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Does government matchmaking work?

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By:  Tsang Chi Yin Anthony
24 October 2009

She was dragged along by her best friend to an unknown social event but never would she expect to find the love of her life there.

Sparks of chemistry lighted up between Charmayne Chua and Peter Lim in a weekend lunch session organised by the then Social Development Unit (SDU) four years ago. Chua, 33, is a product engineer of an US-based firm while  Lim, 36, is a logistics manager of a local enterprise. .

At the end of the session, they were impressed with each other and exchanged telephone numbers . That marked their three year courtship before the couple tied the knot in July 2008. To many, this romance might sound like a fairy tale but in reality, close to 53,000 SDU members like Charmayne and Peter have said “I do” since the organisation’s inception in 1984.

The SDU was established as part of the Singapore government’s overall efforts to promote marriages among graduate singles while the Social Development Service (SDS) was set up in 1985 to promote marriages among non-graduates.

This was a controversial as  move as membership selection was based on educational qualifications, This was deemed by many Singaporeans to be “elitist”. Responding to critics, the Ministry of Community, Youth and Sports merged SDU with SDS in January this year, to form the Social Development Network (SDN).

This wiped off the exclusive image associated with the government-sponsored matchmaker. Further measures were in place to extend its reach to all singles, linking them to a wider network of partners for dating services, events and information.

By removing the education qualifications  barriers and becoming more inclusive, more than 600,000 singles aged 20 and above in Singapore are now able to participate ,marking a significant jump when compared to its predecessors which only had 75,000 members.

Angie Hermann, 28, an advertising account manager for an international publisher, believes these changes made to the nation’s official matchmaker agency will attract more singles to participate in itsactivities

Hermann said, “For years, the controversial decision to separate dating services for singles based on educational qualifications have raised many eyebrows. I’m glad that the Government has finally decided to do something about it after realising that there are singles who are more open to meeting others with different educational backgrounds.”

Besides this move, a less formal meeting environment was adopted by the SDN to create more interaction opportunities for singles. Reports from The Straits Times indicated that the SDN will be less  of a singles club . More effort will be made to facilitate to those who want to get married.

New carrots are dangled to singles who are interested in participating programs organized by the SDN. Besides free sign ups, singles who engaged in services offered by partners of SDN which include nine private dating agencies and 13 dating practitioners, can enjoy substantial amount of government subsidies.

Although these perks may be well received by consumers and industry players, some believe that lower costs will not make a big difference in getting people to meet and get married.

Ivan Zheng, 25, a sales manager of an Internet firm, said, “No matter what changes, the human touch is still missing in today’s professional matchmaking services which rely mainly on computers. What the computers do is matchmake people based on a set criterion, which is not as effective if relatives or friends come into the picture.”

Official statistics have shown that both SDU and SDS have contributed to an average of estimated 16 percent of total marriages in Singapore from 2003 to 2008. Similar to other efforts to tackle low fertility rate in Singapore, the case of SDN shows that the government has once again led the way by making the landscape of matchmaking more conducive for singles to meet and hopefully marry.

However, such government intervention may do more harm than good. Some young people feel that that there is a social stigma of being a SDU or SDS member despite the government playing a smaller yet visble role.

This so even as the government plays a small but visible role. Psychological barriers are the hardest to break among all obstacles

Nicholas Fang, columnist and social commentator of Today newspaper thinks  that it is still likely that the public will continue to associate SDN with unfavourable connotations.

He said “There is a high chance that people who called the SDU Single, Desperate, Ugly will continue to express their negative perceptions with regards to SDN.”


Written by mtrayu

November 8, 2009 at 8:22 am

Sex: the easy way out for Singapore’s teens

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By: Sivaprakash Packirisamy

After finding out that her boyfriend was in debt, 15-year-old Mary used sex to settle it.

In exchange for money, she had sex with five different men she met in online chat rooms. While she could have contracted a variety of sexually transmitted infections in the process, Mary was more concerned that her boyfriend would learn of the trysts.

According to Jayanthi Manohar, Mary’s counselor, it is not rare for teenagers to exchange sex for monetary gains.

“There are no figures on this trend, but compared to a year back where I’d receive a hotline call every six months from teenage girls asking if it was all right to have sex with men for money. Now, I get four every six months,” she said.

A recent study conducted by the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore revealed that out of the 500 sexually active students who have visited the Department of Sexually Transmitted Infections Control, 15 percent have engaged in sexual activities with a complete stranger.

The study also showed a rising trend of teenagers engaging in sexual activities for money.

Some social workers blame teenagers’ nonchalant attitudes towards the glamourization of sex on television and the Internet. Manohar is especially critical of Internet chat rooms, which make it easy for girls to befriend teenage boys or men for the purpose of exchanging sex for money.

