Singapore is Asian and close to Thailand. Thai women do not need a visa to travel and for many it is the gateway to a new future married to Singaporean man.
A comprehensive study on Thai wives in Singapore reveals that the Singaporean citizenship programme places Thai women marrying Singaporean men at a disadvantage. The
report also highlights cultural challenges facing the increasing number of Thai women marrying Singaporean men.
There are no exact figures for the number of Thai women that have settled with Singaporean men but one researcher estimates that there could be over 30,000 Thai women
living in Singapore who are married or in relationships on Singapore.
Change of marriage patterns in Singapore is acute
Recent research into marriage patterns in Singapore has revealed an alarming increase in the number of Singaporean men seeking foreign brides. 'It's actually similar to patterns
all over Asia where you have increasingly educated and capable women who seem to have opted out of marriage,' says Carla Boonkong, a researcher from Bangkok who has
developed a reputation by studying and writing about the phenomenon of Thai women finding love, marriage and new relationships all over the world. 'It is a similar story in Thailand
with a large increase in the number of women over 30 who are not marrying or settling down.'
Thai wives in Singapore educated, half linked to sex industry
Ms Boonkong also highlights the fact that, in recent years, many of the Thai women marrying Singaporean men are more educated. 'At one level you have Thai women escaping
a life of poverty. Up to recently, there was a trend for women involved in the sex industry to opt for an alternative. For instance, many Singaporean men met Thai women working in Hat
Yai in Thailand near the Malaysian border. This would be a favorite holiday spot in Thailand for men coming from Singapore or Thai women working in prostitution within Singapore
itself would meet Singaporean men. But in the last ten years there is a noticeable increase in the numbers of educated Thai women making a conscious choice to find a partner in
Singapore,' says Ms Boonkong. Her comments are confirmed by the recent study which reveals that nearly half of the Thai women married to Singaporean men had some contact
with the sex industry.
Why Thai women chose to move to Singapore
'Many Thai women particularly those who are educated are anxious to make the most of themselves and often have in mind the plight of their families. Even if the families are not
poor as is the case with many Thai Chinese families, there is cultural expectation that the Thai woman will do well and sometimes this is not possible in Thailand.' Ms Boonkong
explains that Singapore is a country that nearly all Thai women can visit and it is an attractive proposition. It is also an Asian culture with strong employment prospects.
New report into Thai wives in Singapore
A new report into Thai wives in Singapore highlights the conditions for Thai women living in Thailand. It points out that Thailand is a very patriarchal society. Having never been
colonised, power in Thailand, in the military, government and bureaucracy is vested in men. The report does concede that women have been very prominent in commercial activities
in Thailand. Carla Boonkong does not quite agree: 'There are now more Thai women graduating from Thai universities and most of the bureaucracy is filled with Thai women. Ok,
there are less in leadership positions but that is changing too, the Prime Minister in the previous Thai government was a woman, I think maybe Thailand is more complicated than
that,' she says.
Thai women on an escape trajectory says Singapore report
What cannot be denied is that Thai women are pursuing a 'trajectory of escape' using all the tools at their advantage. These include education, the internet, global travel,
commercial opportunities and foreign marriage. The report into Thai women marrying Singaporean men highlights that the alternative for Thai women is a life of poverty, deprivation
or a life in the sex industry. This report, like others produced in the UK and Switzerland, suggests that many Thai women have had very negative experiences with Thai men. This
includes physical abuse, financial irresponsibility and promiscuity. Again Ms Boonkong is cautious and less inclined to agree with this: 'I have spoken to many Thai women who have
married foreigners including quite a few married to Singaporean men and yes there are nightmare stories of relationships in Thailand that have failed but many are simply forced to
make a choice to get on and help their families. I'd say many have lost loves waiting behind in Thailand and this is a sad aspect to this story while there are also many positives. I
personally admire these women very much all in all,' she says.
