Marriage Counselling Programme for Malay/Muslim Inmates and Their Families
SYARIAH COURT (SYC) PARTNERS SINGAPORE PRISON SERVICE(SPS) AND FITRAH OFFICE (MUIS) TO PROVIDE HOLISTIC CARE FOR MALAY/MUSLIM INMATES UNDERGOING DIVORCE AND THEIR FAMILIES
SYC’s flagship Marriage Counselling Programme (MCP) was first introduced in 2004. In October 2018, MCP became compulsory with the amendment of the Administration of the Muslim Law Act (AMLA) to ensure that couples who plan to seek a divorce must first attend counselling. This now applies to incarcerated parties.
The MCP aims to save marriages. If reconciliation is not possible, the MCP counsellors will support the couples to work through their divorce amicably. For those with dependent children below 21 years old, the MCP counsellors will engage the couples to consider their children’s needs and well-being when making decisions. They will be equipped with co-parenting skills to reduce parental conflict, thus minimising the negative impact of divorce on children. MCP also connects divorcing couples and their children to national and community resources for additional and continued support.
As part of MCP, couples can seek clarification from religious teachers on Muslim laws concerning marriage and divorce. This enables them to make informed decision. Between 2004 and 2018, almost half of the MCP referrals did not proceed with divorce.
There are currently 10 social service agencies under the MCP with Jamiyah Counselling Centre (JCC) and the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) overseeing SYC’s referrals involving inmates undergoing divorce procedures. Both JCC and AMP have undergone training by Singapore Prison Service to prepare them for this role. The MCP sessions are conducted by the counsellors through face-to-face sessions at Prisons. Inmates with dependent children will undergo up to 5 MCP sessions while those without children will undergo up to 3 MCP sessions. For families with young children, sessions can be conducted through video-conferencing from satellite centres.
To facilitate holistic support for the inmates and their families, JCC and AMP will connect the inmates’ families to FITRAH Office , Muis, for further support after the MCP. Besides accompanying families and children during visits, FITRAH’s Community Befrienders provide emotional support during these difficult times. Beyond outreach, these Befrienders conduct home visits to better understand the needs of these families and offer the necessary info-referral for them. In addition, FITRAH Office also started a new scheme called the Back-to-FITRAH where its officers and Befrienders will receive the ex-inmates upon their release at the prison gate and provide a Back-to-FITRAH package to the ex-inmates. This package includes fidyah vouchers which can be exchanged for staples at supermarkets, an EZ-link card, a prayer mat and an information package on the assistance available for them. Since this scheme started in April 2019, about 40 ex-inmates have benefited from the programme.
MCP is an integral part of the M3 (MUIS, MENDAKI and MESRA) Focus Area 2 on support for vulnerable families. Under the leadership of Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Home Affairs & Health) Mr Amrin Amin, the M3 agencies are working closely with community organisations and the Government to provide holistic support for Malay/Muslim inmates, ex-offenders and their families, so that they will have a better chance to reintegrate successfully into society.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1. What is MCP and its objectives?
Marriage counselling has been provided free by the Court since 1955. In 2004, SYC formalised its MCP, which aims to provide a safe and neutral platform for couples to discuss their marital concerns. On 22 October 2018, the AMLA was amended to ensure that couples who plan to seek a divorce must first attend SYC’s flagship MCP. With the AMLA amendment, the MCP is extended to incarcerated parties. The motivation to help save marriages continues today.
The MCP aims to:
● Effect reconciliation between couples;
● Facilitate an amicable divorce if reconciliation is not possible; and
● Facilitate clients’ access to national resources, where needed.
2. How can couples benefit from MCP?
MCP provides a safe and neutral platform for couples to discuss their marital concerns. Information shared during counselling is confidential and without prejudice.
If reconciliation is inevitable after counselling, the counsellor will facilitate an amicable divorce. For divorcing couples with children aged 21 years and below, the counsellors will look into their post-divorce parenting plan taking into consideration the best interests, needs and well-being of the child. Thereafter details of the facilitated parenting plan discussion will be submitted to the Court. Couples with dependent children are encouraged to prepare the plan early (at the marriage counselling stage) and out-of-court to make it less adversarial. This encourages parents to think of their children’s well-being when making decisions that would inevitably affect them and minimise the impact of divorce on them. Through MCP sessions, the inmates will have the opportunity to discuss marital concerns and/or co-parenting issues in depth amicably before the commencement of the divorce proceedings.
3. Who are the counsellors who conduct the MCP?
The MCP counsellors are trained in counselling with minimally a diploma in counselling or a basic degree in social work/sociology/psychology. They have at least 3 years of formal counselling experience and they come from the following organisations:
- Apkim Centre of Social Services (ACOSS)
- Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP)
- Muslim Converts’ Association of Singapore (Darul Arqam)
- Inspirasi PPIS
- Jamiyah Singapore Muslim Missionary Society Singapore
- PPIS As-Salaam Family Support Centre
- PPIS Family Therapy Institute
- PPIS Vista Sakinah 10.REACH Counselling Centre