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From The Gallery

Katie, Poppy and strengthening the Singapore family

Katie and Poppy may be just five months old, but they livened up yesterday's Parliament sitting as their father recounted their exploits when he made an impassioned plea for extended leave for parents of babies born early or in multiples.

For nearly 20 minutes, Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) shared his and his wife's hopes and fears as their twins, born 10 weeks early, navigated the neonatal ICU and on discharge, turned into "full-fledged party owls". "They partied through the night. And I rarely use the word sleep now as I can't really remember what sleep is and what it feels like to sleep properly."

As he took MPs through a seemingly unceasing cycle of nappy-changing, feeding and burping, one wondered if too much about the aches of raising children might dent already-low birth rates.

But Mr Ng ended his appeal on an upbeat note, as he recited a poem:

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"Twins will make love stronger,

days shorter, nights longer,

bank account smaller,

home happier,

clothes shabbier,

the past forgotten and

the future worth living for."

Members thumped their seats, a traditional show of support when a moving or significant speech is made by a fellow MP.

Parliament is where weighty national issues are debated, and the calls for support for parents and families have long tugged at MPs' heartstrings.

 

But few MPs have bared their personal stories so boldly in calling for policy adjustments. In doing so, Mr Ng also raised the bar for fellow MPs in his attempt to make House sittings more accessible and engaging to the public.

He crowdsourced stories from fellow parents on Facebook and shared some of them yesterday.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Josephine Teo responded by saying the Government will seriously consider the call for extra leave for parents of preterm or multiple babies. But it should also be mindful not to affect their employability should they be away from work for too long.

The Government has, over the years, done much to support families, especially young parents.

This focus on supporting families was also at the heart of changes to the Administration of Muslim Law Act (Amla) debated yesterday.

 

These include mandatory courses for minors about to marry, provisions to refer parties going through a divorce for further counselling or a family support programme and, if needed, to appoint a trained professional to represent their child's interests.

This, noted Dr Intan Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), helps ensure that the well-being of the children involved is paramount.

While more can certainly be done to support families, it is equally important that MPs keep an eye on the well-being of the larger Singapore family - and do their part to strengthen it.

For Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC), Amla's evolution "personally reflects the beauty of the Singapore story that embraces and respects the identity of the Malay-Muslim community".

She noted that while Amla was enacted in 1968, it dates back to the 1880s when the colonial authorities recognised English law had to be modified to respect the religious customs of local inhabitants in marriages and inheritance.

Workers' Party MP Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC) felt added power given to Muis to manage endowments could be misused, and said in a poem in Malay:

"The island of Temasek was peaceful and tranquil,

Its name was changed to Singapura,

Act justly while in this world,

For we will eventually answer to our Creator."

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim responded in Malay, similarly in verse, during his wrap-up speech:

"Singapore is a nation with dignity,

Its people are wise and hard-working,

It is entrusted upon each of us ,

To uphold justice as a shared responsibility."

Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) later asked Mr Faisal if he was insinuating that the changes could lead to unjust decisions by Muis and others.

Mr Faisal said he did not say anything of that sort, adding that he supported the Bill wholeheartedly.

More heartening was the staunch support given by Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) to the Bill, which he said highlighted three traits he admires and respects about the Muslim community: a united spirit, including hosting events that boost social harmony; a progressive outlook; and resilience in the face of challenges such as extremism.

He said the proposals reflect a "community that is open to diversity, progressive, modern and confident of its place in Singapore".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2017, with the headline 'Katie, Poppy and strengthening the Singapore family'. Print Edition | Subscribe