12 October 2005

On Illegitimate Children in Singapore

ST journalist Leong Ching has an article about the illegitimate children in Singapore, and the rights of their fathers vis-a-viz the mothers. But I get the impression that Leong Ching doesn't really understand her chosen topic. Let's take a look:
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.

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.
Here comes Leong Ching's own take on the matter:

... 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.

20 comments:

Recruit Ong said...

Your last para. I dun think dat is Leong cheng's point at all. I thot she is just saying that Men shld not solely be held responsible dat's all. Sect 68 seem to suggest that too.

MQube said...

You are the first male Singaporean I know who actually supports the Woman's Charter!

Yay!

Anthony said...

Good point. I note a distinction between maintenence for a child and parents squabbles. The fact that Singapore is also pro-choice is neither here nor there.

I think the flaw in the logic is deeper - it seperates the act of sex from the choice of using birth control (noting of course the risk of failure) and the responsibility of childbearing and child-rearing. That is ALSO neither here nor there.

wraith said...

What if the woman is earning much more than the man? Surely we cannot have a blanket rule that forces the man to come up with money just because he is male. After all, you have pointed out yourself that Section 68 does not distinguish between fathers and mothers, so why is it that most of the time, it is the court ordering the father to pay maintenance?

alley said...

I find that in her article, she lost being neutral about the issue.

Maybe it was personal. hah*

cheers.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Wraith, the short answer to your question is that most of the time, it is the father who refuses to support the child, hence forcing the mother to take legal action.

If the mother refuses to support the child, the father can jolly well take legal action too. However, this scenario rarely arises (ah, the wonders of mother's love) and that is why you hardly ever hear of the court ordering the mother to maintain the child. Nevertheless it is legally possible.

Recruit Ong, I thought Leong Ching made it quite clear what she meant. Read this again:

"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."

tscd said...

I can't believe that article was written by a woman.

Women have had to fight for years in order to have the power to force men into taking some responsibility for the upbringing of their children. The laws were put in place for the protection of women because given the choice, the man generally just walked away from mother and child.

I don't think the man should be allowed to have a choice in whether a woman undergoes abortion or not.

Abortion carries with it high risks - pain, death, infection, infertility, psychological scarring. Pregnancy isn't easy and straightforward either especially when considering the social stigma of being a single mother in Singapore. It's very easy for a man to say 'Oh, go for abortion, lor' or 'How could you kill our baby?' when it's not his body and not his life.

Mr Wang Says So said...

To understand the source of Leong Ching's bias, you must click the link I provided to the article.

Leong Ching's friend's husband is paying $3,000 a month to his mistress to support his 5-year-old illegitimate child.

Leong Ching's sympathies appear to lie with her friend. To the extent, one guesses, that Leong Ching wishes that her friend's husband has the legal right to say to the mistress, "No, I will not support this bastard child of mine and you can't make me."

Fortunately for the child, Leong Ching's friend's hubby has no such right. And we even get a little clue that beyond the financial aspects, Leong Ching's friend's hubby is also trying to fulfill his role as daddy. If you read the article, Leong Ching's friend found out about the illegitimate child when the child apparently dropped a toy in Daddy's car. So apparently Daddy has been ferrying his kid around. :)

These messy situations are never the kid's fault.

Recruit Ong said...

"I think the flaw in the logic is deeper - it seperates the act of sex from the choice of using birth control (noting of course the risk of failure) and the responsibility of childbearing and child-rearing. That is ALSO neither here nor there."

Anthony ah, you are a x'tian right? or religious?

Recruit Ong said...

unker wang ah, correct mah. Your last para is a bit of projecting wat U think she means into her mouth leh. Becoz sect 68 makes it not necessary for the woman to "either persuade her partner to agree or make sure that she can afford to bring up the baby herself." And it is true Leong is talking in the context of not applying sect 68, which is why she said "If she does not want to do either, then she must be prepared to pay for the child's upbringing HERSELF."

and tcsd is rite lor, Leong Cheng seems to be against the act leh...

hugewhaleshark said...

I think Singapore society does not accept that a man can say "Just abort lor!" and walk away - hence the law as it is.

I wonder if Leong is perhaps focused in the $3000 maintenance the man in question is paying, which, in my view as a middle class parent, is quite a tidy sum. Then again, we don't know if his station is such that top class education and upbringing is the expected norm. Either way, the quantum of maintenance is not to be confused with the logic of the law.

chrischoo said...

Mr Wang, I have a question about unwed mothers. If an unwed woman decides to give birth to her child, and the father refuses to acknowledge that the child is his, what hope does the woman have of getting maintenance from the man?

Do they have to go through DNA testing to prove that the child belongs to the man? Would that allow the woman to lodge a claim against the man so that he will support the child? Is the man compelled to go for such tests at all?

Why are there cases of fathers getting away if the Women's Charter is supposed to be effective?

Anthony said...

Recruit KK Ong,

I'm Christian, yes. I, however, recognize the fact that not everyone is Christian or chooses to be, or that even among Christians there are those who lose sight of their faith.

However, my somewhat-Christian moral values are not what I'm trying to put forward here. I'm putting forward a set of consequences from a single choice.

So it's (1) Have Sex, or abstain, leading to (2) Use Birth Control/do not use Birth Control leading to (3) If pregnancy, abort/do not abort. My take is that if both parties make the initial decision they take the risks and consequences of everything down the chain. Everything.

And that's something that too many people forget in this short-term obsessed age we live in.

vandice said...

Yes yes, a very RIGHT provision indeed. Equitable, if my Law 101 memories serves me correctly. Thanks for the enlightenment Wang.

hugewhaleshark said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mr Wang Says So said...

Heheh. A couple of people here are not understanding a couple of other people here. But you guys sort it out, ok.

I'll just deal with Chris Choo's question:

"Why are there cases of fathers getting away if the Women's Charter is supposed to be effective?"

I never said that the Women's Charter is effective. I merely said that section 68 is right and good and makes sense and all that.

Whether a law is effective is quite a different story. For example, you could have a set of criminal laws which are sensible and well-thought-out and logical, but essentially it would still be ineffective if, say, the police force was under-staffed; corrupt; poorly-trained and generally not very good at catching criminals.

About proof of paternity, I don't think that men can be compelled to go for paternity tests, and that is what we call an evidential problem - it doesn't take anything away from the fact (or rather, my opinion) that Section 68 is conceptually quite excellent.

The proof of paternity problem can actually exist whether or not the couple is married - for example, a husband could jolly well claim that the child his wife bore was in fact not his child, and therefore he should not have to support the child -
of course, this is a less common scenario.

kailey's mum said...

i used to like leong ching's articles until this one. her views struck like a sledgehammer.

i fully agree that the child is innocent no matter the circumstances under which he/she is conceived.

just want to say thank you to mr wang for bringing attention to the women's charter. hopefully, in time, more unwed mothers would be aware that they have a greater right to having their babies than the men and some others would have them believe.

just my six cents' worth.
this is a topic too close to my heart.

The 1% said...

My ex wife affidavit, "The plaintiff (me -the father, 3k pm) cannot be saying that just because I (Mother) have some money (8k pm) therefore I should contribute to the children's maintenance."

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