Equal maternity leave for unwed mothers

Unwed mothers are to receive the same benefits as married mothers, announced Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin in Parliament on 12 April. 16 weeks of Government-paid maternity leave for mothers and a Child Development Account (CDA) for their children will soon be granted to all unwed mothers, matching what is currently given only to married mothers.

Currently, unwed mothers are only granted eight weeks of maternity leave under the Child Development and Co-savings Act. This will be extended to 16 weeks for children born from early next year, after legislation is amended.

By the third quarter of this year, children of unwed mothers will be able to qualify for a CDA, a savings account where the Government matches deposits dollar-for-dollar, up to a maximum of $6,000. A $3,000 CDA First Step grant will also be extended to these children born from 24 March 2016, without parents having to make any initial deposit. The grant was announced by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in his Budget speech in March.

“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,” Mr Tan said in Parliament. The benefits aim to support the child’s developmental and caregiving needs. He also hoped that the extension of the benefits would be a move towards lessening the discrimination faced by unwed mothers.

“They are usually vulnerable because they are younger and lower-educated,” he said. He acknowledged that bringing up children, already a difficult task for married couples, would undoubtedly be tougher for single parents.

Nevertheless, Mr Tan still emphasised the importance of parenthood within marriage, stating that it still remains the prevalent social norm that would be encouraged.

Unwed mothers will still not qualify for the Baby Bonus cash gift and parenthood tax rebates even after the changes in legislation. Buying a HDB flat will also be out of the question until the mother turns 35, as she will have to purchase the flat under the singles scheme.

The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), a non-profit organisation for gender equality in Singapore, acknowledges the progress being made to better help unwed mothers, calling the move a “vital step towards greater inclusiveness”. AWARE’s programmes and communications senior manager, Ms Jolene Tan, also sees the updated policies as a move in the right direction. Nevertheless, AWARE hopes for more reviews and changes to be made in the future regarding all policies unwed mothers are affected by, especially in the area of housing.