How kind or unkind are Singaporeans?

Are Singaporeans kind or unkind? Here’s a summary of points made by Prof Tommy Koh in his speech at the National Conference On Kindness.


Foreign workers

There are many instances of foreign workers being subjected to unkind treatment by their employers.

Some are housed in unsanitary and inhumane circumstances, some are not paid promptly or at all.

“The worst case was probably the employer who left his injured foreign worker to die on the roadside.”

Foreign maids

Some maids have been sexually abused by male employers. Others have been physically or psychologically abused, not given enough time to rest, food to eat and a decent place to sleep in.

“I was disappointed that some employers opposed the Government’s belated decision to grant all maids a weekly day of rest,” said Prof Koh.

Neglecting elderly parents

Prof Koh’s wife, a volunteer in a hospital, told him that some elderly people living alone or in institutions complain that their children never visit.

“I wonder if our cherished virtue of filial piety is beginning to wither.”

Treatment of the disabled

Education should be compulsory for disabled children too; the quality of education available to disabled children varies widely.

It is hard for the disabled to find jobs. And it remains hard for the disabled to get around in office buildings, shopping malls, trains, buses and restaurants.

Cruelty to animals

“As an animal lover, I am appalled by the reports I have read of cruelty towards animals. I cannot understand why there are some sadists among us who apparently enjoy torturing and killing animals.”


Foreign workers

For every unkind employer of foreign workers, there are probably several who treat their workers kindly. There are also non-government organisations which champion the rights of foreign workers, and doctors, lawyers and other professionals who volunteer to look after their welfare.

Foreign maids

For every unkind employer, there are several who treat their maids with kindness and respect.

“I have also come across employers who have shown extraordinary kindness towards their maids, for example, by paying for their medical treatment or helping them with their children’s education or giving them time off to further their education.”

Response to humanitarian disasters

Singaporeans always respond with generosity to humanitarian disasters abroad, especially those in Asia.

“If Singaporeans do not have kind hearts, I do not think they would have responded so generously.”


Donations keep going up. Philanthropy has taken root and “Singapore is emerging as an important philanthropic hub of Asia”.


The proportion of volunteers has risen from 15 per cent in 2004 to 23 per cent in 2010.

“I am very impressed by the spirit of our young people. Many of them are helping the poor, the disadvantaged, the marginalised, in different countries in Asia and elsewhere.”

Kindness to strangers

The “bouquets” in The Straits Times Forum Page, from Singaporeans and foreign visitors, express gratitude to Singaporeans who have gone out of the way to show kindness to strangers.

“My foreign friends have told me that they are very impressed by the kindness of Singaporeans.”A summary of points made by Prof Tommy Koh in his speech at yesterday’s National Conference On Kindness

This article was first published in The Sunday Times