Do single parents in Singapore have social support?
We throw some light on the recent policy changes that impact single parents in Singapore, who have often been unfairly discriminated against. Read on to find out what single parents and AWARE have to say about the current situation.
Do single parents in Singapore have social support?
We all know being the primary caretaker of your children can be challenging. Imagine if you're the only caretaker of your children.
In Singapore, single parents are "equal" in that they're expected to pay their dues as citizens. They pay taxes like everyone else and if they have sons, their boys are expected to serve out their tenure of National Service when they come of age.
Yet, they're sorely disadvantaged because neither are they given subsidies nor priority when they wish to purchase their own public housing. They're not allowed to avail of the baby bonus that the government has been handing out since 2009. Even their paid maternity leave is much shorter — by two whole months — than that allocated to their married counterparts.
The political divide
During General Elections 2015, we realised that the issue about single mothers has become a sticking point for candidates and their constituents alike. The general consensus has been that government policies for single mothers need to be reviewed to make it fairer for them who ironically, more than married mothers, need these benefits.
Jolene Tan, spokesperson for Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) says, "We don't see any reason why the children of single mothers should be penalised. These are just women who are trying to raise children. There really is no good reason to make their lives any worse." She adds that such policies "send a real signal to them that they don't belong in society" and this is essentially "a divisive stance".
It appears, however, that a silver lining has appeared in recent months. In March, Mr Chan Chun Sing, himself a child from a single-parent family, first gave us a hint that we could be seeing adjustments in single parent policies in parliament.
Subsequently, in late July, recently appointed Social and Family Minister, Mr Tan Chuan Jin ascertained that there will be concrete changes in the single parent policy by 2016.
Going beyond bread and butter issues
Patrick, 30 and a single father, points out that these are not just bread and butter issues.
"It's not simply about affordability. It's about the multiple petty humiliations you have to go through everyday because you don't get the support. I am sleeping on my parents' couch right now because we're not qualified for a government housing grant. I'm not asking for handouts, you know? I'm just asking for an equal opportunity to live my choices out in a dignified manner."
Currently running interviews with single mothers, Jolene Tan from AWARE concurs, "One of the things we have noticed is that it's bad for the whole family's dynamics when they're relying on the goodwill of their family members."
Another single parent, Serene, 31 throws light on the human face of single parenthood. "Many of us, we have our own reasons for not marrying. Some of these dads are abusive, alcoholics, or have less serious problems, but still, I don't see why marriage is always the best choice for the child!"
No one wants to be a single parent
Strikingly, none of the single parents in Singapore we spoke to deliberately set out to be single parents.
Their status as a single parent was an outcome of a relationship gone horribly wrong. Wendy Yong, 38, and a single mother of a nine-year-old girl shares,"After I got pregnant, we quickly got engaged, but things started going rapidly downhill from there. He felt I had pressured him into the marriage and he wasn't ready. The story ends with him cheating on me. I was left standing in the rain with a huge belly, watching him drive away from our unborn child and me, with another woman in the car. But Que Sera Sera, right? At least I have my daughter."
Single dads also have their own personal dilemmas to tell. Patrick found his hands similarly tied four years ago. "My kid's mum (a Thai national) appeared on my doorstep with him in tow, when he was almost two. I didn't even know I had a son till then! It came as a shock, to put it mildly. His mum and I were only together for a short while. After ambushing me like that, she disappeared three days later, and didn't take him with her. I couldn't just send him back to Thailand!"
All the single parents we spoke to felt it was ludicrous that policies could encourage or discourage the incidence of single parenthood in Singapore. "Seriously, no one sets out to be a single parent. I can't imagine that anyone would actually be encouraged to form a single parent family when government policies start treating us more fairly," Patrick comments with a smile.
It's not just the single parents in Singapore who are looking forward to hearing about these promised policy changes. theAsianparent is also eager to hear how the government will strengthen the social net for this disadvantaged group and build our society into a more empathetic and cohesive one, come 2016.