In a letter to the Straits Times Forum, Ms Yee Siaw Ling, Director of the Family Service Division from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) clarifies that the government does not provide additional benefits to unwed mothers even if they adopt their biological children.
This is in response to letters written to the same forum by Ms Lynne Tan Sok Hiang, Dr Lee Woon Kwang and the Association of Women for Action and Research (Legitimate or not, every child is important; All children deserve equal treatment; Time to do away with ‘illegitimacy’).
Earlier this month, a Straits Times article reported how some mothers resorted to adopting their biological children in order to qualify for certain benefits offered by the government due to their marital status.
In the letter, Ms Yee wrote that MSF recognises the challenges that many unwed mothers face and that is why, currently, all Singaporean children get to enjoy the entire suite of Government benefits that support their growth and development, regardless of the marital status of their parents.
Stated benefits include the Medisave grant for newborns, infant care and childcare subsidies and foreign domestic worker levy concession.
Emphasising that government benefits such as the Baby Bonus Cash Gift and housing benefits are tied to the parent’s marital status and will not be extended even if an unwed mother adopts her own child, as they are meant to encourage parenthood within marriage.
Ms Yee note that unwed mothers may seek to adopt their own children for personal reasons, such as to terminate the rights and responsibilities of the biological fathers and establish themselves as the sole parent.
“This is a decision to be weighed carefully, factoring in the best interests of the child. The effect of the adoption would mean that there is no longer a parental relationship between the child and his or her biological father. The child would also not be able to seek maintenance from the father under the Women’s Charter.”
MSF’s letter does not highlight the problem of current unwed mothers
Currently, unwed mothers do not get the Baby Bonus cash gift and parenthood tax rebates, and have to wait until they are 35 years old to buy a Housing Board flat under the singles scheme.
In Ms Yee’s letter, she wrote, “Child Development Account benefits and Government-Paid Maternity Leave (GPML) were recently extended to include unwed mothers and their children.”
Despite MSF’s assurance that unwed mothers do enjoy certain benefits that married parents are given, such as the Baby Bonus CDA and the GPML, there is a certain catch to the stated benefits.
For the CDA, only children born after 1 Sep 2016, will the parent be offered the benefits. So for those single mothers who have their children born before that date, will probably have to adopt their children to qualify for the benefit.
As for GPML, the scheme will only be discussed next year before passing it as law in Parliament so at this point, single parents will still have to wait for details to be finalised.
AWARE: Strange and arbitrary division between never-married and divorced/widowed unmarried parents
Local gender rights group, AWARE wrote on its Facebook page in response to MSF’s letter, stating that housing is a basic need which is absolutely fundamental.
“It should not be used in this carrot-and-stick way at the expense of meeting needs. MSF makes a distinction in this letter between benefits that support “growth and development” of the child, and those that “encourage parenthood”, but any serious assessment of children’s needs must recognise the harmful and destabilising impact of not being able to access affordable housing. Bear in mind that it’s not just housing subsidies that unmarried parents cannot receive: HDB rules bar them from unsubsidised purchase until they are aged 35.”
It further notes, “The reasoning for the Baby Bonus cash gift is rather odd when you consider that divorcees and widows who adopt a child can receive this too. Is the idea simply that having previously been married makes you more deserving of support as a parent? This seems to set up a strange and arbitrary division between never-married and divorced/widowed unmarried parents.” and wrote, “The letter also suggests that “personal reasons” for adoption centre around relations with the biological father. There is no recognition of what unmarried mothers have spoken of time and time again: the hurtful STIGMA of the label of illegitimacy – the label which public agencies persist in using.”
State discrimination of children of unwed parents
Under 7(b) of Adoption of Children Act, it states, “of the all such rights, duties, obligations and liabilities shall vest in and be exercisable by and enforceable against the adopter as though the adopted child was a child born to the adopter in lawful wedlock;”
So despite having the adoptive-biological mother being legally issued with the rights of the child after jumping through the loophole, the child will be still viewed as born out of wedlock in the eyes of the government.
By restricting benefits to unwed parents in child benefits, is the government not discriminating children because of the martial status of their parents?
It would seem that we have a moralistic government who puts its “principle” above its role to the country. On one hand, the Singapore government is troubled over the low birth-rate, on the other, it is trying to play the role of moral police on individuals for having babies outside of wedlock.
Although MSF states that the benefits are meant to encourage parenthood within marriage. But rather than just simply “encouraging”, the subsidies or cash bonus offered to parents is more of recognising the difficulties of raising a child in Singapore so that couples are “encouraged” to have babies.
By withholding such benefits to single mothers/fathers who are assuming care of the children, this act should be considered as discrimination against the children, children who are citizens of the country, and who will also be contributing back to society when they grow up.