In Singapore, land of the Women's Charter and pro-family policies, a man cannot be a bigamist but apparently, he is free to sow his wild oats and head as many households as his wallet can support.I later laughed at this, because Leong Ching so confidently referred to the Women's Charter, and then later displays her ignorance of how it actually works.
For family lawyer Foo Siew Fern, there is nothing wrong with the way things stand. You cannot make adultery illegal. So if a man wants to sleep around, he has better take responsibility for his actions, says the straight-talking lawyer who has been handling matrimonial cases for 14 years.Here comes Leong Ching's own take on the matter:
There are two ways in which the man can take responsibility, she says. One is to settle the matter with a lump-sum payment. The other is to pay monthly maintenance. The reasoning is that a child has a right to claim his biological father's assets, whether his parents are married or not.
The chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, Mr Sin Boon Ann, puts it this way: 'As a choice of society's values, we have decided under the Women's Charter to make it a right of women to expect monogamous marriages as a measure of decent conduct.
'So when a man begins to have dalliances with other women and worse still, has issues from that relationship, should the mistress be penalised? More importantly, should the child be penalised?
'For the mistress, I think our position is clear. A person who knowingly enters into a relationship with a man cannot and should not be expected to benefit from that relationship legally.'
It is the child, he argues, who should be entitled to maintenance from his father.
He makes two important points: A man should pay for his mistake and the child should not be made to suffer because two adults have made a mistake.
... I would argue that while the man should pay for his mistake, he did not make the mistake alone. Unless the woman was raped, she was a consenting partner in the relationship.
If we speak then of a mistake committed by two people, surely both should have a say in how this mistake can be rectified?
Why should it be that the woman can compel the man to fork out maintenance money because she wants to keep the child? Think of the reverse situation: If she does not want to carry the child, but the man does, he cannot compel her to carry the baby to term.
Why is the relationship asymmetrical in this way? Both parties should have equal say in whether to have the baby or not, and in how to take care of the child.
If the woman wants to keep the baby, she should either persuade her partner to agree or make sure that she can afford to bring up the baby herself. If neither party wants the child, then she can either abort or carry the child to term and give it up for adoption.
If she does not want to do either, then she must be prepared to pay for the child's upbringing herself.
I do not argue for abortion, but I do argue for the right of the man, as well as the woman, to choose. Now, it seems that the man, and by extension his 'first' family, do not have a choice.
Leong Ching's error is that she's seeing things purely in the context of illegitimate children. She thinks like this, "A man and his mistress have sex and the woman becomes pregnant. The man should have the right, or at least some say, to decide whether the woman should have an abortion or not. If the man does not want the child, but the woman does, then the woman should pay for the child's upbringing herself."
Actually, the Women's Charter is surprisingly enlightened on these issues. As far as the child's right to maintenance is concerned, the Women's Charter does not draw any distinction based on whether the parents are not married or married, or married but not to each other, or are divorced. In fact, where the child's rights to maintenance are concerned, the Women's Charter does not even draw a distinction between fathers and mothers.
68. .... it shall be the duty of a parent to maintain or contribute to the maintenance of his or her children, whether they are in his or her custody or the custody of any other person, and whether they are legitimate or illegitimate, either by providing them with such accommodation, clothing, food and education as may be reasonable having regard to his or her means and station in life or by paying the cost thereof.In other words, whether you're the father or the mother and whether you're married or not married, you have to look after your own children and provide them with accommodation, clothing, good and education. And the level of care you provide has to be something reasonable having regard to your means and station in life. For instance, if you are a blue-collar worker, then perhaps the court will order you to contribute $400 per month, but if you are a high-flying professional, then perhaps the court will order you to contribute $4000 per month.
I think that's fair. That's very reasonable. I love section 68 of the Women's Charter. I've loved it ever since the first time I came across it as a law student. To me, it is intuitively one of the RIGHTEST legal provisions I've ever seen (pardon the grammar, but you know what I mean).
The important thing is that the law will compel the parents to support the child, because the child is the most vulnerable one. The innocent one. The one unable to fend for himself. The one who didn't ask to be born. Well, he was born, so the parents have to look after him. This is the overriding consideration. No if's, no but's. This is a "just-do-it" situation. And it should be.
Despite what Leong Ching thinks, it is just not right that a father (or a mother, for that matter) should be able to say, "Hey, I never wanted this child, I told you that, YOU wanted it, now it's YOUR problem, I'm not paying a cent." And then just walk away.