Family Justice, “Asian Values” and the Politics of Ambivalence in Singapore

In: Asian Journal of Social Science
View More View Less
  • 1 National University of Singapore

Purchase instant access (PDF download and unlimited online access):



In recent years, Singapore made significant reforms towards the establishment of a dedicated family justice system, setting up the Family Justice Courts and enacting new laws to better manage the divorce process and the protection of children. Related policy changes have also been implemented to provide and support families that were previously considered non-traditional and even deviant. Rhetorically, the state, led by the long-ruling People’s Action Party, continues to champion the modern nuclear family with heterosexual marriage at its core as the normal “traditional” form of the family and the bedrock of conservative “Asian values” defining society and politics in Singapore. However, what the judiciary espouse as the new family justice paradigm and the related family justice practices, together with the shifts in social policy towards different family types, are changing the texture of the dominant conservatism rallied by “Asian values” discourse. This article locates and analyses the incipient paradigm shift in the rising pluralism of family forms and the influence of international legal developments in protecting the rights of the child and interventionist family law. By attempting to bridge the Weberian chasm of doing sociology as a vocation and doing politics as a vocation (as an opposition Member of Parliament), I show that the family justice paradigm has opened up the discursive field on the family and produce the politics of ambivalence caught between family justice and Asian family values. I argue for a relational family justice paradigm as a way to move beyond the politics of ambivalence.

  • The Committee for Family Justice (2014) Recommendations of the Committee for Family Justice on the Framework of the Family Justice System. Singapore: The Committee.

  • The Family Justice Courts (2016) The New Family Justice Paradigm. The Family Justice Courts Annual Report 2015. Singapore: The Courts.

  • Goh, Daniel Pei Siong (Non-Constituency Member of Parliament) (2016) “Singapore Parliamentary Debates”. Official Report, 29 February 2016, Vol. 94.

  • Jones, Gavin, Paulin Tay-Straughan and Angelique Chan (eds.) (2008) Ultra-low Fertility in Pacific Asia: Trends, Causes and Policy Issues. London: Routledge.

  • Koh, Jaime and Singapore Children’s Society (2013) Singapore Childhood: Our Stories Then and Now. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing.

  • Lynch, Katherine (2016) “Reform of Family Justice: Children’s Dispute Resolution in Hong Kong”. Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution 17(3): 909–936.

  • Family Court, Singapore (2006) “Lecture to the Bar: New Family Court Practices, 14 July 2006”. Lecture Handouts. Available at: (accessed on 1 May 2017).

  • MacKinnon, Catherine (1989) Towards a Feminist Theory of the State. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Ministry of Community Development and Sports (2002) Singapore’s Initial Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Singapore: The Ministry.

  • Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (2009) Singapore’s Second and Third Periodic Report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Singapore: The Ministry.

  • Ministry of Social Affairs (1979) Seminar on Meeting the Child’s Needs in a Changing Society, 5–6 March 1979, Proceedings. Singapore: The Ministry.

  • Ministry of Social and Family Development (2015) “Families and Households in Singapore 2000–2014”. Statistical Series Paper No. 2/2015. Singapore: The Ministry.

  • Ministry of Social and Family Development (2017) “Maintenance of Parents. Resources: Statistics”. Available at: (accessed on 15 April 2018).

  • National Family Council and the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (2009) Family First: State of the Family Report 2009. Singapore: The Council and the Ministry.

  • Sun, Shirley Hsiao-Li (2012) Population Policy and Reproduction in Singapore: Making Future Citizens. London: Routledge.

  • Tan Chuan Jin (Minister for Social and Family Development) (2016) “Singapore Parliamentary Debates”. Official Report, 29 February 2016, Vol. 94.

  • Teo, Youyenn (2011) Neoliberal Morality in Singapore: How Family Policies Make State and Society. London: Routledge.

  • Teo, Youyenn (2013) “Women Hold Up the Anti-Welfare Regime: How Social Policies Produce Social Differentiation in Singapore”, in Juanita Elias and Samanthi J. Gunawardana (eds.) The Global Political Economy of the Household in Asia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, Pp. 15–27.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 410 151 23
Full Text Views 147 38 5
PDF Views & Downloads 95 46 9