SINGAPORE: A new cross-sector group that will create and implement solutions to help strength marriages and families was launched on Wednesday (Aug 4), said the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).
The Alliance for Action (AfA) to Strengthen Marriage and Family Relationships was set up as families continue to remain the fundamental building block in Singapore society, said Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling at the online launch.
“We want to invite as many partners, as many community stakeholders to partner us and to join us ... so that we can identify problems together, co-create solutions together, and deliver solutions together,” said Ms Sun.
She outlined six focal areas of the alliance: First, outreach efforts to families through and with community partners; second, support for newlyweds; third, parenting together; fourth, support for single parents; fifth, support for families with early risks; and sixth, strengthening marriages and families in faith communities.
The alliance will partner Families for Life, non-government organisations, community partners and religious organisations in this endeavour.
PARENTING AND MARRIAGE STRESS
While the number of marriages dropped 10.9 per cent from 2019 to 2020, Ms Sun noted the higher proportion of dissolved marriages among the more recent marriage cohorts.
READ: Fewer marriages in Singapore in 2020 due to COVID-19 disruptions; lowest number of divorces since 2006
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated some of these stressors.
"Parenting is now also more challenging with children facing academic stresses and living up to societal expectations, exacerbated by the prevalence of social media,” said MSF in a news release.
In her speech, Ms Sun also highlighted an online counselling service by the Community Psychology Hub. Among about 2,000 individuals that the service supported between Apr 1, 2020 and Jun 30, 2021, more than 80 per cent sought help for marriage, divorce, parenting and family issues.
Additionally, Ms Sun said the alliance is aware that there are vulnerable families within this number.
“These could be families formed between couples who married when they were very young, when they were minors, and thus they might be facing instability where jobs are concerned,” she said.
“They may have financial issues; they may have many children, and they don’t quite know (how) to be the best parent to young children because they are very young themselves and have other stressors,” she said.
Ms Sun, who currently co-chairs the family violence task force, noted that some have also experienced family violence, and added that the alliance will look into some of the recommendations from the task force to help such families.
There were about 3,700 calls received on the national anti-violence helpline within the first six months of the year, said MSF.
MARRIAGE A ‘PERSONAL DECISION’
When asked how the alliance plans to boost the number of marriages, Ms Sun shared that beyond government schemes and baby bonuses, “marriage and parenthood is a very personal choice”.
“We do what we can to ameliorate pressures and stressors that couples who are thinking about marriage may come across. We try to give them confidence that the community and the Government will stand by them and help them as much as we can,” she said.
“But at the end of the day, it’s a very personal decision and especially in this time of COVID-19. We know that couples have put off marriage plans because of the pandemic.”
Lynn Er, a member of the alliance who also sits on the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations Board, added that these fears of commitment are real.
“They have questions in their heads (but) it’s not that they don’t love each other,” she said during the launch.
“I don’t think financial grants will make or break (the decision) ... That’s helpful, and something the Government has always focused on, but I think it’s the softer aspects of things that would make a difference.”
Ms Er spoke about a marriage preparation course she attended before getting married, which she found “extremely helpful in identifying small expectations that you may not expect to make or break decisions but will accumulate if it’s an expectation that’s not aligned with your partner”.
But encouraging couples to sign up for these courses, rather than see them as “punishment” or something that holds stigma, is another challenge.
“We need to talk about (these avenues) more, to tell people that there are many sources and places you can go to get these marriage preparation classes or programmes, so that it doesn't sound so ... distant,” said Ms Sun.
“If people know these are readily available, then hopefully they don’t feel it’s some place you go to for punishment or ... because your marriage is on the rocks.”
Ms Sun added that the alliance would work with partners to make these courses fun.
“So it’s not just about identifying problems, but about how couples can make this relationship a fun and enjoyable one. And maybe when you go for these marriage preparation programmes, it can even strengthen passions,” she said.
“We want to reframe how people look at these counselling programmes.”