Sunday, 16 September 2012

S'pore will stick to policy of encouraging traditional families: PM Lee

By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 14 Sep 2012

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said that the country will stick to its policy of encouraging traditional families.

He made this point at a television forum hosted by Channel NewsAsia to discuss the country's future on Friday.

The forum, called "A Conversation With PM Lee", also involved Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, and Members of Parliament Indranee Rajah and Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar.

The Singaporeans at the forum were a diverse mix - entrepreneurs, students, housewives and even new citizens.



The forum was not so much about getting immediate answers from the panel, but rather it was a chance to air their views and aspirations about Singapore, in a no-holds barred discussion.

One of those at the forum, fashion designer Jo Soh, said: "If I can't find a husband that I want to marry, why can't I have a child as a single woman? Or why can't de-facto couples be recognised? Why can't de-facto couples have children and still have the same access to subsidies and rights?"

It was a question that prompted PM Lee to ask for a straw poll on the issue - should non-married couples have children?

The vote was split almost equal - 46 per cent voted "yes" and 54 per cent said "no".

While it took Mr Lee by surprise, he underlined the fact that Singapore society has benefited from sticking to a policy of encouraging traditional families.

He said: "There have been some significant advantages to our society to aim for that norm because a kid brought up by a single mother or single father, I think, is at a disadvantaged in many ways, (in terms of) resources, guidance, stability of the family background.

"We are not static but society is evolving and I think the norms will evolve. We can't prevent it from changing but we also don't want it to just go wherever the latest fashion is."

The panel also stressed though that it was not about penalising single parents.

MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Indranee Rajah, said: "There really is nothing wrong about being a single parent or having diversity. The challenge in Singapore is we have different people with different viewpoints and how does the government manage that. So the point is you have to move fairly carefully on how you signal it.

"What the government does is not intended to penalise those who are not married but to actually help those who are married and looking at additional expenses. So hopefully we can look at it from that viewpoint. It's not meant to be a penalty but at the same time as society evolves, we can examine how it's going and how we can move as a society."

The conversation also delved into Singapore's future and the need to define what the country is aiming for over the next two to three decades.

Mr Lee said: "We never arrive, you see. We're always on a journey. If you have arrived, you fall off the bicycle. We have to keep on moving and aiming for something which is in front of you, which is worthwhile."

He also acknowledged that consensus building will not be easy, but what is needed is a shared purpose.

Mr Lee said: "There will be many dreams and many aspirations among Singaporeans, there has to be a certain shared purpose and identity. We're all Singaporeans, that is something which distinguishes us, so we recognise one another, we feel together.

"But we have different things that we may like to do. You may want to teach, you may want to be in social enterprise, you may want to be in the arts or in music, or you feel passionately about building your business.

"I think the special thing about Singapore is that whichever aspirations you have, you have a chance of achieving it here. Your child, son and daughter also ought to have more of a chance of making it over here."

Another question asked during the forum was whether Singaporeans feel that the next generation will have a better future?

70 per cent of the audience responded affirmatively.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who heads the committee that is facilitating the national conversation about Singapore's future, felt it was an encouraging sign.

He said: "I'm actually quite optimistic when I hear from all of you. When you talk about values, many of you have expressed aspirations about the Singapore that you want.

"If many of us speak up about the sort of issues that we have just discussed, I think our sense of common purpose will come together. I'm hoping that in the coming weeks and months, we will have a rich and meaningful conversation among Singaporeans about where we want to go."

The forum was an interactive dialogue which saw Singaporeans expressing their views freely.

This is just the start of the Singapore Conversation. Many more of such dialogues will be rolled out over the next few months involving Singaporeans from all walks of life. Some will be in different languages, some in smaller settings and some also away from the media glare, to facilitate a free flow of conversation.

On his Facebook page, Mr Lee said that the discussion was lively and often intense, and that participants made many eloquent arguments and useful proposals. He also said that it was a good start to the national conversation.

The full video of the forum is available on channelnewsasia.com/conversation.





Number of single-parent families in need of help "not large"
By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 15 Sep 2012

Single-parent families and the challenges they face have been the subject of much discussion, after a TV forum with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

At the constituency level, grassroots too have been helping single-parent families cope.

The number of cases of single-parent families in need of help is not large, and the cases brought up at the Meet-the-People sessions are often those who need assistance with homes and schools, say MPs whom Channel NewsAsia spoke to.

Hri Kumar, MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, said: "It's a difficult issue but I don't think we should be afraid of making exceptions...Families who have mothers or fathers who are single parents not through choices but through unhappy circumstances - we should help them and we should not forget that the child's welfare is paramount."

"The mother and child would have to move on in life and society has to provide that sort of support for both the mother and child," said Ms Ellen Lee, MP for Sembawang GRC. "If people are important to us, the illegitimate child is also important to us."

"The issue is: should we be assisting them to make their life just a little bit easier? Should we be looking for ways for the single mum, who has never been married, to have as much assistance in raising her children as another mum who is married? The numbers are not large, the problems are not left to hang. There are a lot of community resource we can bring to bear," said Dr Janil Puthucheary, MP for Pasir Ris-Pungggol GRC.

Grassroots bodies have several programmes to help single-parent families in need.

"We are working very closely with the community because at the end of the day, we want to have community befrienders who actually befriend these families so that whenever they need help, we are able to activate the national scheme or local scheme," said Dr Teo Ho Pin, MP for Bukit Panjang GRC.

"We try to ensure that the kids continue to remain in school and the mother has a stable job to ensure that the family continues to be stable," added Mr Zainudin Nordin, MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.

The MPs said the ongoing Our Singapore Conversation is expected to be a lively platform to discuss future trends in single parenthood.

"The National Conversation is a very good opportunity for us to get a very good feel of the pulse of Singapore society going forward and then that would probably move into the situation where we review policies such as maternity, housing affecting singles and single families," said Mr Desmond Lee, MP for Jurong GRC.

The dialogues are expected to take place both at the national and local constituency levels.


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