SINGAPORE - Fathers can expect more help so they can play a more active role in parenting, Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo said on Monday (Jan 4).
Mrs Teo, who oversees population matters at the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD), was speaking to reporters on her key priorities under the portfolio for this year.
Although no details were immediately available, her remarks came as she disclosed that the take-up rate for paternity leave, which was doubled to two weeks on a voluntary basis last year, had been "very modest" and "can be much higher".
Data on the take-up rate is being compiled and will be provided at a later date.
"Some young fathers may not be so well aware of it as yet. And some do encounter a little bit of difficulty when they raise it with their employers. So that is something we are trying to understand more," she said.
"Consider the fact that eight in 10 mothers are very likely to be active in the workforce. This makes it all the more important for dads, too, to be active participants in the child-raising process."
Mrs Teo was giving an update on the portfolio which she took over in October last year from Ms Grace Fu, who is now Culture, Community and Youth Minister .
The MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC spoke to reporters during a visit to the PAP Community Foundation Sparkletots Childcare in her Bishan North ward, where she welcomed children on their first day of school.
She said that a second focus will be to continue making available more childcare services that are affordable and of good quality. The Early Childhood Development Agency, she noted, is on track to reach its target of providing one in two children full-day childcare services by 2017.
In addition, some 13,000 places were added across 110 centres last year.
Latest available figures show that some 30,500 Singaporean babies were born as of Dec 1 last year. They got a bundle of gifts and a commemorative birth certificate to mark Singapore's Golden Jubilee.
The final figure for the full year is expected to be close to the 33,193 citizen births in 2014 - which was up from 31,017 such births in 2013 but slightly fewer than the 33,238 citizen births in 2012, which was the auspicious Year of the Dragon.
Mrs Teo said that boosting the birth rate would require adopting approaches that are more than policy- or incentive-focused. Rather, it is important to "enhance workplace and community support for parenting". This means involving multiple stakeholders - from employers to commercial organisations like shopping malls - in the effort.
"(It is about) how they help couples feel that parenting is a very rewarding process, and minimise the stress that comes with it," she said.
She described helping young couples get married and have babies earlier as an area that is "a little bit more dicey (and) harder to work on", given their other meaningful priorities such as studies, careers, overseas assignments or volunteering.
"It takes a whole society, a whole culture, to put marriage as a priority to get this going," she said, adding that the NPTD will gather more feedback on this front.