Parents’ Guide to National Service Liability in Singapore
National Service (NS) is ever the hot topic in Singapore, being one of the few matters that always sparks debate and spurs discussion.
This article seeks to give parents a better idea of:
- What NS obligations entail;
- The consequences of defaulting NS; and
- Possible alternatives to defaulting if your child is unable to serve.
Who is required to serve NS?
Under the Enlistment Act, all male Singaporean citizens and Permanent Residents (PRs) are required to serve NS once they turn 18.
For clarity, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) has set out which PRs must serve NS. Such PRs include:
- Males who have been granted Singapore PR;
- Males granted PR status as a foreign student or under their parents’ sponsorship; or
- Males who were previously Singapore Citizens or Singapore PRs.
When is a child considered a Singapore citizen?
Children under 21 years old can acquire Singapore citizenship through the following methods:
|Nature of acquisition of citizenship||How such citizenship may be acquired|
In order for minors who are Singapore citizens by descent to retain their citizenship upon turning 22 years old, they must:
In order for minors who are Singapore citizens by registration to retain their citizenship upon turning 22 years old, they must take the Oath of Renunciation, Allegiance and Loyalty (ORAL) within the 12 months of turning 21 years old.
When is my child required to register for NS?
Once children reach the age of 16-and-a-half, those required to serve NS must register for NS upon receipt of a notice from the Armed Forces Council (AFC). Your child would be deemed to have committed an offence under the Enlistment Act if he fails to register for NS.
However, in order to be liable for NS, registrants must also be deemed as fit for service under the Enlistment Act, based on the results of their medical examination. If they are deemed as medically unfit for service, they may be exempted from NS (more below).
What is the NS liability like?
The overall duration of full-time NS depends on where your child is posted – to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Police Force (SPF) or the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).
In addition, the type and duration of the basic training programmes for each posting may vary according to your child’s Physical Employment Status (PES), Pre-Enlistee Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) results and Body Mass Index (BMI).
Generally, most people are posted to the SAF. The initial full-time enlistment stage spans about 2 years:
- 4 to 19 weeks (depending on your child’s PES) of Basic Military Training (BMT); and
- Your child’s designated vocation for the remainder of the 2 years.
If your child meets the appropriate physical requirements, he may be given a reduction (up to 8 weeks) in the overall duration of his service in full-time NS.
Upon the completion of full-time NS, your child would have to serve up to 40 days of Operationally Ready National Service (ORNS) per year – better known as reservist.
He must also undergo the Individual IPPT on an annual basis until the completion of ORNS. He is obliged to serve until the age of 40. If he is an Officer or a senior Military Expert, he has to serve until the age of 50.
If your child intends to give up his Singapore citizenship or PR Status, he only needs to complete the initial full-time enlistment stage, and does not need to undergo reservist.
Is a child still liable to serve NS if he hasn’t lived in Singapore for most of his life?
Take Singapore-born author Kevin Kwan for example – he migrated overseas with his family at the age of 11, and currently has a US citizenship. However, he stayed overseas without a valid exit permit and did not register for NS, making him liable for defaulting on his NS obligations (more below).
In addition, your child will be liable to serve NS as long as he has “benefited from his Singapore citizenship“, even if he is no longer a Singapore citizen.
An example of this would be application engineer Ekawit Tangtrakarn, who was born and raised in Thailand but a Singapore citizen by registration. His mother had registered him as a Singapore citizen when he was 1 year old, even though the family had moved to Thailand before he was born.
Even though Ekawit lived in Thailand all his life and lost his Singapore citizenship (because he failed to take the ORAL within 12 months of turning 21 years old), he was still liable to serve NS.
This is because he had used his Singapore passport for travel on one occasion, which counted as him benefitting from his Singapore citizenship.
When will a child be regarded as having defaulted on NS?
