The Women’s Charter (Family Violence and Other Matters) (Amendment) Bill (“FV Amendment Bill”) was introduced for First Reading in Parliament today. The Bill amends the Women’s Charter to strengthen protection for survivors of family violence (FV) and enhance rehabilitation and accountability of perpetrators of FV.
2. Strong and stable families are the bedrock of our society. For families that are facing or at risk of violence, it is important, once the protection and safety objective has been achieved, to help offenders rehabilitate and families to reconcile and heal relationships. This will help break the cycle of violence.
4. The amendments cover four key focal areas:
a. Empowering FV survivors to better protect themselves;
b. Strengthening the Government's ability to intervene in FV cases;
c. Empowering the Court to make additional rehabilitative provisions, raise penalties and strengthen enforcement against breaches; and
d. Enhancing protection for women and girls.
A. Empowering FV survivors to better protect themselves
5. Stay Away and No Contact provisions: Today, a Personal Protection Order (PPO) can contain provisions for Domestic Exclusion or Counselling. The Bill will allow two new types of provisions. A Stay Away provision prohibits the perpetrator from being in the vicinity of the survivor. A No Contact provision prohibits the perpetrator from visiting or communicating with the survivor.
6. Younger survivors will be able to apply for a PPO on their own. The Bill allows those 18 years old to make a PPO application (the current eligible age is 21 years).
7. Survivors’ identities will be protected. Unless the Director-General of Social Welfare (DGSW)’s approval and the survivor’s consent have been obtained, the Bill prohibits any publication or broadcast that identifies or is likely to identify the survivor, for his/her privacy, safety and well-being.
B. Strengthening the Government's ability to intervene in FV cases
8. Definition of FV will be updated to make clear that it covers physical, sexual, and emotional or psychological abuse. It also clarifies that abuse may occur as a single instance or a course of conduct or behaviour.
9. Protectors will be able to issue Emergency Orders (EORs) in high-risk cases. The Bill empowers Protectors to issue time-limited EORs at the scene to prohibit perpetrators from committing further FV. An EOR can similarly contain Domestic Exclusion, Stay Away or No Contact provisions. A breach of the EOR will be an arrestable offence.
10. Protectors will be able to apply for PPOs on behalf of survivors. To ensure the safety of FV survivors who are at risk of being harmed but refuse to apply for a PPO, the Bill empowers Protectors to apply for a PPO on behalf of the survivor.
11. Protectors will be able to apply to the Court for electronic monitoring of high-risk FV perpetrators. For a small minority of survivors who may be unwilling to report breaches of PPO, even if there is high risk of harm, the Bill will allow Protectors to apply for electronic monitoring where there is reasonable suspicion that a PPO has been breached with harm inflicted on the survivor.
12. Protectors will be able to apply to the Court to remove survivors for their safety, if all other measures are insufficient to protect the survivor. In exceptional circumstances, and as a last resort, the Bill empowers MSF to apply to the Court to remove an adult survivor from his or her home, if his/her personal safety is seriously threatened, but he/she does not take steps to protect himself/herself (e.g. refusing to report a breach of a PPO).
C. Empowering the Court to make additional rehabilitative provisions, raise penalties and strengthen enforcement against breaches
13. Additional provisions in PPO to strengthen the rehabilitation of perpetrators. The Bill expands the scope of Counselling provisions to include other programmes, treatments, and interventions (e.g. parenting programmes, caregiving training) to better rehabilitate perpetrators of FV.
14. The Bill also allows for Mandatory Treatment provisions if the Court is satisfied that the FV perpetrator is suffering from a treatable psychiatric condition that is likely to be a contributing factor to the occurrence of FV. The rehabilitative provisions (i.e. Counselling and Mandatory Treatment provisions) will continue even if the PPO is revoked subsequently so that the necessary interventions can be completed adequately.
