Unmarried parents – especially unmarried mums – have always been a touchy issue in Singapore. Though the social stigma is slowly lessening, our official policy definitely continues to privilege conventional nuclear families.
It’s a good sign that we are starting to talk more openly about unwed mums, as can be seen from a debate currently raging in The Straits Times Forum. Here’s a look at what both sides are saying.
“Children don’t ask to be born out of wedlock”
The plight of unwed mum Ms Tan (not her real name) made the news earlier this May, when she had to adopt her own biological daughter to be legally recognised as mother and child.
Prior to adoption, two-year-old Lorraine (not her real name) was considered illegitimate. This meant that her mum was denied essential benefits like tax reliefs, housing subsidies, and Baby Bonus gifts.
This drew a powerful letter in The Straits Times Forum from Singapore’s Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE). Ms Chong Ning Qian, research executive of AWARE, pointed out the “inappropriateness” of labelling children illegitimate, and of denying their mums benefits.
It is unconvincing to claim, she wrote, that strong marriages could be promoted by penalising and stigmatising unwed mothers. She also recounted some of the real-life struggles that unmarried mums were forced to face.
“One unmarried mother I met described her parenthood as “a lonely journey”. She could not spend much time with her young child as she worked long hours to save for a flat. Another faced family hostility, receiving no support as she struggled to find a stable home… another dealt with unsympathetic officials who came across as judgmental.”
Pediatrician Dr Lee Woon Kwang weighed in, movingly arguing, “Children do not ask to be born out of wedlock. It is not of their own doing and yet, for centuries, such children have been treated unfairly by society.”
Therefore, he stated, “It is about time our Government enacted a law to have the words ‘illegitimate’ and ‘illegitimacy’ removed from the statutory books.”
Ms Lynne Tan Sok Hiang also highlighted the unsung bravery of unwed mums. She wrote, “unmarried pregnant women show courage by choosing to keep their babies rather than opting for an abortion.”
“Encourage parenthood within marriage”
In response to these heartwarming calls for change, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) published a Forum letter, restating the Government’s position on encouraging marriage.
Ms Yee Siaw Ling, Director of the Family Service Division, clarified, “Benefits such as the Baby Bonus Cash Gift and housing benefits are tied to the parent’s marital status.
The benefits will not be extended even if an unwed mother adopts her own child, as they are meant to encourage parenthood within marriage.”
Ms Yee pointed out that the Government has made progressive moves to include unwed mothers recently, such as Child Development Account benefits and Government-Paid Maternity Leave.
Furthermore, all Singaporean children remain well-protected under a suite of Government benefits like Medisave grant for newborns, infant care and childcare subsidies, and education subsidies — whether or not their parents are married.
It’s about equality
Mums and dads, what are your thoughts? Do you feel that unmarried parents deserve to have the same parenting help from the Government that married ones receive?
Regardless of the moral light in which society views unwed mothers, it’s hard to deny that they have an equally heavy, if not heavier burden to bear. Unwed mums already face a painful struggle without the care and support of a partner-in-crime. Are we cruelly putting more obstacles in their way?
Do we also end up punishing innocent little lives for their parents’ “sins”? In Singapore society, children born to unwed mums emerge from the room disadvantaged. Not only do these little ones face the same societal prejudice that burdens their mums, they may get less nurturing. For example, perks like housing benefits are meant to provide a roof over young children’s heads. Surely this inequality goes against the democratic ideals that we as Singaporeans value.
There’s indeed been a recent move towards giving unwed mums the help they deserve, as the MSF pointed out. Let’s hope this progressive spirit continues, for the sake of these brave mums and their young ones!
ALSO READ: Unwed mothers can now avail of single parent benefits!
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