'Don't penalise children of unwed mothers'

Sales manager Desiree Lee gets eight weeks of maternity leave but wishes she had twice that period of time, as married women do, to bond with her 15-month-old son.

The additional paid leave would also help the 37-year-old save on infantcare fees, which cost more than $1,000 before subsidies.

She is among a group of single mothers in Singapore who could be set to receive more benefits after a Government review.

She hopes the current review would mean future unmarried mothers can spend 16 weeks at home with their newborns.

Women's groups and Members of Parliament (MPs) have largely welcomed the review and urged the authorities to accord unwed mothers benefits similar to those given to married mums.

The full 16 weeks of maternity leave was especially popular.

Ms Malathi Das, president of the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations, said: "We make no assumptions about whether there will be equalisation, but we hope that benefits which will strengthen the parent-child bond and translate into qualitative benefits for the child, such as more paid maternity leave, will be considered favourably."

Dr Janil Puthucheary, MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, agreed.

"Having the opportunity for the mother to spend those first few months with the child and have the confidence to care for the child is very important for the child," he told The Sunday Times.

Apart from maternity leave differences, unwed mothers also do not get perks such as the Baby Bonus cash gift of $6,000 for the first child and parenthood tax rebates. They must also wait until they are 35 years old to buy an HDB flat under the singles scheme.

"Housing is an especially urgent issue," said Ms Jolene Tan, senior manager for programmes and communications at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).

"Unmarried mothers cannot access BTO (Build-To-Order) flats because they and their children are not considered a 'family nucleus', forcing them to rely on the goodwill of other relatives or access interim rental housing," she said.

MP Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang), who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Social and Family Development, said the current differences affect the welfare of the unwed mothers' children. She hopes changes can be made to maternity leave, housing issues and the Baby Bonus cash gift.

"There is widespread empathy and sympathy for the plight of the unwed mother and especially their children who are seen as Singapore's very own sons and daughters, too," said Ms Phua.

As Ms Lee puts it: "It's a bit unfair because at the end of the day, when my son grows up, he will have to do National Service whether I'm married or not."

This article was first published on August 9, 2015.
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