and second periodic reports
54. The Committee considered the initial and second periodic
reports of Singapore (CEDAW/C/SGP/1 and CEDAW/C/SGP/2)
at its 514th, 515th and 522nd meetings, on 9 and 13 July
2001 (see CEDAW/C/SR.514, 515 and 522).
(a) Introduction by the State party
In introducing the reports, the representative of Singapore
informed the Committee that, following the ratification
of the Convention, an inter-ministerial Committee had
been formed to monitor the country's obligations under
the Convention. The preparation of the report had also
involved dialogue with women's groups in Singapore.
The representative indicated that Singapore had made tremendous
progress in reducing the infant mortality rate, and in
increasing the literacy rate and life expectancy of women
in the 36 years since its independence. At present, women
made up 42.4 per cent of the total workforce and outnumbered
men as new graduates from local universities. Despite
that progress, there was room for improvement.
The guiding principles that had shaped Singapore's policies
on gender equality were meritocracy on the basis of equal
opportunities, people development, treating women as part
of the mainstream and not as a special interest group,
and building social capital with a special focus on strengthening
The representative explained that, while there were no
specific anti-discrimination laws, the Constitution guaranteed
equality of all persons before the law. The Women's Charter
of 1961 was a landmark piece of legislation that safeguarded
women's rights in matters relating to marriage, divorce,
matrimonial assets, maintenance and custody of children.
In 1996, the Women's Charter had been amended to include
provisions on domestic violence, division of matrimonial
assets, enforcement of maintenance orders and the validity
of marriages. Courts and tribunals treated women equally
at all levels of proceedings and legal aid was provided
to those who were unable to afford a lawyer. In 1995,
family courts had been established to address family-related
disputes. The Administration of Muslim Law Act governed
matters relating to Muslim religious affairs, Muslim marriage,
divorce and property. With regard to family violence,
the Government had taken a multidisciplinary and inter-agency
approach, which included an island-wide networking system
involving the courts, police, hospitals and social service
agencies, mandatory and non-mandatory counselling programmes
for perpetrators and victims and concerted public education
programmes. The Penal Code was strictly enforced with
regard to such crimes as rape and outraging the modesty
of a woman. In addition, pornography was prohibited and
advertising codes prohibited the portrayal of women as
The representative noted that there had been vast improvements
in health indicators, in particular for women. In 1999,
the maternal mortality rate was 0.1 per 1,000 live and
still births, one of the lowest in the world. The National
Committee on Women's Health had been established in 1997.
Health care of the ageing population was a major concern,
which affected women in particular, given their higher
The representative noted that, in the previous 35 years,
general literacy standards had increased by 20 per cent
for males and 46 per cent for females. Females now made
up over 50 per cent of local university graduates. Education,
training and life-long learning were critical to preparing
Singapore's citizens for a knowledge-based economy. Although
the general drop-out rate was only 3 per cent for primary
and secondary school, with females constituting 45 per
cent of this group, the Parliament had recently passed
the Compulsory Education Bill which would take effect
in January 2003, making a six-year primary education in
national schools compulsory.
The participation of women in the labour force was increasing
and, in 2000, the wage gap had narrowed to 78 per cent.
Singapore was also preparing to ratify the International
Labour Organization Convention No. 100, concerning equal
The representative explained that the Government's strong
commitment to meritocracy was the reason for not introducing
any quota for women's representation in Parliament, which
remained low, at 6.5 per cent. In the judiciary, 42 per
cent of judges in the subordinate courts and 11 per cent
of judges in the High Court were women.
The representative emphasized the fact that, in Singapore,
the family was valued as the basic social unit and that
during the previous year, a number of pro-family measures
had been introduced and implemented. To assist working
mothers, the Government had introduced tax incentives
for working women and subsidies for childcare centres.
