Unwed mothers will soon get the same 16-week maternity leave that is given to married mothers. Their children will also get a Child Development Account (CDA), which helps pay for their childcare and healthcare needs.
Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin announced the extension of these benefits yesterday, in a move to avoid discriminating against these children. These benefits are now given only to married mothers and their children.
The maternity leave benefits will kick in early next year as Parliament will need to change the law first. But the children of unwed mothers will likely be given the CDAs by September this year, Mr Tan added.
"We can do more to support their efforts to care for their children and reduce the disadvantages that their children may face at birth," he said, adding that he has met such mothers, including at his Meet-the-People Sessions. "They are usually vulnerable because they are younger and lower-educated. Some may have been rejected by their own families," he said. "It can be difficult enough to bring up children but to do so single-handedly, without family support, is really tough. Some may have hoped to have a child within marriage, but due to circumstances ended up as unwed parents."
Currently, unwed mothers get eight weeks of paid maternity leave. And their children do not qualify for a CDA, a savings account wherein the Government matches the deposits parents make by up to $6,000. Last month, it said it would deposit $3,000 into the accounts of children born from March 24, even before parents make a deposit.
Mr Tan said the reason for extending the benefits is to support unwed mothers' efforts to provide for their children. At the same time, the move should not "undermine parenthood within marriage", which is "still the prevalent social norm".
After the changes, unwed mothers will still not get the Baby Bonus cash gift and parenthood tax rebates. They also have to wait till they turn 35 to buy a Housing Board flat under the singles scheme.
Unwed mother Bibiana Neo, 33, who had her daughter a year ago, wishes the benefits had come sooner: "The CDA would have helped with infant care."
The Association of Women for Action and Research said the move was "in the right direction". "We hope the Government can go further and look at areas like housing," it added.