15. Strengthen enforcement and penalties against breaches. To enhance accountability of perpetrators and minimally ensure alignment to the Protection from Harassment Act, the Bill increases the penalties for breaches of FV-related Court orders to a maximum of $10,000 fine (up from $2,000) or a 12-month imprisonment term (up from 6 months), or both, for a first conviction. Additionally, to ensure that perpetrators take their rehabilitative provisions seriously, any breach of a Counselling provision, assessment order for the purpose of Mandatory Treatment, and a Mandatory Treatment provision will be an offence punishable with a fine not exceeding $2,000.
D. Enhancing protection for women and girls
16. The DGSW will be empowered to produce women and girls in Places of Safety for assessment or treatment. To strengthen the recovery of women and girls admitted to Places of Safety or placed under the care of suitable persons, the Bill empowers MSF to bring them for medical, dental, or psychological assessment or treatment where it is in the woman's or girl’s best interests to receive such assessment or treatment.
Annex A: Summary of Feedback from Public Consultation on Family Violence Legislation
1. The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) sought public feedback from 6 to 30 April 2022 on the proposed family violence (FV)-related amendments to the Women’s Charter. MSF received over 60 written responses from the public, including FV survivors, their relatives, and friends, and FV perpetrators. This was in addition to the stakeholders that MSF had engaged as part of the Taskforce on Family Violence’s work, including Family Service Centres, Protection Specialist Centres, crisis shelters, healthcare workers, and lawyers.
2. There was strong support from stakeholders and members of the public (‘contributors’) for the key amendments proposed for the Women’s Charter (Family Violence and Other Matters) (Amendment) Bill (“FV Amendment Bill”). MSF received many good suggestions and contributions, some of which have been included in the Bill. The key feedback and MSF’s responses are summarised below.
Strengthen protection for survivors of family violence
3. Personal Protection Orders (PPOs) applications by MSF. Contributors supported the proposal to empower the Director-General of Social Welfare (DGSW) and Protectors to make PPO applications on behalf of survivors for their safety, but suggested making clear for whom and when such powers could be invoked, to ensure proper exercise of this power. MSF agrees that such powers should be exercised prudently and only in situations where the survivor’s safety is threatened but he/she is unwilling to apply for a PPO.
4. Additional rehabilitative provisions. The majority of the contributors agreed with the proposal to expand the type of additional provisions the Court might make when issuing a PPO to prohibit perpetrators of FV from being in a designated area at certain times or from visiting or communicating with the survivor. To address contributors’ feedback that ‘non-access’, ‘non-communication’ and ‘non-visitation’ orders may be confused with child access arrangements, the proposed provisions will be known as No Contact and Stay Away provisions in the Bill. Additionally, contributors welcomed the proposal for the Court to issue a Mandatory Treatment provision to rehabilitate perpetrators of FV and suggested that the Court receive expert assistance when issuing such provisions. The Bill will make clear that the Court must seek formal assessment by an appointed psychiatrist to certify the perpetrator’s condition, treatability, and relevance to the violence before the Mandatory Treatment provision is issued.
5. Emergency Orders (EOR) for high-risk FV cases. Contributors supported the introduction of time-limited protection notices to be issued at the scene to perpetrators where there is a risk of immediate harm to the survivor, with some highlighting the need for proper safeguards, including how and when such notices could be issued. Some suggested that cases under such protection orders be brought urgently before the Court for a court order to be issued.
6. MSF agrees with the suggestions. To emphasise the seriousness of the matter, the notice will be called an Emergency Order in the Bill, and the power to issue EORs will be limited to the Protectors who must be satisfied that the perpetrator is likely to commit FV within the next 14 days, and that an EOR is necessary to protect the survivor before he/she applies for a PPO or Expedited Order.
7. MSF intends to empower Protectors in its 24-hour Domestic Violence Emergency Response Team (DVERT) to issue the EOR. The DVERT will respond jointly with the Police to domestic violence cases with immediate safety concerns.
