Time to do away with 'illegitimacy'

The recent report of an unmarried mother adopting her biological child highlights the inappropriateness of branding children "illegitimate" and penalising their families (Unwed mum adopts own biological daughter; May 11).

It is absurd that such women must adopt their biological children to remove the stigma that comes with this label, and access benefits that significantly support the children of married parents.

Over the past 10 years, around 10,000 children have been born to unmarried mothers. Despite welcome advances in 2016, these children remain disadvantaged in law and policy.

They are denied Baby Bonus cash gifts and disadvantaged under inheritance laws. Their mothers, often financially strapped from single-income parenting, do not enjoy the same tax reliefs as married mothers.

Access to housing - a basic need for any family - is limited, as unmarried mothers cannot form a family nucleus with their children for public housing applications.

If they apply as singles aged 35 or above, they can receive subsidies only on smaller, inaccessible flats, which may not meet their growing children's needs.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development said last year that differential treatment based on "legitimacy" reflects "the Government's desire to promote strong marriages".

However, it is unconvincing to suggest that meaningful values are promoted by making single mothers jump through extra legal and administrative hoops to meet their children's needs and strive for a better life.

What positive values can arise from imposing disadvantage and stigma on vulnerable families?

One unmarried mother I met described her parenthood as "a lonely journey". She could not spend much time with her young child as she worked long hours to save for a flat.

Another faced family hostility, receiving no support as she struggled to find a stable home.

Besides fears that their children will be labelled as "illegitimate" or "bastard", the mothers face stigma too: One was called a disgrace by her family, another dealt with unsympathetic officials who came across as judgmental.

This Mother's Day, let us honour these women who love, care and provide for their children as much as other mothers do - and move towards true equality under the law.

Chong Ning Qian (Ms)

Research Executive

Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware)

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