Singapore ranked best country in Asia to be a mum

A class for mothers carrying babies here. Singapore was ranked ahead of the next-best Asian countries South Korea and Japan in the latest Mothers' Index. This rates countries based on five indicators relating to maternal health, children's well-being
A class for mothers carrying babies here. Singapore was ranked ahead of the next-best Asian countries South Korea and Japan in the latest Mothers' Index. This rates countries based on five indicators relating to maternal health, children's well-being, education, income levels and the political status of women.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Republic also takes 14th place worldwide in aid agency's index

Singapore is the best country in Asia to be a mother.

The Republic came out tops in the region in an annual index released by international aid agency Save the Children and was also ranked 14th worldwide, well ahead of the next-best Asian countries South Korea and Japan in 30th and 32nd spots.

Singapore moved up from 15th spot worldwide last year but short of its 2002 best of 13th.

Norway topped the international chart, beating last year's winner Finland, while the United States was 33rd.

The 16th annual Mothers' Index, released on Monday, rates 179 countries based on five indicators relating to maternal health, children's well-being, education, income levels and the political status of women.

Singaporean women have a one in 13,900 risk of dying in childbirth while the infant mortality rate here is 2.8 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Gross national income per capita is US$54,040 (S$72,000). For these three measures, Singapore was placed among the top 10 countries globally.

But its ranking was pulled down by weaker performance in the educational and political arenas.

Children are expected to complete about 15.4 years of formal schooling here and a quarter of seats in the government are held by women.

In comparison, Norway recorded a national income of US$102,610. Political participation of its women is close to 40 per cent and children are expected to finish 17.5 years of school.

The US' poor showing is partly due to its high risk for maternal death - one in 1,800, the worst level in any developed country.

Ms Sylvia Choo, director of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Women's Development Secretariat, said Singapore has done well because of its strong investment in education and in ensuring that medical care remains accessible.

Since 2000, Singapore has cut its risk of maternal death by over 75 per cent, from one in 3,500 to one in 13,900.

Other experts say the findings, while commendable, should not be a reason for complacency.

They pointed out that the index tracks only parameters such as wealth, education and healthcare and does not take into account other pertinent issues specific to developed economies.

"It does not address the parent-friendliness of workplace policies, culture and practice," said Ms Jolene Tan from the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware). "Some countries ranked lower on the index such as the United Kingdom and Ireland have much more generous parental leave than Singapore.

"It also doesn't consider security of employment. A mother who returns from maternity leave to find her position terminated has little recourse in Singapore, but she can invoke legal protection such as unfair dismissal claims in jurisdictions such as Canada, the UK and Ireland - all ranked less highly in this report."

Save the Children's chief executive Carolyn Miles said the data confirmed that a country's economic wealth is not the sole factor leading to maternal happiness, but also that policies must be put in place to support mothers.

In the case of Norway, "they do have wealth, but they also invest that wealth in things like mothers and children as a very high priority", said Ms Miles.

Ms Yeo Miu Ean, president of Women Empowered for Work and Mothering, said the fertility rate here remains low because some women want to avoid the dilemma of having to choose between work and children.

"They do not want to give their children the time or energy that is left over from work," she said.

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser agreed.

"Compared with the Nordic countries, we still need to catch up on gender inequality in terms of shared childcare responsibilities and work-life balance."

jantai@sph.com.sg