Saturday, 28 April 2007

Budget 2007 Debates: Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, 8 March 2007

I know this is a little late. But it's the last one from the Budget debates. I promise to do better in future in terms of posting speeches, questions, etc. from sittings.

I've always felt that the Government penalised single mothers by withholding certain privileges and benefits from them. The Government's stance is that such privileges and benefits are meant to be incentives for married couples, and hence it is not penalising single mothers.

With respect, I think that is mere semantics. Denying benefits is as much of a punishment as imposing a penalty.

The reality is that married couples, and hence their children, get privileges and benefits that single mothers and their children do not. Yet, single mothers are precisely the ones who need help the most. The result is a headstart for children in intact families that ends up aggravating the gap in resources between them and children of single mothers.

Furthermore, dressing the privileges and benefits up as an "incentive" does not hide the fact that the ultimate intent is to deter women from having children outside of a conventional family unit, or to put it the opposite way, to incentivise them into having children only within a conventional family unit.

But we have never seen any statistics or evidence to support the argument that this deterrent, or attractive, effect is valid. Indeed, anecdotal evidence and logic both tell us that the choice facing most if not all single mothers is between having the child out of wedlock and abortion, not between having the child out of wedlock and having the child within a family unit.

So I decided to pose this question. Unfortunately, the response was what it was: unmarried mothers are entitled to some but not all of the benefits available to married mothers. I'm not sure that addresses the fundamental issue.

Single Mothers

Mr Siew Kum Hong (Nominated Member): Madam, the Government's long-standing policy is that an intact family unit is the ideal environment for a child to be raised. The Government, therefore, does not encourage mothers to remain unwed. This is why certain maternity benefits, such as Government-paid maternity leave, are withheld from unwed mothers.

Madam, I agree that intact families are ideal, but we live in an imperfect world. The unwed mother is very often a victim of circumstance. She does not choose to be unmarried. Chances are that marriage is not an option. The father may be married, he may be gone, he may simply not want to marry her. In these cases, the choice is not between being a single unwed mother and being a married mother. The choice, a very stark one, is really between being a single unwed mother and having an abortion. And I doubt if the issue of maternity benefits, like Government-paid maternity leave, cross the mind of women grappling with whether to be an unwed mother.

A 2004 Cornell study concluded that children of single parents can do as well as children of dual parents, if the single parent is able to provide a sufficiently supportive environment. Withholding support from an unwed mother could end up disadvantaging the child. Should we penalise the child for the sins, if there are indeed sins, of the mother? I would, therefore, ask the Ministry to refine its policy. If the aim is to avoid encouraging women to choose to be unwed mothers, then, perhaps, maternity benefits, like Government-paid maternity leave that is for the ninth to twelfth week, can be provided for the first child, but not subsequent ones. This would not penalise single mothers by circumstance while still sending the message that we discourage unwed mothers by choice.

The Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports (Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon): [...]

Mr Siew Kum Hong has asked whether benefits such as the third month of paid maternity leave and Baby Bonus could be extended to single mothers so that their children are not disadvantaged. Single unwed mothers are not a large group - about 500 children are registered without the father's name annually. Single mothers are entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave under the Employment Act, of which eight weeks are paid for by the employer for first and second births. They also qualify for Foreign Domestic Worker Levy Concession, Childcare Leave, and can rent or buy a HDB flat with their parents, or as a single if they are aged 35 and above.

Their children are eligible for centre-based childcare and infant care subsidies. They pay the same school fees, enjoy Edusave grants and qualify for the same scholarships and bursaries. No Singaporean child will be denied an education due to the circumstances of his birth.

The Marriage and Parenthood Package is an incentive for married couples. It is not a financial assistance scheme for children. So the Government cannot and should not be the surrogate father.


irene goh said...

i am a single mother in need of help. trying to divorce for 4 yrs and still dragged by my lawyer indecent costing. anyone in good heart can help. i am going crazy soon. no organization seems to be sincere to help and push me away with some helpless comment.

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