Unwed adult mums: 'Doesn't my child count?'

Her family never knew she was pregnant - and unmarried.

They were not there when Ivana (not her real name), 36, gave birth.

She broke the news to them only last week, when her son turned three months old.

And they were not happy.

The PhD candidate says she kept her pregnancy a secret because she knew her "very traditional family" would not accept the child she had out of wedlock.

She tells The New Paper on Sunday: "It's all about face value.

"They are worried about the embarrassment it would bring the family and that's why now we're estranged."

Ivana was in a relationship with the baby's father for about two years. But the European man walked out on her and their unborn child.

She was seven months pregnant.

"I woke up one day and he was gone. He deleted me off everything - WhatsApp, Facebook," she says.

"I never thought he'd have the heart to just pack up and leave even if it was not what he had planned.

"I didn't ask for him to walk out. I didn't ask to be a single mother. How could anyone think that I don't want a traditional family unit?"

Ivana worried about how she would manage without support, especially after her eight-week maternity leave.

She says: "Why does my child get to spend only eight weeks with me? Doesn't my child count?"

The maternity leave entitlement for unwed mothers was changed on Tuesday.

Minister for Social and Family Development (MSF) Tan Chuan-Jin announced that the Government is ready to extend the full 16-week maternity leave to unwed mothers.

The change will be implemented from early next year, after legislation is amended.

"I am heartened that unwed mothers will get the same benefits as their married counterparts," says Ivana.

"All mothers are raising children, so what's the difference?

"We still have a long way to go."


Unwed mothers also have no access to Parenthood Tax Rebates and the Baby Bonus.

Ivana, who lives alone with her baby, says she is grateful for the support of friends.

"I have to be frugal. My friends gave me hand-me-down baby clothes," she says.

"At home, I'm on my own. It feels like I'm doing laundry all the time while looking after the baby. It's just non-stop work.

"There's also no such thing as a confinement period for me. A week after giving birth, I was going out to buy food with my baby in tow.

"If I didn't, who was going to get dinner?"

Before the baby came along, Ivana led a comfortable life, earning close to $7,000 a month. She bought a condo unit and a car early last year.

It's different now though - the condo has to go.

"I cannot afford to have such high overheads because I have a child to think about now," she says.

"I'm not struggling that badly financially because I hold a good job but on the emotional front, it's tough.

"If I'm feeling that way, what about the other single mums - especially those struggling to cope financially on top of emotionally?

"Can you imagine what they are going through?"


Number of births for women above 19 registered without the name of the child's father: 446

2010: 554

2011: 519

2012: 523

2013: 488

2014: 446

Source: Single Parent Registration Births, according to Registry of Births and Deaths by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA)

'How are adoptive mothers different?'

The girl, who is almost four months old, joined the Yuens earlier this year, a few days after she was born.

Mrs Jean Yuen, 40, and her lawyer husband of 12 years, Mr Samuel Yuen, 41, went overseas to adopt their daughter.

She says as an adoptive mother, she was entitled to only four weeks of paid adoption leave after her daughter arrived in January.

"The 16 weeks of maternity leave is given to mothers to recuperate and bond with their child, so how are adoptive mothers any different?

"I didn't ask to be unable to have a child. Recuperation from the emotional and physical anxiety of the whole adoption journey shouldn't be undermined."

Mrs Yuen, a training director, says adoptive mothers should also have access to the 16-week maternity leave.

"Regardless of whether we are birth, unwed or single mothers, we should all be treated the same," she says.

While the Government has not equalised entitlements to that of a birth mother, Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo said in Parliament on Wednesday that they will triple the current adoption leave entitlement.

Adoption leave will go up from four weeks to 12 for adoptive mothers of infants younger than one year old.

Mrs Teo said adoptive fathers will be able to share up to four weeks of their spouse's adoption leave.

The new enhancement to the Marriage And Parenthood Package will apply to children adopted from July 1 next year.


The Yuens, who made the decision to adopt about five years ago, say the adoption process was invasive.

They had to reveal personal financial records and undergo home-study reviews to see if the adoption is "the right fit for both child and parents", says Mr Yuen.

Even with the current benefits, he says the variety of costs weigh on them during the initial stages.

Subsidies for adoptive parents kick in only after the process is finalised and the child is granted a Singapore birth certificate and passport.

"That process alone takes about six months. In the meantime, the costs are on us," says Mr Yuen.

"We're lucky that we can afford it but we should spare a thought for those who want to adopt but can't afford all these costs to rest solely on them, especially if they don't know how long the process would take."


Percentage of children adopted being foreign born, according to ministry of social and family development figures: 58 per cent

Number of children adopted in 2015: 326

2010: 325

2011: 418

2012: 396

2013: 358

2014: 352

Focus remains on traditional model of family

Over the years, the Government has increased access for single mothers to the same benefits married mothers receive.

On Tuesday, Minister for Social And Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin announced the full 16-week maternity leave will now be extended to single mothers.

The children will also have access to the Child Development Account (CDA), which helps cover childcare and healthcare costs.

Mr Tan said: "I feel that we can do more to support their efforts to care for their children and reduce the disadvantages that their children may face at birth.

"These benefits are useful in the child's developmental or caregiving needs.

"They also support the unwed parent's efforts to provide for the child."

But the focus remains on the traditional model of a family: children with married parents.

That's what society wants too, according to a survey by The National Population And Talent Division, part of the Prime Minister's Office.

The survey found that while Singaporeans are generally sympathetic to the plight of single mothers, most still feel that children should only be for those who are married.

Of the 4,646 respondents, 80 per cent of single respondents and 85 per cent of legally married ones felt only married parents should have children.

In announcing the maternity leave benefits for single mothers, Mr Tan said: "The extension of these benefits to unwed parents does not undermine parenthood within marriage, which is something we encourage and it is still the prevalent social norm."

The Government had previously agreed in 2007 to give mothers the full 16-week leave but with a caveat: The women marry within a year of giving birth.


Mr Seah Kian Peng and other MPs have been fighting for increased support for unwed mums.

Mr Seah told The New Paper on Sunday he is glad single mothers now have access to full maternity leave.

"Raising a child is not easy and doing it alone is an even tougher challenge," he says.

"These are building blocks and will go some way in helping them."

While members applauded the announcement, several argued for more to be done.

In his March 24 Budget speech, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced a $3,000 First Step Grant under the CDA which parents will receive for babies born from March 24.

MP Faisal Manap and NMP Kuik Shiao-Yin argued that every Singaporean child - including those born out of wedlock - should have access to the same benefits.

Mr Seah said he remains hopeful that single mothers will eventually have access to the same benefits as married mothers.

He said: "There is certainly more equalisation to be done. If you look through history, we have come a long way.

"I will celebrate the new announcements but at the same time, I hope that in the near future, the other things we having been pushing for will come through as well.

"One of them is flats for unwed mums."

At present, unwed mothers can buy flats from HDB only after they turn 35 - like other singles.

This article was first published on April 17, 2016.
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