I am pleased to note that generally, marriages in Singapore are strong and healthy. A study by the Ministry of Social and Family Development in 2013 revealed that 92% of the married respondents indicated that they were satisfied with their marriage.

Muslim marriages are also getting stronger and more resilient. The recent report on Dissolution of Marriages among Marriage Cohorts showed that couples who marry in 2008 have fewer divorces before the 5th anniversary compared to couples who marry in 2003. The drop is by a significant 3% from 14.0% for the 2003 marriage cohort to 11% for the 2008 cohort. Proportion of minor marriages and remarriages had also declined over a period of 10 years from 2004 to 2014. These positive trends affirm that we are on the right track. I commend the efforts of the agencies, and many of you are here today, that have worked together to achieve this.

Yet, the trends also indicate that young marriages and remarriages remain vulnerable. Divorce among recent marriage cohorts involving young grooms aged 20 to 24 years is 1.5 times higher than that of older grooms. There is also a higher proportion of dissolution among remarriages and lower educated couples. What concerns us most is the fact that the divorces often involve families with young children.

Collaborative Marriages

So what makes a strong and healthy marriage? Healthy spousal relations is built on the principles of collaboration and consultation. That means putting aside differences and controlling emotions, discussing and resolving issues together, sometimes sacrificing personal gains for the sake of the family. Those of you who are married would know this is no easy feat.

With more couples forming dual career families today, traditional roles and responsibilities evolve and expectations differ. Couples need to have the flexibility to adjust and have a collaborative mind-set to tackle challenges together. How can we, as family and friends, as family life educators and social service practitioners, empower married couples to do so? In what ways can we provide support to help them to persevere and overcome roadblocks? How can we understand them better so that we can be more effective?

Going Upstream in Building Collaborative Marriages & Resilient Families

Many of our community partners already run programmes and services to strengthen marriage and support families across marriage life stages. These include marriage preparation and enrichment programmes. Additional support is available to young couples and remarrying couples at the INSPIRASI Hubs and PPIS Vista Sakinah.

We want all marriages to last. Things, however, do not always go as planned and relationships can fail for various reasons. Counselling services are available to help couples facing marital challenges. In the event that marriages should break down, support is available via the four Divorce Support Specialist Agencies, appointed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development. These agencies have specialised counsellors and social workers to work with divorcing parents on co-parenting skills to ensure their children’s well-being is looked into. 

One area where I believe we can make a difference and continue to support the families is through preventive and upstream efforts – pre- and post-marriage. How can we make it easier for couples facing marital challenges to seek help early? How can we encourage couples to go for marriage health checks from time to time as part and parcel of married life? We need to inculcate a culture of lifelong learning where seeking marriage education, before and after marriage, and seeking proactivsupport , is encouraged and becomes the norm. 

Collaborative Practice amidst Changing Landscape

Today’s seminar brings together the social service sector that works most closely with the families in our community. Our speakers and panellists have been invited to share emerging trends, provide a contemporary perspective of marriage and divorce in Islam, and highlight strengths-based approaches in working with Malay/Muslim families. It is an opportunity to raise questions, learn from one another, network and exchange views on how to improve programmes and services to meet the new or unmet needs of our community.

‘Engaging Hearts and Minds’ is an apt description of what our work should be; understanding the families, their background, world-views and value systems. And it is through greater understanding, and a willingness to collaborate and journey together, that trust and mutual respect is built between the family and the practitioner. 

Collaborative Partnerships for Strong & Stable Families

Complex challenges and social problems cannot be effectively addressed without the concerted efforts and collaborative partnerships among practitioners and professionals. In order to do these things, we may have to transform the way we work and do so with a renewed sense of purpose. The intensity and complexity of the demands placed on us will grow in the future. This requires us to leverage on one another’s strengths and synergies to build a supportive ecosystem for future-ready social services. Together, we can strengthen our families. 

Once again, thank you for your participation. I look forward to an engaging discussion and wish you a fruitful Seminar.

Thank you.

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