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Human Rights in Singapore
Flag of Singapore Singapore
Population: 4,353,893 (July 2004 est.)
Capital: Singapore
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Singapore Human Rights Report
» intro | 1a | 1b | 1c | 1d | 1e | 1f | 2a | 2b | 2c | 2d | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6a | 6b | 6c | 6d | 6e | 6f

Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution states that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law, and the Government generally respected these provisions in practice. The Constitution contains no explicit provision granting equal rights for women and minorities. Mindful of the country's history of inter-communal tension, the Government took measures to ensure racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural nondiscrimination. Social, economic, and cultural benefits and facilities were available to all citizens regardless of race, religion, or sex. However, men did not have the right to seek alimony from their wives in cases of divorce or separation. In October 2002, the Ministry of Community Development and Sports denied a proposal that would have entitled men to seek alimony. Moreover, women are not required to do national service; virtually all males must do 2 years of fulltime national service at the age of 18, with continuing reserve requirements thereafter.

Some individuals with HIV/AIDS claimed they were socially marginalized and faced employment discrimination if they revealed they were suffering from the disease. The Government discouraged discrimination, supported initiatives that counter misperceptions about HIV/AIDS, and praised employers that welcome workers with HIV/AIDS.


The Penal Code and the Women's Charter criminalize domestic violence and sexual or physical harassment; however, violence or abuse against women occurred. A victim of domestic violence can obtain court orders barring the spouse from the home until the court is satisfied that the spouse has ceased aggressive behavior. The number of court orders for protection against violent family members has increased in recent years, in part because the definition of violence includes intimidation, continual harassment, or restraint against one's will. The Penal Code prescribes mandatory caning and a minimum imprisonment of 2 years for conviction on any charge of "outraging modesty" that caused the victim fear of death or injury. The press gave fairly prominent coverage to instances of abuse or violence against women. There were several organizations that provided assistance to abused women. The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) ran a hotline that offered counseling and legal advice. The Family Protection and Welfare Service, an office of the Ministry of Community Development and Sports, documented physical and psychological abuse, and provided counseling and other support services to abused women. In 1999, the Council of Women's Organizations established a crisis center for abused persons. The Star shelter accepted children, women, and men, and can accommodate up to 30 persons. The Government enforced the law against rape, which provides for imprisonment of up to 20 years and caning for offenders. Under the law, rape can only be committed by a man, and spousal rape is not a crime; however, husbands who force their wives to have intercourse can be prosecuted for other offenses, such as assault.

The country's laws neither ban nor authorize prostitution per se. However, public solicitation, living on the earnings of a prostitute, and maintaining a brothel are illegal. The authorities periodically carried out crackdowns on solicitation for prostitution, and arrested and deported foreign prostitutes, particularly when their activities took place outside of informally designated red light areas. In practice, police unofficially tolerated and monitored a limited number of brothels; prostitutes in such establishments were required to undergo periodic health checks and carry a health card.

Trafficking in women occurred (see Section 6.f.).

Women currently account for 54 percent of civil service employees. They enjoyed the same legal rights as men in most areas, including civil liberties, employment, commercial activity, and education. The Women's Charter gives women, among other rights, the right to own property, conduct trade, and receive divorce settlements. Muslim women enjoyed most of the rights and protections of the Women's Charter. For the most part, Muslim marriage law falls under the administration of the Muslim Law Act, which empowers the Shari'a (Islamic law) court to oversee such matters. The laws allow Muslim men to practice polygyny, although requests to take additional spouses may be refused by the Registry of Muslim Marriages, which solicits the views of an existing spouse or spouses and reviews the financial capability of the husband. Of the 4,000 Muslim marriages registered in 2001, only 20 were polygynous. Both men and women have the right to initiate divorce proceedings; however, in practice, women faced significant difficulties that often prevented them from pursuing proceedings, especially the lack of financial resources to obtain legal counsel.

Women constituted 42 percent of the labor force and were well represented in many professions but held few leadership positions in the private sector. They still preponderantly were found in low-wage jobs such as clerks and secretaries; however, there were some women who held senior corporate leadership positions. The overall average salary of women was 72 percent of that of men. The wage gap has narrowed over the past 5 years in many occupations; in some sectors, women earn more than their male counterparts. Observers noted that the wage differential was smaller in professional jobs, and that wage disparities could be attributed in part to differences in average educational levels and work experience. In 2002, the Government announced a change to the Medical Registration Act, which eliminates a quota on the number of female medical students who can be admitted to the National University of Singapore.