The representative addressed the issue of Singapore's
reservations to the Convention, which the Government,
after careful consideration, found necessary to retain
in view of the country's existing laws, values and practices
in a multiracial and multicultural society. Its reservations
to articles 2 and 16 of the Convention were linked to
the administration of the Muslim Law Act, which preserved
the freedom of Muslims in Singapore to practise their
personal and religious laws. With regard to the reservation
to article 9, the representative explained that the Constitution
of Singapore provided that Singaporean citizenship by
descent was accorded to a child born outside the country
if the father held Singaporean citizenship. In the case
of a child born outside the country of a Singaporean mother
married to a foreigner, an application for citizenship
by registration had to be made. Singapore had entered
a reservation to article 11 of the Convention because
its Employment Act excluded persons in managerial, executive
and confidential positions, as well as seamen and domestic
workers, from its coverage. This was not based on gender,
and was therefore not discriminatory against women. In
order to maintain Singapore's right to domestic policies,
it had entered a reservation to article 29, paragraph
1, of the Convention, which was expressly permitted by
article 29, paragraph 2. Singapore had made similar reservations
to other treaties to which it had acceded.
In conclusion, the representative noted that those reservations
had not hindered the overall advancement of women in Singapore.
Nevertheless, Singapore would review them periodically.
Singapore's laws and policies were, on the whole, gender
neutral and were evolving in response to society's needs.
She expressed the hope that more women would participate
in community and political life in the future and that
men would become more involved in sharing household responsibilities.
She expressed confidence that the ideal of equality for
men and women would increasingly be a reality in the lives
(b) Concluding comments of the Committee
The Committee expresses its appreciation to the Government
of Singapore for its initial and second periodic reports,
which comply with the Committee's guidelines for the preparation
of reports. The Committee notes, however, that the reports
do not contain sufficient statistical data disaggregated
The Committee commends the Government for its large, high-level
delegation, headed by the Senior Parliamentary Secretary
to the Minister of Community Development and Sports. It
also commends the Government on its audio-visual and informative
oral presentation of the reports, and on the comprehensive
and highly professional replies to the Committee's questions
that sought to clarify the situation of women in Singapore.
The Committee commends the Government of Singapore on
its success in combining economic growth with impressive
social indicators for women in the short period since
The Committee commends the State party for having achieved
low rates of maternity and infant mortality, long life
expectancy and high literacy rates for women and for providing
them access to all levels of education.
The Committee notes with satisfaction that the Government
of Singapore intends to extend the child sick leave provision
to fathers working in the civil service.
The Committee notes with appreciation the efforts made
to combat violence against women, including the criminal
and evidentiary procedures protecting the privacy of victims,
the 1997 amendment to the Women's Charter broadening the
definition of violence and the Government's multidisciplinary
and inter-agency approach to victims of family violence
involving the courts, police, hospitals and social service
Factors and difficulties affecting the implementation
of the Convention
The Committee considers that the State party's reservations
impede full implementation of the Convention.
Principal areas of concern and recommendations
The Committee expresses deep concern regarding the reservations
made by the Government of Singapore to articles 2, 9,
11, paragraph 1, and 16 of the Convention.
Recognizing that the pluralistic nature of Singapore society
and its history call for sensitivity to the cultural and
religious values of different communities, the Committee
nevertheless wishes to clarify the fact that articles
2 and 16 are the very essence of obligations under the
Convention. Since some reforms have already been introduced
in Muslim personal law, the Committee urges the State
party to continue this process of reform in consultation
with members of different ethnic and religious groups,
including women. It recommends that the State party study
reforms in other countries with similar legal traditions
with a view to reviewing and reforming personal laws so
that they conform with the Convention, and withdrawing
The Committee urges the State party to further amend the
nationality law so as to eliminate discrimination against
women, and withdraw its reservation to article 9. The
explanation that a Singaporean woman cannot transfer nationality
to her child when a marries a foreigner and the child
is born overseas, since dual nationality is not recognized,
is unconvincing. The Committee wishes to point out that
since both mother and father can transfer nationality
to children born within the country in many countries,
including Singapore, the same problem can arise with respect
to the children born of Singaporean men and foreign women.
The Committee recommends that persons in confidential,
managerial and executive posts be brought within the coverage
of the Employment Act. The Committee considers that the
capacity for individual bargaining, and the existence
of better working conditions in these sectors do not justify
the absence of legal protection and the reservation to
The Committee expresses concern that the failure to extend
the Employment Act to domestic workers results in discrimination
against women domestic workers and denial of legal protection.
