Experts see more cases of family violence, abuse involving transnational couples

This article is more than 12 months old

More cases of family violence or abuse reported to Aware since January, lawyer sees 40 per cent rise in disputes involving such couples

Not wanting her child to be exposed to an abusive and unhealthy environment, the Chinese national, who wanted to be known only as Ms Lifen, tried to find a way out of her toxic marriage.

Her break came when she got her long-term visit pass+ (LTVP+) in 2018.

However, as an LVTP+ is only valid for three years and up to five years upon renewal, Ms Lifen's husband threatened not to renew her pass if she left the family.

Migrant wives like Ms Lifen have been identified as a vulnerable subset of family violence victims.

An Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) report released last week said around one in four of all citizen marriages is between a non-resident foreigner and a Singapore citizen.

Of these marriages, 70 per cent of migrant spouses are women, and mostly from developing countries.

Since January this year, at least 20 migrant wives have called Aware's women's helpline because of family violence or abuse.

Aware said it received about 137 calls from migrant wives from 2016 to 2018.

Ms Gloria James-Civetta, head lawyer at Gloria James-Civetta & Co, saw a 40 per cent increase in the number of transnational couple dispute cases in the second quarter of this year compared to the first quarter.

Ms James-Civetta, who specialises in family and criminal law, said before Covid-19, she would see an average of 10 transnational couple dispute cases per month. Now she sees about 30 to 40 cases each month.

Ms Lifen finally moved out with her daughter and now works for a cleaning company, but lost almost half her salary due to the Covid-19 pandemic and only earns $1,900.

Ms Lifen said: "My husband said he will not renew my pass. But because we are not divorced, and my daughter is underage, I cannot get other sponsors."

Ms James-Civetta stated that in such circumstances the migrant wives do not have to be worried as the law firm can send a letter to the spouse to cease and desist the threats, or they can take out a court application to compel the Singaporean spouses to reinstate.

Women like Ms Lifen may also apply for a Personal Protection Order (PPO) or Protection from Harassment Act (Poha), said Ms James-Civetta.

The Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) clarified that Singaporeans cannot unilaterally request to cancel the LTVP or LTVP+ held by their foreign spouses without the latter's consent.

An ICA spokesman added that they will also consider if there are mitigating factors for foreign spouses who need to renew their LTVP and LTVP+, but without sponsorship by their Singaporean spouses, to stay in Singapore.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family development said transnational couples are encouraged to attend the Transnational Family Support Programme, which covers communication and conflict management in a cross-cultural context.

Helplines for domestic abuse

Family Violence Specialist Centres

Pave: 6555-0390
Care Corner: 6476-1482
Trans Safe Centre: 6449-9088


Women's Helpline: 1800-777-5555
Sexual Assault Care Centre: 6779-0282

Family Justice Court: 6435-5398
Sinda's Family Service Centre: 1800-295-3333
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
ComCare: 1800-222-0000
National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868