1 Senior Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Education, Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, led an inter-agency delegation from Singapore who presented Singapore’s combined Fourth and Fifth Periodic Reports at the 81st Session of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, on 16 and 17 May 2019.
The Committee commended Singapore’s significant progress in advancing children’s rights since the last review in 2011. While noting that there would always be room for improvement, the Committee welcomed many of our efforts including our forthcoming amendments to raise the age limit of the Children and Young Persons Act from 16 years to 18 years to better protect our children, the use of robust screening and reporting tools for child protection, the establishment of the Family Justice Courts, and significant investments in the Early Childhood Education sector.
During the dialogue with the Committee, Associate Professor Faishal reaffirmed Singapore’s commitment to protect the wellbeing of our children. He outlined the concrete steps taken by Singapore to be a nurturing and endearing home for our children:
Providing every child with a good start, regardless of their situation at birth;
Providing a nurturing environment where our children can thrive;
Protecting and supporting our children who are vulnerable; and
Government partnering civil society and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to support our children.
Associate Professor Faishal shared Singapore’s whole-of-society approach to ensure and promote the rights of children. For example, Singapore established an Inter-Ministry Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1996, which coordinates and monitors programmes for children in Singapore. 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.
Providing a good start for our children
Associate Professor Faishal elaborated on how Singapore strives to help children reach their maximum potential. Singapore believes in education as a key social enabler and no child will be denied an education because they cannot afford it. We also invest heavily in the early childhood sector, with the Government committing to quadrupling its annual spending on the preschool sector between 2012 and 2023.
Additional support is extended to children from less privileged backgrounds. The KidSTART pilot programme provides upstream support for the health, learning and development needs of children from low-income families. An inter-agency taskforce – Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce (UPLIFT) – further strengthens support for under-performing children from disadvantaged families.
Providing a nurturing environment where our children can thrive
The Government partners with and supports families, since we recognise that families exert the greatest nurturing influence on children’s lives. Parents receive help with child-raising costs, parental leave schemes, and useful resources and services. Employers are strongly encouraged to introduce family-friendly work practices such as flexible work arrangements.
Singapore has taken steps to reduce academic stress, such as by revamping the Primary School Leaving Examination and reducing the number of school-based examinations.
As a whole-of-nation effort, the NurtureSG Action Plan aims to enhance the health outcomes of our children and youth in the key areas of physical activity, nutrition, mental well-being, and sleep health.
Protecting and supporting our children who are vulnerable
Associate Professor Faishal highlighted the additional assistance given to children with developmental and special education needs. For example, Singapore is investing around S$60 million a year from 2019 – a 30% increase from 2018 – to enhance Early Intervention programmes to meet the varied needs of children, and to make fees more affordable.
Significantly, Singapore is also reviewing legislation to better care for, protect and rehabilitate our vulnerable children and youth. The proposal to raise the Children and Young Persons Act age limit to 18 years to reflect the UNCRC’s definition of a child is one such example. Associate Professor Faishal also shared how Parliament had passed amendments in May 2019 to introduce new Penal Code offences relating to fatal child abuse, sexual abuse and exploitation of a child.
Partnering NGOs to provide stronger communities and support networks for our children
Associate Professor Faishal shared how the Government encourages an active and caring citizenry, and consults stakeholders including NGOs in our efforts. NGOs such as Family Service Centres, Child Protection Specialist Centres and Family Violence Specialist Centres, are key providers of accessible and people-centric social services. Like the Government, our NGOs are committed and dedicated to our children. We will continue to strengthen our partnerships with civil society to provide strong support networks for our children.