It is also concerned that the requirement of their current
employer's consent to transfer employment deters such
workers from reporting grievances to governmental authorities.
The Committee urges the Government of Singapore to amend
the Employment Act so that it covers these sectors and
to withdraw its reservation to article 11.
While the Committee recognizes the importance of the family
as the basic social unit, it expresses concern that the
concept of Asian values regarding the family, including
that of the husband having the legal status of head of
household, might be interpreted so as to perpetuate stereotyped
gender roles in the family and reinforce discrimination
The Committee urges the Government to ensure that laws,
policies and programmes with regard to the family incorporate
the principle of equality between women and men in all
spheres, including the family, and the full realization
of women's human rights.
The Committee expresses concern that foreign domestic
workers are prohibited from working during criminal proceedings
against their employers, and that this forces such workers
to leave Singapore without waiting to receive compensation
from them. It also expresses concern that this may reduce
the chances of conviction because evidence from these
workers will not be available.
The Committee urges the Government of Singapore to lift
the above-mentioned prohibition and to take appropriate
measures to enable domestic workers to give evidence against
their employers before leaving Singapore.
The Committee expresses concern about the lack of clear
understanding by the Government of Singapore regarding
gender mainstreaming with respect to legislation, policies
The Committee urges the Government of Singapore to review
all policies with a view to preventing direct and indirect
discrimination and achieving de facto gender equality.
The Committee expresses concern that disparities between
women's and men's wages may be due to discriminatory attitudes
of employers and to gender-stereotyped job and workplace
The Committee urges the Government to review the issue
of wage differentials between women and men, including
through consideration of existing research on the concept
of equal pay for work of equal value, both in the public
and private employment sectors. It also urges the Government
to remedy the situation in the public employment sector
where applicable and to initiate sensitization campaigns
to encourage social partners to address this issue.
The Committee expresses concern about the very low level
of representation of women in politics and decision-making.
The Committee urges the Government of Singapore to enhance
its efforts to increase women's representation in politics
and decision-making through a gender-sensitive application
of the meritocracy principle and by taking measures to
guarantee the equal opportunity of women to participate
in these areas. Such measures may include the imposition
of minimum quotas for women political candidates.
The Committee requests the Government to improve its complaints
procedure with respect to violations of the constitutionally
guaranteed rights to equality so that acts of discrimination
can be challenged by women.
The Committee expresses considerable concern about the
possible occurrence of crimes in relation to the trafficking
of women, taking into account Singapore's geographical
situation as a favourable transit point for such trafficking.
It also expresses concern that weak law enforcement can
undermine the Government's efforts to eradicate trafficking.
The Committee urges the Government of Singapore continually
to monitor the situation with respect to trafficking and
to enforce strictly its criminal law against traffickers.
It calls upon the State party to include information on
trafficking in its next periodic report.
The Committee expresses concern about the imposition of
a maximum quota on the number of women medical students.
The Committee urges the Government to remove this quota
and provide childcare arrangements and flexible working
hours so as to encourage and enable women doctors to pursue
The Committee urges the Government to sign and ratify
the Optional Protocol to the Convention and to deposit,
as soon as possible, its instrument of acceptance of the
amendment of article 20, paragraph 1, of the Convention,
concerning the meeting time of the Committee.
The Committee requests the Government to respond to the
concerns expressed in the present concluding comments
in its next periodic report submitted under article 18
of the Convention. It also urges the Government to improve
the collection and analysis of statistical data, disaggregated
by sex, age and minority, ethnic or religious group, and
to submit such data to the Committee in its next report.
The Committee requests the wide dissemination in Singapore
of the present concluding comments in order to make the
people of Singapore, in particular governmental administrators
and politicians, aware of the steps that have been taken
to ensure the de jure and de facto equality of women and
of the further steps that are required in this regard.
It requests the Government to disseminate widely, in particular
to women's and human rights organizations, the Convention
and its Optional Protocol, the Committee's general recommendations,
the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the
results of the twenty-third special session of the General
Assembly, entitled "Women 2000: gender equality,
development and peace for the twenty-first century".