More support being considered for new fathers: Josephine Teo

Josephine Teo's husband Teo Eng Cheong with their children.
Josephine Teo's husband Teo Eng Cheong with their children. PHOTO: JOSEPHINE TEO/FACEBOOK
Children with more involved fathers tend to develop better, physically and emotionally, Mrs Teo said, citing four international studies.
Children with more involved fathers tend to develop better, physically and emotionally, Mrs Teo said, citing four international studies.PHOTO: SMU

SINGAPORE - Dads may soon get to spend more time with their newborn babies, as Singapore tries to get the stork to visit more often.

The second week of paternity leave, now voluntary for employers, may be made compulsory.

The Government is also looking at letting working mothers share more of their four-month paid maternity leave with their husbands if they wish. They can now only share one of the 16 weeks of this leave with their husbands.

These possible changes to the law to help new fathers play a bigger role in parenting are being considered to help lift birth rates, Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, who oversees population matters, said on Friday.

Mrs Teo, who took over the population portfolio in October last year, raised this in a Facebook post titled "Confessions of a New Parent" on Friday. It arose from a dialogue session last year, where she met more than 20 first-time parents.

The post comes days after new official figures showed the Golden Jubilee year ending with at least 33,793 new babies, 600 more than in 2014. The figure is the highest in 13 years.

It also comes after enhancements to the Marriage and Parenthood Package were announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the last National Day Rally, to raise the Baby Bonus cash gift by $2,000, and to increase the Medisave grant for newborns by $1,000 to a total of $4,000.

The extended paternity leave, also introduced at the rally in August, was backdated to January last year.

Mrs Teo noted that every year, twice as many women take up paid maternity leave as there are men taking up paternity leave.

"Dads should not be made to feel bad that they're taking paternity or childcare leave," Mrs Teo wrote. "Union leaders have urged me to set a timeline for legislating the second week of paternity leave."

She acknowledged concerns from some new fathers, that their employers send the signal that taking more time off from work to care for their babies - on top of their reservist duties - will affect their performance.

"This ought to change," she said.

Further, only less than 5 per cent of eligible fathers now take up the shared parental leave.

But Mrs Teo is hopeful that more fathers could be persuaded if the period of leave available to them is "meaningfully extended" beyond the current one week.

She said she has been "quite persuaded" that, should more leave be shared between the couple, fathers could step in to care for the baby if mothers have a pressing need to return to work.

For example, if a working mother takes 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, the couple can then decide how to split the other four weeks.

"If the couple so chooses and dad also works with an enlightened employe which offers voluntary paternity leave, dad can have up to six weeks with baby," she said.

Mrs Teo said feedback from mothers has been that such a change would give greater flexibility rather than deprive them of their leave - if their husbands are unable to take more time off, they will still have the full 16 weeks.

Children with more involved fathers tend to develop better, physically and emotionally, Mrs Teo said, citing four international studies.

The mother-of-three also offered a peek into her personal life to show how parenting ought to be a "true partnership". Recalling how her husband was "more diligent in some regards", she said he would wake up in the middle of the night to administer medication, among other things.

She said: "We want to better support today's young couples in raising families, and help daddies who want to do more for their children."

waltsim@sph.com.sg