There were no specific laws prohibiting stalking or sexual harassment, and sexual harassment was not considered a significant issue. However, the Miscellaneous Offences Act and laws prohibiting insults to modesty were used successfully to prosecute such offenses.

Women were unable to automatically transmit citizenship to a child born abroad, but could apply for citizenship on the child's behalf. The children of male citizens automatically acquired citizenship at birth. Women were able to sponsor non-citizen husbands for citizenship as of 1999.


The Government demonstrated its strong commitment to children's rights and welfare through its well-funded systems of public education and medical care. Access to public education and medical care was equal for all children. Legislation making 6 years of education in public schools compulsory for students entering school took effect during the year. Although school attendance previously was not compulsory, virtually 100 percent of children were enrolled through grade 6, and the dropout rate for secondary school was low. The Children and Young Persons Act established protective services for orphaned, abused, disabled, or troubled children, and created a juvenile court system. The Ministry of Community Development and Sports worked closely with the National Council for Social Services to oversee children's welfare cases. Voluntary organizations operated most of the homes for children, while the Government funded up to 50 percent of all child costs, which included normal living expenses and overhead, as well as expenses for special schooling, health care, or supervisory needs. In some cases, the Government covered 100 percent of such costs.

Child prostitution occurred. In 2002, the Ministry of Home Affairs discovered 66 foreign children under the age of 18 it suspected were involved in prostitution. Sexual intercourse with girls under the age of 16 is illegal, but there is no legal prohibition on commercial sex with "consenting" partners aged 16 and 17. However, authorities have the power to detain persons under the age of 21 who are believed to be engaged in prostitution, as well as to prosecute those who organize or profit from prostitution, who bring women or girls to Singapore for prostitution, or who coerce or trick women or girls into prostitution.

The Ministry for Community Development and Sports sponsored activities promoting children's causes, including family stability. This agency and several NGOs focused on keeping fathers involved in their children's lives and on preventing child abuse.

Persons with Disabilities

The Government maintained a comprehensive code on barrier-free accessibility; this established standards for facilities for persons with physical disabilities in all new buildings and mandated the progressive upgrading of older structures. There was no legislation addressing equal opportunities for persons with disabilities in education or employment. However, the National Council of Social Services, in conjunction with various voluntary associations, provided an extensive job training and placement program for persons with disabilities. A tax deduction of up to $57,000 (S$100,000) was available to employers to defray building modifications to benefit employees with disabilities. Informal provisions in education have permitted university matriculation for visually impaired, deaf, and physically disabled students. There were 19 special education schools that enrolled 4,200 students. It is expected that upon completion of retrofitting, one out of every eight schools will be accessible to handicapped students. The Government also set aside funds for 6 childcare centers to take in a total of 60 children with special needs.

The Government allowed a tax deduction of up to $2,000 (S$3,500) per individual for families caring for a sibling, spouse, or child with a disability. Mental and physical disabilities were treated in the same way. Press coverage of the activities and achievements of persons with disabilities was extensive, and discrimination or abuse of persons with disabilities did not appear to be a problem.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic Malays constituted approximately 15 percent of the total population. The Constitution acknowledges them as the indigenous people of the country and charges the Government to support and to promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social, cultural, and language interests. The Government took steps to encourage greater educational achievement among Malay students as a key to economic advancement. However, ethnic Malays have not yet reached the educational or socioeconomic levels achieved by the ethnic Chinese majority, the ethnic Indian minority, or the Eurasian community. Malays remained underrepresented at senior corporate levels, and, some assert, in certain sectors of the Government and the military. This reflected their historically lower educational and economic levels, but some argued that it also was a result of employment discrimination. The Government has issued guidelines that call for eliminating language referring to age, gender, or ethnicity in employment advertisements; restrictive language pertinent to job requirements, such as "Chinese speaker" or "physically strong," remains acceptable. These guidelines were generally followed.

The Presidential Council on Minority Rights examined all pending bills to ensure that they were not disadvantageous to a particular group. It also reported to the Government on matters that affected any racial or religious community and investigated complaints.

The Government enforced ethnic ratios for publicly subsidized housing, where the majority of citizens lived and owned their own units, a policy designed to achieve an ethnic mix more or less in proportion to that of society at large.

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