The total population of Singapore as at end June 2023 is 5.92 million (comprising residents and non-residents).https://www.singstat.gov.sg/modules/infographics/population
In the 2020 Population Census, Islam is affiliated with 15.6% of the population, while Buddhism is affiliated with 31.1%, followed by Taoism (8,8%), Christianity (18.9%), Hinduism (5.1%), Other Religion (0.6%), and No Religion (20%).https://www.singstat.gov.sg/-/media/files/visualising_data/infographics/c2020/c2020-religion.ashx
Information About Muslim Family Laws And/or Practices In Singapore
With the exception of Singapore’s Muslim minority community, marriage and family relations of all communities in Singapore regardless of religion are governed by the Women’s Charter which exclusively recognizes civil marriages.
Laws Governing Muslim Marriages
For Muslims and Islamic law, the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) is the main codified law that governs matters in the administration of Islam. In short, AMLA could be described as the ‘one stop shop’ for law for Muslims in Singapore providing both procedural rules and limited substantive rules for the Muslim minority community in Singapore most of whom are Sunni and belong to the Shafi’i school of thought.
Equal Status in Marriage
Article 12 of the Constitution guarantees equal protection of all before and of the law on the basis of religion, race, descent or place of birth. Yet, gender equality is not specifically mentioned.
With the exception of Singapore’s Muslim minority community, marriage and family relations of all communities in Singapore regardless of religion are governed by the Women’s Charter which exclusively recognise civil marriages. Section 46 of the Women’s Charter states that upon solemnisation of their marriage, a husband and wife will be mutually bound to cooperate with each other in safeguarding the interests of the marriage and in caring and providing for the children; they will also have equal rights in the running of the matrimonial household. A similar position is not found in AMLA though.
Minimum Age of Marriage
Under the Women’s Charter the minimum legal age for civil marriage is 18 years unless a special license has been obtained.
A similar framework can be found in the case for Muslim marriages where the minimum age for the spouses is 18 years with the exception that in special circumstances a marriage of a girl who is below 18 years but has attained puberty can take place.
Divorce Provisions for Women and Men
AMLA provides for four different mechanisms for divorce: (i) unilateral repudiation (talak or talaq); (ii) conditional divorce (cerai taklik); (iii) judicial divorce (fasakh); and (iv) redemptive divorce (khuluk or khul’). The marriage may also be nullified.
Under Islamic law a unilateral divorce by repudiation is only available to the husband while the wife can seek a divorce under the other mechanism.
Positive Feature(s) Under Muslim Family Law
One noteworthy change is the move to a less adversarial approach to divorce and better protecting the interest of the child in the processes. This is for instance evident in the significant number of support mechanisms available, especially in the pre-marriage counselling and mentoring program as well as in the case of divorce the mandatory counselling program and mandatory parenting program if children are involved.
Administration Of And Access To Justice On Marriage And Family Matters
Since 1999, there is concurrent jurisdiction between the civil and the Syariah Court on matters concerning disposition or division of property on divorce or nullification of marriage, or the payment of mas kahwin, marriage expenses, maintenance and consolatory gifts (mutaah). As such it has become necessary to set out stay proceedings for the different courts. Despite the challenges in the concurrent jurisdiction, in a seminar in 2018, the then Presiding Judge of the Family Justice Courts, Justice Debbie Ong described the relationship Family Justice Courts and the Syariah Court share a “strong working relationship”. Indeed certain amendments in the civil family system and the Syariah legal system appear to be going hand-in-hand.
Constitutional Provisions and National Legislation
Article 12 of the Constitution guarantees equal protection of all before and of the law on the basis of religion, race, descent or place of birth. Yet, gender equality is not specifically mentioned. Article 12(3) of the Constitution allows for different personal laws based on religious belief.
There are different laws that are applicable to domestic violence against women including the Women’s Charter (1962), Penal Code (1871), Vulnerable Adults Act (VAA), Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA), Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) and Prevention of Human Trafficking Act (PHTA).
The main ones are the Women’s Charter (1962) providing protection against family violence regardless of gender or religion and the Penal Code containing some general prohibitions that are applicable to domestic violence, again regardless of gender and religion. There have been significant law reforms between 2015 and 2021 in order to strengthen and expand the protection of women against domestic violence, including by repelling the immunity for marital rape and increasing the penalties for perpetrators that are either in a ‘close relationship’ or ‘intimate relationship’ in the Penal Code.
Regional or International Human Rights Principles
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
The Singapore government ratified CEDAW in 1995 and has since submitted six reports to the UN CEDAW Committee with the last sixth Periodic Report in November 2021.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development maintains a website for past periodic reports and documents. A full list of documents, including civil society submissions can be found here at the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies. Musawah submitted a report regarding the fifth Periodic Report in 2017.
Links to CEDAW reports that refer to Muslim family laws and practices
Links to Concluding Observations That Refer to Reform of Muslim Family Laws and Practices
Link to Musawah’s CEDAW reports on Singapore
Any other relevant regional or international treaty or convention signed by Singapore
A list of the UN treaties that Singapore has ratified can be found here.
Sustainable Development Goals
Singapore supports the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda. The first Voluntary National Review of the SDGs were co-led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment, and was signed at the UN High-Level Political Forum in July 2018.
Key Resources About Muslim Family Law
By local researchers, activists and civil society groups
- PPIS (Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura or the Singapore Muslim Women’s Association)
- Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) not specifically for Muslim women though
- Association of Women for Action and Research (aware) not specifically for Muslim women though
By government agencies/committees
Constituted under s 34 of AMLA, the Syariah Court of Singapore is a specialist court created by Parliament to administer legal disputes concerning Muslim personal law as set out in the Act.
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS)) was created to administer the general religious life of Muslims in Singapore and plays a number of important roles in establishing and administering rules to regulate Muslim life in Singapore.
The ROMM is headed by the Registrar of Muslim Marriages, who is appointed by the President of Singapore (s 90(1)). It performs the administrative role of registering marriages solemnized under Muslim law in Singapore.
Mahomedan Marriage Ordinance (No. V of 1880)
Colonial Legislation - Muslims Ordinance 1957 (No. 25 of 1957)
Post-Independence Legislation - Act 27 of 1966—Administration of Muslim Law Act, 1966
The majority of the post-independence revisions were not concerned with Muslim family law as such, noteworthy exceptions are
- the 1999 reforms to the jurisdiction of the syariah court and the civil courts which established concurrent jurisdiction in certain family law matters.
- the 2017 reforms, several changes were made that affected Muslim family law including
- In the case of a minor marriage (i.e. one party is under 21 years of age),
- the couple has to undergo a mandatory marriage program;
- the parents/guardians have to give their consent to the marriage
- in the case of divorce,
- the parties have to be domiciled in Singapore for at least 3 years;
- a man can apply for a divorce without having pronounced a talak;
- the couple have to undergo counselling before initiating divorce procedures;
- a more child-centric approach is being implemented in divorce proceedings
- In the case of a minor marriage (i.e. one party is under 21 years of age),
*1999 Revised Edition—Administration of Muslim Law Act (Chapter 3)
Act 33 of 2017—Administration of Muslim Law (Amendment) Act 2017
2020 Revised Edition—Administration of Muslim Law Act 1966
This country page was prepared by Dr Kerstin Steiner as a collaboration under the Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws.