SINGAPORE - The number of children born to single unwed mothers has averaged around 830 per year in the last five years, with the numbers coming down since 2013, said Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling.
Regardless of the parents' marital status, the Government's approach has been to equalise the benefits for all citizen children to support their growth, development and care-giving, said Ms Sun in Parliament on Tuesday (Aug 3).
"We've consistently been doing this in 2013, 2016, 2017, and (have) a whole range of updated measures to support citizen children," she added.
Among the policies Ms Sun was referring to was the Government's decision in 2013 to extend childcare and infant care leave to single unwed parents, and the extension of Child Development Account benefits to Singaporean children of single unwed parents in 2016.
In 2017, the 16 weeks of government-paid maternity leave was also extended to single unwed mothers.
Ms Sun was replying to a question by Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) on whether the Government will look at gaps that are currently not addressed to support single unwed mothers.
She noted that there were more than 1,000 single unwed mothers each year from 2006 to 2012, but this has dipped to below 1,000 since 2013. The figures are estimated from the number of Singaporean babies born out of wedlock each year.
"This is a number we monitor closely, because we want to ensure we give as much support as we can to single unwed mothers," said Ms Sun.
She then outlined a slew of policies and programmes that are targeted to support single unwed mothers.
Those requiring financial assistance can tap ComCare and social service offices, or go to family service centres for longer-term support such as counselling services.
Care-giving subsidies are disbursed via the Kindergarten Fee Assistance Scheme, among other infant-care and student-care assistance programmes, she added.
"We also know job support is important to them… because if you build an ecosystem of support around the children, this frees up time for the mum to be able to look for a job," said Ms Sun.
She noted that there are also job training and grants to help these mothers enter or return to the workforce.
Those with children living in rental housing may also tap KidStart, an early childhood programme that will be scaled up to reach more children from low-income homes, she said.
To address housing needs, a point specifically raised by Mr Seah, Ms Sun said the Ministry of National Development (MND) "proactively removed impediments" to single unwed parents who try to apply for housing through the Housing Board.
"No single unwed mother will be turned away from the onset from applying for housing," said Ms Sun.
"HDB will assess whether she has family support and in the instance that she does not have family support and she has a citizen child, rest assured that the HDB will ensure that she has housing options," she added.
In September 2019, HDB said single unwed parents who are in stable employment and can afford to buy a flat can buy up to a three-room Build-To-Order (BTO) flat in the non-mature estate, or a resale flat.
Those who cannot afford to buy a flat will be considered for public rental flats.
Since then, HDB has approved requests from about 190 single unwed parents applying for a BTO flat, of whom about two-thirds were successful in their applications, MND said in a written parliamentary reply on July 26.
HDB has also approved requests from about 55 single unwed parents below the age of 35 to buy a resale flat, of whom half have completed their purchase.
In the same period, HDB also approved about 380 applications to rent a flat under the public rental scheme.
In response to Mr Melvin Yong's (Radin Mas) question on whether the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) can embark on a comprehensive study to examine the disadvantages and opportunities for children from single unwed families, Ms Sun said that the MSF has "ample data" to understand the impact of children growing up in such situations, given its longstanding work with these families.