“The thinking of some girls is that since they are doing it, they might as well get something out of it. Often, these girls want to buy things their parents can’t afford, like handbags, clothes and accessories,” she said.

Apart from local chat rooms and blogs, online forums have also played an increasingly important role in promoting promiscuous sexual activity to teenagers.

Popular Singapore sex forum Sammyboyforum has an online readership larger than Channel News Asia, Straits Times and TODAY, attesting to the enduring appeal of sex in Singapore.

Forum users post their sexual experiences with girlfriends, colleagues, strangers and prostitutes on the forum and exchange contacts of freelancers with each other liberally.

A freelancer is someone who engages in prostitution occasionally, often encouraged by the lack of money.

On another sex personals website, an 18-year-old Singaporean girl posted, “This little Lolita is in desperate need for an older man to teach her. Do you satisfy my need?”

John, a 23-year-old man who frequents the website, said, “A high-end deal will cost more than $500 a night, while a student in one of Singapore’s three universities more than $200.”

“All these freelancers want is money, they don’t care if you’re old, young, ugly, handsome whatever,” he added.

The activities of these freelancers have been of great concern to many social workers.

“Although the situation here is less dire than in Japan, it is still a cause for concern,” said social worker and NUS student Vanessa Seng.

“In Japan, it’s common for schoolgirls to be part-time sex workers for extra pocket money,” she added.

Laurence Leong, a lecturer from the NUS Sociology department, feels that the blame should fall on parents. “Why would a 14-year-old prostitute herself? The family must take responsibility. We cannot expect society to police the young for us and we also cannot expect the schools to be the moral guardians,” he said.

NUS student leader and Action for AIDS volunteer Fong Xiong Kun concurs with Leong.

“Often, kids who get into trouble have no relationship with their parents. How do you bring up the subject of sex or values when you don’t even talk to your children about everyday things in the first place?” he said.

Apart from an open relationship between parents and their children, Fong also suggests that parents become better role models for their children.

“What parents can do is be good examples themselves, teach their children from young what’s right and what’s wrong and be aware of what they are doing.”

Written by mtrayu

November 8, 2009 at 8:19 am

Virginity is so passé

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By: Cassandra Lee

Virginity is now passé to teenagers these days. The Department of sexually transmitted infections centre survey found also the reason on top of the list for boys engaging in sex is curiosity, while girls cited that they were ‘in love’ with their partner

Choo Jie Kiat is only 14 years old but he has already had sex with ten different partners. He started having sexual intercourse two years ago out of curiosity, and he does not plan to look back.

“When I first had sex, it was because I was curious. But now, I enjoy it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having sex, it’s just for fun”, said Choo.

The tall and lanky Choo is popular with the girls in school and a hero amongst his male peers.

“My friends call me ‘The Man’, I am the go-to guy for girl advice”, he said.

It is hard to believe that this is happening around us. Love-making is regarded lightly to some teenagers and many do not see the point of remaining chaste. An increasing number of teenagers are sexually active, according to a Sunday Times report.Media celebrities may have an influence on this growing trend  of teenage promiscuity. The controversial Hong Kong celebrity, Edison Chen, is Choo’s idol. “If someone didn’t repair his computer, he wouldn’t have been discovered. Edison Chen is like God.”, he said, raving about how the idol was found to have over 1,000 sex photos last year.

Similar to Edison Chen, Choo has pictures of his sexual partners framed on his blog,which is only accessible by friends.With a glint in his eye, he described the girls as trophies. Sensing the discomfort during the interview, he smiles and asks, “Are you shocked?”

When asked, the 14 year old casually answered that he does not fear contracting sexually transmitted diseases because he uses a condom during intercourse. “Only stupid people don’t use condoms” he said.

On the contrary, a survey done by the DSC  found that less than 5 per cent of the sexually active teens used condoms. It further reports that 500 teenagers have been diagnosed this year alone.

Perhaps virginity is passé, but the consequences of having unsafe sex is not. Choo decided to go for his first test next week after being made aware that 500 teenagers have been diagnosed. The DSC clinic, a government funded specialist in sexually transmitted diseases in Singapore offers free checkup for sexually transmitted diseases.

However, the future does not seem too bleak for the young people. Abstinence is still not a forgotten rule for most teenagers and young adults.

Sandy Lau, 21 a third year student studying in the National University of Singapore (NUS), does not understand teenage promiscuity.

“I don’t get it. Call me a prude, I don’t care. But I’m keeping my virginity as my prized possession” she said.

Written by mtrayu

November 8, 2009 at 8:16 am