MPs, including opposition members, voiced support for the pro-family changes to the law yesterday, with the two main moves being equalising maternity leave for unwed mothers and the doubling of paternity leave.
From January next year, unwed mothers will get 16 weeks of maternity leave - the same as their married counterparts - and fathers will have two weeks of paternity leave.
In July next year, two other changes will take effect - mothers can share up to four weeks of their maternity leave with their husbands, an increase from one week, while adoptive mothers will get their adoption leave tripled to 12 weeks.
Number of weeks of maternity leave mothers can share with their husbands from July
All nine MPs who spoke on the amendments to the Child Development Co-Savings Act welcomed the new moves that will let parents, as Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said, "spend both quantity and quality time with our families".
"We are not just breadwinners, but we are role models for our children. We need to be active and present in our children's lives, especially during a child's formative years," he said.
Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC), a champion of unwed mothers, called the extension of full maternity leave to unwed mothers "a baby step in the right direction".
But he added: "Still, I wonder if more can be done for this group of single unwed mothers... like entitling them to receive the $8,000 Baby Bonus cash gift, and allowing them to rent, or even better, own a roof over their heads."
His call was echoed by Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC), Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC), Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh, with some asking for unwed mothers to also receive tax relief.
Mr Choo said: "The money saved (in taxes) could go towards the needs of the child."
Associate Professor Goh said the Government ought to let unwed mothers and their children be taken as a family nucleus. "The ministry must be aware of the housing problems faced by... unwed single parents with young children."
Mr Tan said unwed mothers and their children do have options. Those older than 35 qualify for the singles scheme and younger ones can buy flats with their parents.
"On a case-by-case basis, HDB also exercises flexibility to help divorced parents and single unwed parents buy a flat within their means, or to provide rental housing to those with no other housing options or family support," he added.
As for the Baby Bonus and tax relief, the minister said the Government believes in parenthood within marriages, hence certain measures are only for married couples.
He reiterated that many benefits are available to children regardless of their parents' marital status. "These are education and healthcare benefits, including the Medisave grant for newborns, and infant and childcare subsidies."
There are no figures on the total number of unwed mothers in Singapore, but last year, 345 children were born to unwed mothers.
In 2014, these babies totalled 375 while the number was 415 in 2013.
Several MPs noted the low take-up rate of paid paternity leave since it began in 2013. The rate was 38 per cent in 2014, and 42 per cent last year. "More needs to be done to help young fathers overcome mindset and workplace constraints to improve the consumption rate," said Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC).
Mr Choo asked if the Government could study whether it was due to a lack of support from employers, "especially smaller companies which might genuinely face operational constraints".
The minister said the 4 percentage point increase was "not bad" and the Government was still tabulating last year's take-up rate.
He also said his ministry will see if it can study the constraints faced by firms and fathers when it comes to paternity and shared parental leave. Shared parental leave was introduced in 2013 and as of August this year, 4,000 fathers have taken it.