8. Protection of FV survivor’s identity. Most contributors supported the proposal to prohibit the publication or broadcast of identifiable information or pictures of FV cases to avoid re-traumatising the survivor, and to empower the Court to order the removal of such information. However, some felt that survivors should be empowered to give their consent for such publications as this could help raise awareness on FV or deter potential perpetrators. MSF has considered the feedback. To protect the survivor’s privacy and to provide him/her time to recover and focus on repairing their familial relationships as necessary, the amendment will prohibit the publication or broadcast of identifiable information, unless with the survivor’s consent and the DGSW’s approval.
9. Some contributors suggested that the perpetrator should be named for deterrence. However, others noted that doing so would lead to the identification of the survivor. As the intent is to rehabilitate the perpetrator, and help the family heal, the Bill would protect the identities of survivors, and by extension, all identifying information in relation to the survivor, including the perpetrator’s name, for the family’s privacy, unless with the survivor’s consent and the DGSW’s approval.
Enhance accountability and strengthen rehabilitation of perpetrators of FV
10. Counselling must be completed before a PPO can be revoked. Most contributors viewed counselling as helpful in the recovery and healing process and emphasised the responsibility the perpetrator has in the rehabilitation process. The majority agreed that PPOs should not be revoked before the perpetrator has completed the court-ordered counselling, with a few commenting that survivors ought to complete the counselling as well. Some suggested that revocation without completion of counselling be considered in exceptional circumstances, based on the assessment by MSF or social service professionals. Others suggested that the Court conduct the necessary assessments before deciding if a PPO should be revoked and that applications to revoke PPOs should only be made by social service professionals and not survivors, as these professionals would have a more objective view of the family situation. A few contributors felt that severe or prolonged medical illness or loss of mental capacity could be considered as an exceptional circumstance to apply to revoke a PPO when the counselling has not been completed.
11. MSF agrees with the majority of contributors that revocation of a PPO should not be made before the counselling is completed. The Bill will make clear that before a PPO can be revoked – and if a Counselling provision was issued to the perpetrator – the Court must consider any assessment by the relevant counselling agency, and if there has been any change to the circumstances which necessitated the PPO. The Court can disregard an application for a PPO revocation if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the survivor’s consent to the application was not voluntarily given. MSF will also be proposing a maximum duration of 36 months for a Counselling provision, before such orders are automatically discharged.
12. Stronger enforcement against breaches. Contributors strongly supported the proposal to strengthen the enforcement approach. Many felt that criminalising breaches of Court orders or provisions was necessary to hold perpetrators accountable, deter them from committing further FV, and ensure that they complete their rehabilitation programme. Some suggested that penalties imposed should be proportionate to the offence, with only the most serious breaches requiring imprisonment. A few viewed the criminalisation of breaches of counselling as too harsh, if there was no likelihood of harm arising from the breach. MSF takes a strong stance against violence. Under the Bill, penalties for breaches of Court orders and provisions will be increased, breaches of the new Court orders will be an arrestable offence and breaches of the Counselling provision, assessment order for the purpose of mandatory treatment and Mandatory Treatment provision will be a fine.
13. Replace “mental defective” with “mental impairment”. All contributors supported the removal of the term “mental defective” and felt that the new term should encompass more vulnerable persons who lacked the ability to give informed consent. MSF agrees and will replace the term with “mental impairment” and define it clearly in the Bill.
14. Explore enacting a standalone ‘Domestic Violence Act’’. Contributors felt that every individual should be protected under the Women’s Charter. Some proposed creating a new Domestic Violence Act with the definition of ‘family member’ expanded to include unmarried persons or intimate partners who might not live in the same household. MSF is prepared to consider the possibility of enacting a standalone Domestic Violence Act in the future.
