Protecting survivors of family abuse: 4 key takeaways from Singapore Parliament

Updated legal definitions, improved protection orders, more powers to protect victims, changes to Maintenance of Parents Act

A mother protects her child from father violence.
Family violence illustration. (PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — Two legislation amendments to better protect survivors of family violence were discussed in separate Bills in Parliament on Tuesday (5 July). Here are the key takeaways:

1. Updated definitions of 'family violence'

Amendments to Singapore's Women’s Charter were passed to better protecting victims of family violence, as well as to give the government more powers to deal with such cases.

Presenting the Bill for a second reading in Parliament, Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling said that the existing definition of “family violence” has been updated to make clear that it includes physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse.

For example, coercive behaviour - where perpetrators threaten to withhold monthly allowances from their spouses, constantly call to check on their whereabouts, and isolate them from friends or family - are now considered as emotional and psychological abuse.

2. Improved application of personal protection orders

In 2022, about 2,000 personal protection order (PPO) applications were made to the Family Justice Courts. However, there have been cases where family-violence survivors continue to be harassed outside of their homes, or via threats from text messages.

With the latest legislative changes, courts can issue a Stay Away Order or a No Contact Order to prevent these other forms of harassment, in addition to the Counselling Order or Domestic Exclusion Order that they are already empowered to issue.

A perpetrator issued a Stay Away Order cannot enter or remain in areas frequented by the survivor - such as a workplace or a childcare centre. A No Contact Order prohibits visits or communications with the survivor.

3. More powers to protect victims

The latest amendments will grant powers to “protectors” - appointed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development's director-general of social welfare - to intervene in certain critical circumstances.

These protectors will be able to issue Emergency Orders on site, which take immediate effect in high-risk cases where there is a danger of the perpetrator committing family violence imminently against the survivor. This gives survivors time to apply for a PPO.

They will also be allowed to obtain information on family violence, conferring them power to enter homes to make assessments where needed. They can also help victims who are unwilling to protect themselves to apply for PPOs and other orders.

Protectors can also apply to the court for electronic monitoring, such as e-tagging, against high-risk perpetrators in exceptional cases. And as a last resort, they are allowed to apply to the court to remove survivors from their home.

4. Abusive parents cannot seek monetary support from children

In amendments to the Maintenance of Parents Act which were passed on Tuesday, parents who abused, abandoned or neglected their children will not be able to seek monetary support from them. They will have to declare if they have such records, and if they do, the Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents may not allow them to apply for maintenance.

Conversely, the state can soon also order children to attend mandatory conciliation in cases involving destitute parents, and to remind them of their obligation to maintain their parents.

The tribunal will also be empowered to give non-monetary directions to address underlying issues that cannot be solved by a monetary order, such as ordering a parent who is a gambling addict to attend counselling.

Marine Parade MP Seah Kian Peng, who led a nine-member workgroup to review the Act. said the amendments seek to strike a balance by strengthening provisions for parents while introducing measures to prevent the law’s misuse.

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