Report highlights Patriarchal nature of Singaporean society
The report and study suggests that the phenomenon of Thai women marrying Singaporean men allows Singaporean men to preserve what it call 'patriarchal privileges.' It also
criticises the citizenship programme in Singapore which it claims places Thai wives in Singapore in a state of 'dependency.' Ms Boonkong does not quite agree: 'Such citizenship
programmes are now common all over the world whether it be Sweden, Australia or even the UK. Personally I think they are fairly balanced and the authorities in those countries are
very receptive to dealing robustly with abuses. Although we have seen reports from countries like Norway or Finland where women's groups have criticised the regulations,' she says.
'On the other hand, citizenship programmes like these particularly the Singaporean programme give Thai women a path to follow with their husbands and are entirely necessary.'
Thai wife who is happy in Singapore
Mint is forty two year of age now. She has been living in Singapore for over fourteen years. From Roi Et province in Thailand, she worked earlier in her life in a local food factory but
wanted to find something better. 'I never wanted to go to Bangkok or something like that but I wanted to find a better life,' she says. Mint did not finish secondary school in Thailand and
although she had some Thai boyfriends, she never settled down. 'This is because I have a good family, we are not rich people but we can work.' Mint heard about friends that had
married rich foreign husbands and lived in Germany and England and she was interested in this but she wanted to find and marry a man of her own age and didn't particularly want to
leave Thailand and travel to the end of the world. A friend from Mint's village introduced her to her future Singaporean husband but initially Mint was the one that had to do the running.
'Yes, I had to visit Singapore and pay for the trip myself but I was determined about it and I had a good feeling.'
After Mint met her husband in a Cafe in Singapore and spent an afternoon and evening with him, she decided that she would marry him. 'He wasn't so fast but I knew I wanted to
come live in Singapore, it has not been all easy but I am not afraid to work and I think this is why I have been successful living in Singapore. Mint says Thai women coming to
Singapore should know:
- That life in Singapore is about working hard and it is a very serious: 'It is not a good idea to come to Singapore on spec or something like that,Singapore is more serious
than Thailand. Sometimes I feel a little sad but it is truly a very good place to live. But it is not so good if a Thai woman goes in the wrong direction and works in nightclubs and things
like that, I have seen many Thai women like this.'
- Mint is now a Singaporean citizen and achieved full residency after two years living with her husband in Singapore. She has two sons and a daughter, the oldest being now twelve
years. She does not work full time like many Singaporean women but has a part time job in a local restaurant. She tries to help her family at home in Thailand but it is sometimes
difficult. 'I send money to my mother and brothers sometime but I tell that life in Singapore is expensive and we do not have extra money. But we have not got big problem and I can
make plan with my husband for the future. Sure I love Thailand but I think I would be better to live here in Singapore when I am older.'
- Mint spent her first two or three years attended English classes paid for by her husband and now speaks the language nearly fluently. Learning English is the key requirement for
Thai women seeking marriage or a future in Singapore. 'I know the Thai women now come to Singapore have very good English and good jobs also, there is the change in the last
five or six years,' she says. Mint is planning, in the future, going back to school in Singapore to achieve better qualifications. Part of the reason for this is seeing her children being
educated in Singapore, in a particular her daughter.
- The report into Thai wives living in Singapore identifies a distinct cultural difference between Thai culture and Singaporean confucian culture that is a challenge for Thai women.
The reports finds that Thai women have a keen sense of duty to the Thai woman's family in Thailand while confucian Chinese culture, dominant in Singapore, emphasises an
obligation to the husband's family and his parents. 'I am Thai, I take care for my mother and my family in Thailand but I am happy for my home and family here in Singapore. In
Thailand so many Thai women want to show that they are a good wife for the husband's family. I am very happy with husband's family, it is really the thing that helped me stay living in
Singapore so I do not agree too much about that.'