15. Public Education. Some contributors suggested raising awareness of emotional and psychological abuse. MSF had launched the refreshed “Break the Silence” campaign in November 2021 with a greater focus on building awareness of the different types of abuse, and to educate the public on what to do if they encounter domestic violence. MSF will continue to expand our public education and outreach efforts
16. MSF would like to thank all stakeholders and members of the public who gave feedback on the proposed amendments. If passed in Parliament, the FV Amendment Bill will strengthen Singapore’s legislative framework to better protect survivors of FV and enhance accountability and rehabilitation of perpetrators of FV.
Annex B: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. How many new cases of family violence (FV) are there each year?
MSF investigated 2,254 new FV-related cases in 2022, relatively similar to the number of new cases in the year prior (2,346 in 2021).
MSF and our partners have been raising public awareness through public education and outreach efforts on family violence and how to seek help or report suspected incidences. The National Anti-Violence and Sexual Harassment Helpline (NAVH) was launched in 2021. The NAVH received 10,800 calls in 2022, up from 8,400 calls in 2021.
2. Would prohibiting the publication or broadcast of information that is likely to identify FV survivors impede efforts to create greater public awareness of FV?
The amendments would not prevent publication or broadcast of information from being published, where such information is unlikely to identify the survivor. This is so that the public continues to be made aware of FV when it occurs.
The amendments aim to encourage survivors to report incidents of FV to the relevant authorities without fear of being publicly embarrassed, and to spare survivors who do report such incidents from further trauma. The purpose of prohibiting publication of information is solely to protect survivors, and never to benefit perpetrators. The amendments may prohibit a perpetrator’s identity from being published, but only where publication of his/her identity would likely lead to the survivor’s identification. While public awareness is critical in detecting and addressing FV, such efforts should not come at the expense of FV survivors’ safety and well-being.
The amendments will prohibit the publication or broadcast of information that identifies or is likely to identify the FV survivor, unless with the Director-General of Social Welfare (DGSW)’s approval and the consent of the survivor. For FV survivors who consent to publication or broadcast of their identities, the DGSW will regard their consent as a highly relevant factor and will balance the survivor’s self-determination against any impact to his/her safety and well-being (including readiness of survivors to share their stories), in deciding whether to grant approval.
3. What is an Emergency Order?
An Emergency Order (EOR) is an order which the MSF’s Domestic Violence Emergency Response Team (DVERT)2 can issue to perpetrators at the scene if the DVERT is satisfied that there is a danger that the perpetrator will commit FV imminently, and the EOR is necessary for the survivor’s protection or personal safety.
The EOR restrains the perpetrator from committing further FV against a family member. The EOR may include other provisions - Domestic Exclusion, Stay Away, and/or No Contact. The EOR is valid for 14 days to give the survivor time to apply for a PPO. Although it is not a Court order, breaching an EOR is an arrestable offence.
4. What is the difference between an Emergency Order (EOR) and an Expedited Order (EO) or a Personal Protection Order (PPO)?
An EOR is issued at the scene by MSF’s DVERT. An EO is issued by the Court if it is satisfied, that there is a danger of FV being committed, while it decides on an individual’s application for a PPO. An EO lasts for 28 days. A PPO is the most common type of order, and its duration is decided by the court.
An EO, PPO and EOR may include other provisions for Domestic Exclusion, Stay Away and No Contact.
An EOR that is issued must not be inconsistent with any other order already made by the Court (i.e. a PPO or EO).
5. Under what circumstances would the DGSW or Protector apply for a PPO on behalf of a survivor?
To balance the survivor’s safety against his/her self-determination, the DGSW or a Protector will only make applications on behalf of the survivor, if he/she is assessed to be at high risk of being harmed again, but refuses to apply for a PPO. This could be due to the influence the perpetrator has over the survivor and the survivor’s wish to preserve the relationship with the perpetrator, to his or her own detriment.
The DGSW or Protector will need to present the Court with sufficient evidence and expert assessments for such applications. The Court will take into consideration the facts of the case, the views of all affected parties, including the survivor’s account, before deciding if there are reasonable grounds for a PPO to be made on behalf of the survivor.