Under section 33 of the Enlistment Act, ways in which your child will be regarded as having defaulted on NS under the Act include:
- Failure to comply with any order or notice issued to him under the Enlistment Act (e.g. fails to register for NS);
- Failure to fulfil any liability imposed on him (e.g. completing full-time NS);
- Dishonestly obtaining or attempting to obtain postponement, release, discharge or exemption from duty;
- Doing any act with the intention of illegally evading service; or
- Giving the AFC or any person acting on their behalf false or misleading information.
Penalties for NS defaulters
NS defaulters are punishable with a fine of up to $10, 000 and/or a term of imprisonment up to 3 years.
Refer to our other article for more information on how sentences for NS defaulters are determined.
Will overseas NS defaulters be arrested upon arrival in Singapore (even if just in transit?)
In general, NS defaulters who travel back to Singapore run the risk of getting arrested upon arrival.
This is evident in the case of Kevin Kwan whose application and appeal to renounce his Singapore citizenship without serving NS was rejected. The Ministry of Defence has issued a statement to say that Kevin Kwan is wanted in Singapore for defaulting on his NS obligations.
What are the Options Available to My Child if he is Unable to Serve NS or Wishes to Delay NS?
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We’re not Iron Man, but we’re here to tell you about the laws regarding enlistment! 🤙As long as you’re a male Singapore citizen or PR, you are obligated to serve national service once you turn 18. There are only three ways in which you can delay or avoid your NS liability: deferment, disruption or exemption. 👀 – Exemption only kicks in if you’re deemed unfit to serve NS by the Armed Forces Council. 😶 As for deferment or disruption, it really depends! Deferment delays your NS liability in favour of certain academic, arts or sports pursuits. For arts and sports however, your NS term can only successfully be deferred if you’re deemed to have the potential to win top international competitions. 🤷♀️ Alternatively, your NS liability can be disrupted halfway for the pursuit of further studies, such as if you have a place to read medicine in Singapore. 🤩 – If you try to avoid or delay your NS liabilities in ways other than those we’ve mentioned, you will likely be considered to have “defaulted” on your NS liabilities. 😔😔 Defaulters risk a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to 3 years, or both! Probably best to just grit your teeth and, in the words of Steve Rogers… assemble 😬🤧 #SingaporeLegalAdvice
If your child has a legitimate reason as to why he needs to delay or avoid his NS liability, several options may be open to him:
- Disruption; and
Read on for detailed explanations of each term. A summary of what each term entails is also presented below:
|What is it?||Postponement of your child’s enlistment date, in favour of other pursuits.||Interrupting your child’s full-time NS midway for him to pursue further studies.||Fully discharging your child’s liability to serve NS.|
||Your child must:
||Your child must be deemed as unfit for service, based on the results of his medical check-ups.
Usually due to:
|Where/ How do you apply?||
||Follow procedure on the CMPB website.||Cannot apply.
AFC and medical board to decide on exemption.
|Does it allow your child to avoid his NS obligations entirely?||No||No||Yes|
|Does it delay your child’s NS obligations?||Yes||Yes|| No
Your child will not need to serve NS.
What is deferment?
Deferment refers to the postponement of one’s enlistment date. It does not mean that your child will be able to avoid his NS obligations. Rather, his pursuits in other areas are given priority before he serves NS.
Deferment is usually granted for academic purposes. However, it is not the only way in which your child can be granted deferment. MINDEF has mentioned that it does consider NS deferments for “exceptional talents in both arts and sports who can achieve national pride for Singapore”.
Each deferment request is assessed individually in consultation with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).
What is the eligibility criteria to defer NS for academic purposes?
Deferment for studies is the most common type of deferment. Your child can be granted deferment from full-time NS to pursue full-time studies, though only up to a first education bar qualification. This refers to qualifications such as the GCE ‘A’ Levels, a polytechnic diploma, or their equivalent.
To be eligible for deferment, your child will have to meet the stipulated cut-off age for the type of course that they wish to pursue. The CMPB has set out the relevant age requirements on its website.
When will my child not be granted deferment for academic purposes?