Thai wife who doesn't love her Singaporean husband
In the course of the study into Thai wives in Singapore one of the Thai women with whom a lengthy two to three hour interview was conducted revealed that she still does not love
her Singaporean husband. Onchuma, an attractive 36 years old, who has been living in Singapore with her Singaporean husband revealed that:
- Not happy: She revealed that her husband loved her and she was very grateful for this but she did not feel that her husband made her happy: 'My husband loves me, he
works hard to support me and without him I could not get permanent residency in Singapore but this is not the same as being happy, my husband takes good care and even buys me
things I want but my life is still not happy.'
- Prevented pregnancy: Ornuma revealed that she used contraception to prevent herself from becoming pregnant without telling her husband who wants her to have a
child: 'My husband wants to have children and it would be good also for my status here in Singapore but I worry about my children in Thailand.' Ornuma is from Nong Khai province in
northern Thailand where her mother takes care of her young son and daughter. She is fluent in English picking up the language before going to Singapore. 'My husband knows about
my children and understands that I must take care of them but I am not sure he will accept this in the future if there are problems,' she says.
- Sex industry past: Ornuma revealed that she has worked in the past in the sex industry and does not rule out the prospect, if things should not work out right in Singapore.
'Sometimes I think I am making like too hard for my husband and I miss my family in Thailand. I can only see them one time each year and cannot always send money. I do not want
to go back and work massage or in a bar like that but I do not know what will happen in the future,' she says.
Carla Boonkong does says her story is not unique. 'For many Thai women, Singapore is the nearest opportunity. For many who travel there to marry there is enormous pressure as
Singapore is quite a rigid society and a woman without too many options may feel constricted. Thai women like all Thai people, value their freedom. I would say the percentage of
Thai women marrying Singaporean men who have been involved in the sex industry is higher than for those marrying foreign men as a whole. Many of these relationships do not work
out but there are spectacular examples, on the other hand, of Thai women who have worked there who have done great things with their lives. Who can judge? It depends on the
character and some thai women who have been through this become stronger others not so. many women in Thailand have lived very hard lives and I think we cannot imagine what it
Growing number of Thai women marrying Singaporean men
The growth in Singaporean men marrying foreign brides including Thai women has grown alarmingly in the last twenty years. It is estimated that in 2016 in Singapore nearly 40%
of all marriages involving Singaporean men will be with foreign brides.
At the same time it is estimated that over 30% of all Singaporean women over 40 will not have married at all. 'It appears that many Singaporean women are opting to pursue
careers instead of families and those who are losing out are less educated or less affluent Singaporean men,' says Carla Boonkong.
Figures in Singapore bear out the story. Over 23% of less educated Singaporean men between 40 and 44 are not married compared to 8.6% for their university educated
counterparts and 9% for Singaporean women with a low standard of education. 'The problem is that Singaporean women, like women in Thailand and elsewhere in Asia, are
becoming more and more successful not only in education but also in the workplace,' says Carla Boonkong. 'Also in the last ten years, there's been a voluntary movement among men
and women from all countries worldwide to find foreign marriage partners. Personally I see it is a natural result of the internet and global travel but also it is a response to the increase
in marriage breakdown. I think figures show that international marriages are more resilient but that's another story,' she says.
Thai wives in Singapore settle in for success
Mint now works in two voluntary associations in Singapore for Thai women and Thai nationals. These groups aim to form closer connections and provide support. One of the
groups meets at a Thai temple and the other is a support group for about thirty Thai wives which meets very week at the Golden Mile complex in Singapore otherwise known as 'Little
Thailand.' This is a similar pattern to Thai wives in all foreign countries. The Thai government, through its embassies in foreign countries,has been working with groups formed by
Thai women themselves in countries all over the globe to maintain links with the growing Thai diaspora all over the world.
'Thai woman is strong woman and good at helping each other, I am lucky. It is hard for younger Thai woman and those who is new to Singapore. They can go home before they
are two years but they can live in Singapore if they have the support,' Mint says.
Mint is one of the lucky Thai wives who through the support of her Singaporean family and other Thai women has carved out a life in Singapore. It is the same story as other Thai
wives living in the Netherlands, Australia and all western countries. The Asian culture and the relative ease with which Thai women can travel to Singapore make it a popular and