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Unwed mums to get 16-week maternity leave from next year

SINGAPORE — After years of calls for more support to be given to unwed mothers, this group of women are set to benefit from the full 16 weeks of Government-paid maternity leave that married mothers currently enjoy.

Unwed mothers will soon benefit from government-paid maternity leave as the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) plans to amend legislations, which will apply to children born from early 2017. Reuters file photo

Unwed mothers will soon benefit from government-paid maternity leave as the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) plans to amend legislations, which will apply to children born from early 2017. Reuters file photo

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SINGAPORE — After years of calls for more support to be given to unwed mothers, this group of women are set to benefit from the full 16 weeks of Government-paid maternity leave that married mothers currently enjoy.

With the proposed amendments to the relevant legislation by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), the benefit would apply to children born from early next year.

Likewise, these children will also qualify for a Child Development Account (CDA), including the S$3,000 CDA First Step grant that was announced by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in his Budget speech last month. The MSF is preparing the legislation and system enhancement for this, which will likely kick in for children born from the third quarter of this year.

Announcing this during his ministry’s Committee of Supply debate on Tuesday (April 12), Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin noted that unwed parents are usually vulnerable if they are younger and lower-educated. Some may be rejected by their own families, making it difficult to raise a child single-handedly. And some may have hoped to have a child within marriage, but ended up as unwed parents as a result of circumstances.

“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,” said Mr Tan.

He added: “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.”

Mr Tan also noted that there are government benefits given to children regardless of their parents’ marital status. This includes their access to social assistance, education and healthcare subsidies, and they are also eligible for infant care and childcare subsidies.

But he stressed: “The extension of these benefits (16 weeks’ maternity leave and the CDA) to unwed parents does not undermine parenthood within marriage, which is something that we do encourage and it is still the prevalent social norm.”

Currently, unwed mothers are entitled to eight weeks of maternity leave under the Employment Act, but their children do not qualify for the CDA. The Government at present matches dollar-for-dollar savings made by parents in the CDAs.

While Ms Syahirah, 26, a single mother with a six-month-old daughter, will miss out on the changes, she was nonetheless happy for those who will benefit.

Allowing the children of unwed parents to enjoy the matched savings in the CDA, in particular, would ease the financial burden of these parents and encourage them to save more, said the pre-school educator.

The additional paid maternity leave will also ease stress levels faced by mothers during their confinement period, where they can be assured of their job and financial
security.

“The parents may have made the mistake but the children shouldn’t be punished,” she said. “I really think that (we) should give children the equal chance. For the parents, they still have to strive to work, strive to make amends and strive to make things right.”

CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, we reported that unwed mothers are currently entitled to eight weeks of maternity leave under the Child Development and Co-savings Act. This is incorrect. The eight weeks of leave are provided for under the Employment Act. We apologise for the error. 

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