Deferment will not be granted for degree courses, regardless of whether your child’s studies have begun. Further deferment will also not be granted, in the case where your child has already attained a first education bar qualification, or another qualification below that (locally or overseas).
What is the eligibility criteria to defer NS to pursue arts?
In terms of the arts, your child will have to:
- Show “convincingly” that the deferment is necessary for them to practise full time; and
- Show potential to achieve outstanding results at top international competitions.
Individuals who have been granted deferment for talents in the arts include violinist Lim Chun and pianist Lim Yan.
What is the eligibility criteria to defer NS to pursue sports?
In terms of sports, your child must be:
- Representing Singapore in top-tier international competitions; and
- Must display a potential to win medals and bring national glory for Singapore.
Other factors that are taken into consideration would include your child’s:
- Past related achievements;
- Potential to excel in his sport, and;
- Need for deferment.
If your child will be pursuing sports overseas, whether your child is able to commit to a date to return to serve NS may also be a factor in deciding whether deferment will be granted.
From 2003 to 2018, only three have met the criteria to be granted sports deferment – national swimmers Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen, and national sailor Maximilian Soh.
How can my child apply to defer NS?
If your child is applying for deferment to pursue local studies, he may be required to submit certain documents to CMPB. These documents would include:
- A letter from his school certifying his enrolment and course of study; and
- The commencement and completion dates for his course.
If your child is applying for deferment to pursue arts or sports, it would be best to contact CMPB to enquire about his eligibility for deferment.
What is disruption?
Disruption of NS refers to when one’s full-time NS is interrupted to allow the person to pursue further studies. If your child is granted NS disruption, his NS duties will be put on pause until he has completed his studies, where he will then have to serve the remainder of his full-time NS liability.
When can my child be granted disruption of NS?
Your child must have already enlisted and served at least part of his full-time NS before he can be granted disruption. Disruption would be granted before the date of commencement of your child’s course, if your child is:
- A recipient of a Public Service Commission (PSC) Scholarship,
- Going to attend a course which falls under the Local Medical Disruption Scheme (LMDS)
Your child can be considered for disruption under the LMDS if he has:
- Already enlisted; and
- Successfully gained admission into one of the following courses:
- Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS) or;
- Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at Nanyang Technological University (NTU)
If your child is disrupted under the LMDS, he would have to return to complete the remainder of his full-time NS as a Medical Officer (a specific NS vocation) after successfully completing the Medical Officer Cadet Course (MOCC). If he does not choose to be an MO, he cannot be disrupted under this scheme.
Alternatively, if your child is in a later enlistment intake as compared to his school cohort, it is possible for him to be eligible for disruption if he is going to attend a course conducted by educational institutions that:
- Are funded by the Ministry of Education (MOE); or
- Provide their own qualifications.
(Example: a full time National Serviceman (NSF) will not be allowed disruption to pursue a foreign degree course conducted by a local university, since the qualification is not conferred by the local university.)
For the optimisation of manpower and training resources, men are enlisted in multiple intakes across the year. Under the third point, disruption would be granted to allow your child to commence his studies at the same time as his peers who enlisted in an earlier intake.
When will my child not be granted disruption?
Disruption would not be granted for your child to:
- Pursue pre-university qualifications (GCE ‘A’ Level, polytechnic diploma etc.);
- Attend his institution’s orientation programme; or
- Attend other activities prior to the start of his studies in his institution.
An exception to the first point would be Institution of Technical Education (ITE) graduates who have succeeded in obtaining a place at polytechnic only during full-time NS instead of prior to enlistment.
Disruption is typically only granted for the pursuit of local degrees. The exception to this would be recipients of the Public Service Commission Overseas Merit Scholarships (PSC-OMS). This is because the scholarship binds them and ensures that they return to Singapore.
If your child is a PSC-OMS holder, he can be granted disruption in the first year of full-time NS to pursue his studies. More information on the scholarship can be found on the Public Service Commission website.
How can my child apply for disruption?
The procedure and requirements to apply for disruption are set out on CMPB’s website.
