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The Long Journey of Foreign Spouses

The dream of every bride is to have the perfect groom, and the happy-ever-after ending to her search for a family of her own, and maybe, a fairy-tale wedding. Too many couples will be quick to correct that hopeful vision, and fortifying their relationship as soon as the new home, the little ones, and changing jobs happen all at once. For the young women who marry Singapore men and come from South-east Asian countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, many of them are prepared to leave their home countries also in search of better prospects for their future. Their story is not without twists and turns that involve meeting prospective husbands through social agencies, or sometimes through extended social contacts when the Singaporean is travelling to their country and working there.

Some women transplant themselves to Singapore to fulfil their husbands’ desire to start a family and their mixed nationalities, culture and tastes are simply part of the whole fabric they have woven together, without thinking much of potential disagreements. Like many foreign spouses whose stories can be as varied as fruit in the markets, those who come to ACMI for help often share a few common threads. Krystale’s story began in 2007 when she complained about the harsh treatment she had been receiving from her Singapore husband. He drank often and a lot, and returned home to harass and humiliate her, leaving her often bruised the next day. On several occasions, he grabbed her, threatened and throttled her, demanding that she beg him and thank him for everything he has provided for her. He went on to force himself on her while their young son looked on, anguished and horrified at what his mother was going through.

Krystale felt trapped because she needed her husband to support her visa to continue staying in Singapore, particularly because she was worried for the young boy and his welfare. She was afraid to threaten any action against her husband, for fear of reprisals, and it could be physical, mental, and worse, if he cancelled

 her visa, forcing her to return to her home country and be separated from her son. It would be illegal for her to take the young boy out of the country without his consent, too. Either ways, she was trapped and brutally hurt by his abuse.

Friends counselled her to try and make it work. Others simply did not want to get involved, and she did not want to confide in anyone who might act to get her husband in trouble, because she knew she would bear the brunt of it, and it will not just a few bruises, but the forced sex and humiliation. She could not bear to see her son be traumatised further. For his sake, she said, as she worriedly described the situation she was undergoing.

“When I need something,” she cried, “he made me beg… go down on my knees, and sometimes drag me. And I have to beg him to help me stay on in Singapore.” She desperately needed him to renew her long term visit pass, because she wanted to care for her son, who is a Singaporean by birth.

She was helped by a Catholic Lawyers Guild lawyer who applied for the domestic exclusion order (DEO) as well as a personal protection order (PPO) from her husband. The legal process may have been straightforward, but the emotional entanglement she felt was far more complicated. She was helped to a temporary shelter while matters were investigated and sorted out.

“I am only concerned about (my son), otherwise I do not need to stay here, because I want to take care of him,” she said.

The husband was ordered to move out of their flat for a six-month period and receive counselling. During that time, Krystale and young Francis moved back in.

While her case was being worked out, she began to develop a clearer perspective on what she needed to and could do. She took on multiple cleaning jobs to support herself and Francis. Meanwhile, her husband continued his socialising with other women, and even took trips abroad with these ‘girlfriends’ to the Philippines.

Six months later, the husband asked to move back to their flat, and promised her that he has changed and realised his mistakes, asking for another chance, and if she wanted to have the family together, to let him make up for it. It was very difficult for her emotionally as she felt pulled and tugged apart. Everyone seemed to have a different opinion and she herself felt unsure.

Meanwhile, the case team journeying with her focussed on helping her to secure a stable full time job. Through various efforts, she was able to secure a Work Permit and felt very motivated to gain her independence and be self-sufficient through employment. She was now able to remain in Singapore on her own, and earned enough to also provide for young Francis who was becoming a teenager soon. She continued working in a cleaning job.

Francis had stayed with his mother at the shelter and learnt quickly to adopt his own survivalist behaviour, playing to both parent and seeking out support and comfort through the two of them. That his father had another new girlfriend, he would let his father try and make up for the situation by playing on his guilt.

Krystale is now providing most of the support for the family. She eventually applied for a separation, and because her husband failed to pay maintenance, her lawyer fought to get her right to a lumpsum payment should he sell their flat. At the same time, the process to get the son to sponsor Krystale’s Long Term Visit Pass (LTVP) is underway, as Francis has since come of age, and stays with his mother in their rented flat.

Today, she feels more independent than the young foreign bride who idealistically arrived in Singapore more than twenty years ago, and eager to put up with abuse for the sake of her son, and believing this was the only way to a “better life abroad”. With financial counselling and support from the case team and volunteer resources, she is earning enough to meet her needs and finally feels that if she wants to, she can return home, but prefers to be with Francis as he is now a young adult. It did not seem to matter what she had endured and all that now she is slowing trying to build up a secure life for herself and her son as she said, “He is always my baby.”

To protect the identity of the clients, this story was reconstructed from an amalgam of sources but all based on true incidents. Names and details have been altered.

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