Remove barriers that impede more active fathering

Given the strong support via numerous letters in the Forum page, it is clear that fathers today desire to play an active role in the family.
Given the strong support via numerous letters in the Forum page, it is clear that fathers today desire to play an active role in the family.PHOTO: ST FILE

Recent calls for more involved fathering are timely, if not overdue (Parenting is a dad's job too, Aug 11; Actively engaged fathers a necessity in society, June 17; Fathers have important role to play in parenting, Aug 26).

Given the strong support via numerous letters in the Forum page, it is clear that fathers today desire to play an active role in the family.

In fact, many of today's young fathers are already involved in their children's caregiving and educational upbringing. This is a very positive development that is backed by clear, foundational research supporting the importance of active engagement by the father in a child's development and well-being.

However, there still exists in Singapore systemic barriers to involved fathering.

First, while paternity leave has been enhanced in recent years, it still falls short of what is optimum and necessary for strong father-child bonding in the critical early years.

The Government and employers should make a concerted effort to provide at least one month's paternity leave for all new fathers, which would send a strong signal on the importance of active fathering.

Second, men in Singapore continue to have to serve their national service obligations as operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen). Their annual in-camp training stints take them away from their family for up to two weeks each year.

This can be disruptive, especially for a young family. I propose that new fathers be allowed to defer their NSmen training for the first two years after the child is born.

Depending on operational needs, NSmen with young children should also be allowed to adopt more flexible schedules, such as staying out or serving in a facility near their homes.

Third, in cases of divorce, a clear order for shared parenting should be made to ensure that no child is deprived of spending sufficient time with his father due to his parents' separation.

According to a report last year, only 4 per cent of care and control orders awarded by the family court in divorce cases in 2016 were shared.

This is contrary to established global research on the benefits of shared parenting after a divorce.

If our goal is to make Singapore the best place for families to bring up children, let us be relentless in removing these systemic barriers to better support our fathers in nurturing the next generation.

Samuel Lee Teck En

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2019, with the headline 'Remove barriers that impede more active fathering'. Print Edition | Subscribe