SINGAPORE - From January next year, unmarried mothers will have 16 weeks of paid maternity leave - equal to their married counterparts - and fathers will have two weeks of paid paternity leave.
Giving new parents more time off work will allow them to spend more time with their children, said Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin in Parliament on Thursday (Nov 10).
He urged parents to take advantage of the leave saying: "We know that it can be challenging to ensure we have work-life balance, but it is important for us to adopt an active parenting lifestyle. Our children should be our priority now, not later. We need to make the effort to spend both quantity and quality time with our families."
The changes come under the Child Development Co-Savings (Amendment No. 2) Bill passed in Parliament on Thursday.
Under the Bill, mothers with adopted children will also be entitled to more paid adoption leave - 12 weeks compared to the current four weeks - from July next year.
Another change will give amothers the option to share up to four weeks of their maternity leave with their husbands. Currently, the Shared Parental Leave scheme only allows for one week to be shared.
Members of Parliament (MPs), speaking during the debate on the Bill, welcomed the amendments to the Child Development Co-Savings Act.
But they urged the Government to go a step further in its support of parents.
Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) said the extension of the 16-week maternity leave to unwed mothers was "a baby step in the right direction", but said other benefits should also be equalised.
His call - to also give unwed mothers the Baby Bonus and provide for their housing needs - was echoed by Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC), Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC), and Non-constituency Member of Parliament Daniel Goh.
In response, Mr Tan said that the Government is committed to supporting all Singaporean children through education and healthcare benefits, among other things, regardless of their parents' marital status.
"For unwed parents, there are various ways in which we can support them through various means," he said.
For instance, children from disadvantaged families are given more financial and social support, such as through schemes like KidStart that gives these children learning and health support in their early years, he added.
He also said the Housing and Development Board does exercise flexibility on a case-by-case basis to help divorced or single parents buy a flat within their means.
As to extending benefits, such as the Baby Bonus scheme and tax relief, to unwed mothers, Mr Tan reiterated that the Government's stance is to encourage parenthood within marriages.
"It is also important to understand that we continue to believe in the importance of the family institution. We encourage married couples to have children. Hence, specific measures...are targeted at married families,"
The nine MPs who spoke also asked what was being done to encourage more fathers to use their paternity leave. Last year, 42 per cent of those elgibile had made use of it.