Singapore: The Evident Poverty

When the name ‘Singapore’ is mentioned in a conversation, it is often connoted as a lively tourist-hub that attracts travellers from all around the world; or as the article Reconfiguring the Singapore identity space: Beyond racial harmony and survivalism suggests:

“…the jewel of Southeast Asia where residents enjoy a high standard of living and a stable socio-political environment.” (Hong et al. 2014)

This blogpost will explore to what extent this statement is true, and go deeper into how and why Singaporean residents are able to enjoy such high standards of living. It will be done so by revealing an evident poverty line in its society, containing illegal domestic workers that are exploited by those who can afford to.

On the surface, most social media websites promote Singapore as a bustling, tourist-filled country that is rich in food culture and diverse in race (Destination Flavour Singapore 2016), as seen in this video below of a commercial television program that showcases the ‘unique flavours’ of Singapore, hosted by Adam Liaw.

Screen Shot 2017-01-21 at 1.24.32 pm.png
Screenshot of Destination Flavour Singapore

However, as diverse and multicultural and multi-racial a country can be, Singapore’s racial hierarchy draws a border between itself and its female migrant domestic workers who have much less freedom in a thriving and wealthy nation (Kobayashi 2015). An everyday life for a migrant domestic worker is far from ‘enjoying a high standard of living’, as they are not only in the house for domestic service, but also of domestic abuse (Huang & Yeoh 2007).

From this short informative documentary provided by Al Jazeera English, it can be seen that young non-Singaporean girls from poor families are taken advantage of when they dream of being employed to earn money for a decent living. Girls, as young as 15 years old are interviewed in this video, had to live under a false identity in order to gain employment as a domestic worker in Singapore. As Steve Chow investigates the illegal workers’ circumstances, he highlights the fact that there are Myanmar and Singapore laws that were “written to protect [these] girls”, however not a single authority has taken action. (Al Jazeera English 2016, 22:40)

According to Timothy Mcdonald reporting on BBC News,

“Singapore is famous for its strict rules, discipline can have a very real impact [on the country’s economic state].. Doing business is easy and corruption is minimal.” (BBC 2015)

And yet there are still infamous exploitations of young domestic workers, placed in Singapore under illegal working visas and are often beaten, abused or even locked away.

So the statement: ‘Singaporean residents enjoy a high standard of living and live in a stable socio-political environment’ could be  considered fairly true, and a third party would also agree upon brief glance, however, with deeper understanding and research on the social hierarchy that stands in this multicultural country, it can be seen that there is a transparent mask that attempts to hide the young cogs that aid in a flourishing society. The evidence is there and the world can see what is being done to the illegal female migrant domestic workers, but they can also see what is not being done to solve it. This issue has been brought to light for over a decade now and yet the Singaporean government are more concerned about the economic and commercial impression it has to its surrounding countries (BBC 2015).


Reference List:

Al Jazeera English 2016, 101 East – Maid in Singapore, video recording, Youtube, viewed 19 January 2017, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQbd2XZGyXg>

BBC 2015, Singapore: From third world to first, United Kingdom, viewed 17 January 2017,< http://www.bbc.com/news/business-32012069>

Destination Flavour Singapore 2016, television program, SBS On Demand, Australia, 12 January.

Hong, J., Leong, C., Lim, S. & Yang, W.W. 2014, ‘Reconfiguring the Singapore identity space: Beyond racial harmony and survivalism’, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, vol. 43, part A, November 2014, pp. 13-21.

Huang, S. & Yeoh, B.S.A. 2007, ‘Emotional Labour and Transnational Domestic Work: The Moving Geographies of ‘Maid Abuse’ in Singapore’, Mobilities, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 195-217.

Kobayashi, Y. H. 2015, ‘Renationalisation of space in everyday life in Singapore’, Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 410-422.

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1 thought on “Singapore: The Evident Poverty”

  1. Really interesting topic – an issue that’s the government definitely refuses to recognise. Interesting how a country that’s viewed to be so multicultral, accepting and diverse has a issue like this however I don’t think it’s particularly surprising. As you said, Singapore as a nation is more concerned with the image it’s projecting, so I think the government probably finds it easier to sweep issues like these under the rug rather than dealing with them directly. Ignoring the issue means suppressing potentially bad press as well, which comes back to the whole idea of the government trying to project some kind of perfect, infallible image to the world.

    Liked by 1 person

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