However, keep in mind that not everyone may be eligible to be a PSC scholar, and that the medical courses have limited intakes. As a result, most would-be NSmen may not be eligible to apply for disruption of their NS.
What is exemption and who can be exempted from NS?
Exemption applies to those who are deemed to be medically unfit to serve NS, and are therefore not required to serve it. Exemption is unlike deferment and disruption, where his date of enlistment or the serving of his full-time NS liability is delayed.
What is the eligibility criteria to be exempted from NS?
There are no fixed conditions as to eligibility. It is up to the AFC to decide whether to allow the exemption.
In the past, exemptions have been granted to pre-enlistees suffering from severe mental illnesses.
Before enlistment, your child will have to attend medical check-ups to ensure that he is physically able to serve NS. He will also be screened for signs of mental illness, the signs of which include psychiatric, behavioural and adjustment problems. The severity of the illness is decided by a specialist medical board.
If your child has a physical or mental illness but is still able to serve NS in a non-combat capacity, he may receive a lower Physical Employment Standard (PES) instead of being exempted from NS entirely.
During enlistment, if your child may not be able to perform his duties as a serviceman, he will be assessed by psychiatrists once more. He could then be reassigned to a more appropriate vocation, or excused from his NS duties entirely.
Ultimately, exemption depends on the results of the medical check-up and the decision of the AFC.
Can My Child Completely Avoid being Liable for NS?
Renunciation of Singapore Citizenship
If your child renounces his citizenship upon attaining 21 years of age
Article 128 of the Constitution sets out the conditions for the renunciation of a Singapore citizenship. Your child must be:
- A Singapore citizen of or over the age of 21;
- Of sound mind; and,
- About to become the citizen of another country.
Your child must also first discharge any liability of his under the Enlistment Act. This means that he will have to have:
- Completed his service of full-time NS;
- Rendered at least 3 years of ORNS; or
- Comply with any conditions that the Government may impose.
In other words, it is not possible for your child to renounce his Singapore citizenship without first serving NS.
If your child loses his Singapore citizenship after failing to take the Oath of Renunciation, Allegiance and Loyalty (ORAL)
Even if your child is a Singapore citizen by descent and has lost his Singapore citizenship as a result of failing to take the ORAL within 12 months of turning 21, this would not discharge him from his NS obligations. He would still have to carry out his NS obligations or risk being classified as a defaulter.
In the case of Ekawit, as mentioned earlier, Ekawit lost his Singapore citizenship after he failed to take the ORAL within 12 months of turning 21 years old. Despite this, he was still liable for NS as he was previously registered as a Singapore citizen.
If your child did not enjoy the benefits of Singapore citizenship
MINDEF set out these conditions in response to a 2008 case where 3 Norwegian brothers wanted to give up their Singapore citizenship. Your child would only be able to renounce their Singapore citizenship without serving national service if he:
- Emigrates along with your family at a very young age; and
- Does not enjoy the benefits that a Singapore citizenship would provide.
(An example being Ekawit’s case, in which he used his Singaporean passport for travel)
However, it is unclear what MINDEF meant by “very young age”, and if there is any official way for your child to renounce his Singapore citizenship before the age of 21 (even if he has 2 passports).
Renunciation of Permanent Residence (PR) status
If your child renounces or loses his PR status without serving or completing full-time NS, this may adversely affect any immediate or future applications for the following:
- Applications to work, study or live in Singapore;
- Applications for Singapore citizenship or PR status; and
- Applications for the renewal of Re-entry Permits made by one’s family members or sponsors.
In other words, unless your child has no intention to ever return to Singapore to live or for work, it would be best for him to fulfil his NS obligations before renouncing his PR status.
While this article has given an overview of the options available for your child, should he be unable to serve NS or wishes to delay NS, it is ultimately a decision for you and your child to make on which would be the most viable option.
Should you have any queries, it would be best to contact the CMPB directly for clarification.
(cover image by Gramicidin on Flickr)
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