The immunity that married men get over their wives is a rule that’s been in place since the 18th century.
In England, whom Singapore inherited our laws from, its Chief Justice Sir Matthew Hale said in a posthumous treatise called “The History of the Pleas of the Crown”, dated 1736:
“The husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract.”
And so now, according to our statutes, a man cannot be guilty of raping his wife unless she is under the age of 13. The same immunity is therefore extended to men under the underage sex law — i.e. if he is married to a girl aged between 13 and 16, he cannot be charged with having sex with a minor because she is his wife.
That said, the minimum age for marriage in Singapore is 18 (with parental consent), and 21 without. The minimum age for Muslim marriages was raised from 16 to 18 in 2009 too.
Thankfully, though, some qualifications to this immunity were enacted in 2008, so it now reads:
(4) No man shall be guilty of an offence under subsection (1) against his wife, who is not under 13 years of age, except where at the time of the offence —
(a) his wife was living apart from him —
(i) under an interim judgment of divorce not made final or a decree nisi for divorce not made absolute;
(ii) under an interim judgment of nullity not made final or a decree nisi for nullity not made absolute;
(iii) under a judgment or decree of judicial separation; or
(iv) under a written separation agreement;
(b) his wife was living apart from him and proceedings have been commenced for divorce, nullity or judicial separation, and such proceedings have not been terminated or concluded;
(c)there was in force a court injunction to the effect of restraining him from having sexual intercourse with his wife;
(d) there was in force a protection order under section 65 or an expedited order under section 66 of the Women’s Charter (Cap. 353) made against him for the benefit of his wife; or
(e) his wife was living apart from him and proceedings have been commenced for the protection order or expedited order referred to in paragraph (d), and such proceedings have not been terminated or concluded.
A Channel NewsAsia report on the issue quoted the Ministry of Home Affairs at the time saying the following about not abolishing marriage immunity:
“There is still a need to strike a balance between the needs of women who require protection and the general concerns about conjugal rights and the expression of intimacy in a marriage. Abolishing marital immunity may change the whole complexion of marriage in our society… (The amendments give) the necessary protection for women whose marriages are, in practical terms, on the verge of a breakdown or have broken down, clearly signalling that her consent to conjugal relations has been withdrawn.”
It’s a tricky issue, but on Tuesday, Minister for Social and Family development Tan Chuan-Jin said in a speech in Parliament that this will be reviewed:
“Violence against women is unequivocally wrong. Although married persons have conjugal rights over each other, such rights should be exercised within reasonable behaviour. Married women should have the same access to protection as unmarried women. We are thus actively reviewing the issue of marital immunity for rape, and will give an update once the review is completed.”
Tan was speaking at the conclusion of a parliamentary debate on a motion to better support Singapore women’s aspirations, where he covered various areas his ministry was taking steps to support the fairer sex better in career advancement, flexi-work arrangement and infant and childcare.
Housing for single mothers
At the moment, single parents under the age of 35 are not entitled to form family units to purchase housing under HDB.
This policy hasn’t changed, and if they’re not old enough to buy a flat as a single, they can do so by forming a family unit with their parents, although Tan says HDB does make exceptions to help single parents with housing on a “case-by-case” basis.
So if you’re a single mom or dad who isn’t 35 yet, you can still try appealing to HDB for a home for yourself and your child or children.
Top photo: Screenshot from Parliament YouTube video