6. Under what circumstances would the DGSW or Protector apply to remove a survivor from his or her home and/or electronically monitor the perpetrator? Aren’t these powers intrusive? How would these measures help the survivor?
As a last resort, where all interventions, which might include electronic monitoring, have failed, the DSGW or Protector can also apply to the Court to remove a survivor from his/her home so as to keep the survivor safe. The Court will only remove the survivor if it is satisfied that the order is necessary for the protection or personal safety of the survivor.
7. Where would the survivor stay after s/he is removed?
The survivor may choose to stay with his/her relatives or friends. If such options are not available, MSF will facilitate the survivor’s move into a crisis shelter (for women and children) or a transitional shelter (for men).
8. Under the Women’s Charter, how is counselling different from mandatory treatment?
A Counselling provision includes treatments and interventions to manage non-psychiatric conditions. In contrast, a Mandatory Treatment provision is issued by the Court when a perpetrator is suffering from a psychiatric condition, the psychiatric condition is a contributing factor for the conduct or behaviour of the perpetrator that formed the basis for making the PPO against the perpetrator, the psychiatric condition is susceptible to treatment and the perpetrator is suitable for the treatment. The Mandatory Treatment provision may require the perpetrator to reside in a psychiatric institution or a prescribed place that provides the psychiatric treatment.
9. These amendments arose from the Taskforce on Family Violence’s recommendations. What is the progress of the implementation of the other recommendations from the Taskforce?
The Taskforce on Family Violence released a report in September 2021 with 16 key recommendations to improve immediate support for survivors, enhance protection for them, prevent violence from recurring, and raise awareness of early warning signs.
MSF has worked with government and community agencies to progressively implement the recommendations, including the following:
(d) Ongoing efforts to increase awareness of domestic violence through public education efforts
Annex C: Translation of Key Terms
|Counselling Provision||辅导条文||Peruntukan Kaunselling||ஆலோசனைக்கான ஏற்பாடு|
|Domestic Exclusion Provision||家庭驱逐条文||Peruntukan Dihalang Masuk||வீட்டிலிருந்து தடைக்கான ஏற்பாடு|
|Domestic Violence Emergency Response Team||家暴紧急应对小组||Pasukan Tindak Balas Kecemasan Keganasan Rumah Tangga||குடும்ப வன்முறை அவசரகால நடவடிக்கைக் குழு|
|Emergency Order||紧急令||Perintah Kecemasan||அவசரகால உத்தரவு|
|Expedited Order||急速令||Perintah Sementara||விரைவுபடுத்தப்பட்ட உத்தரவு|
|Mandatory Treatment Provision||强制治疗条文||Peruntukan Rawatan Mandatori||கட்டாய சிகிச்சைக்கான ஏற்பாடு|
|No Contact Provision||无接触条文||Peruntukan Dilarang Berhubung||தொடர்பு கூடாதற்கான ஏற்பாடு|
|Personal Protection Order||个人保护令||Perintah Perlindungan Peribadi||தனிநபர் பாதுகாப்பு ஆணை|
|Rehabilitative Provision||改造条文||Peruntukan Pemulihan||புனர்வாழ்வு க்கான ஏற்பாடு|
|Stay Away Provision||隔离条文||Peruntukan Dilarang Berdekat||விலகி இருக்க ஏற்பாடு|
|Women’s Charter||妇女宪章||Piagam Wanita||மாதர் சாசனம்|
|Women’s Charter (Family Violence and Other Matters) (Amendment) Bill||妇女宪章 (家暴以其他) (修正) 法案||Rang Undang-Undang Piagam Wanita (Keganasan Keluarga dan Perkara-Perkara Lain) (Pindaan)||மாதர் சாசனம் (குடும்ப வன்முறை மற்றும் இதர விவகாரங்கள்) (சட்டத் திருத்த மசோதா)|