The Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sung told Parliament in January that the government had no plans to bring maternity payments for single mothers into line with women who are married.
Currently, married women are entitled to paid maternity leave for 16 weeks, with single mothers – surviving on less income – getting by on only 8 weeks.
Chan Chun Sung reiterated Singapore’s stance on the question, saying it was the ‘societal norm’ to be married, meaning unwed parents were penalised.
“There are some benefits single mothers do not currently benefit from, such as 8 additional weeks of paid maternity leave and tax incentives,” he said.
“These additional benefits are given to encourage and support parenthood within the context of marriage. This is the prevailing societal norm in Singapore, and one which we seek to reflect and preserve,” he said.
Singapore’s position on unwed mothers is relatively backward when compared with the safety nets provided by some advanced economies. For instance, Australia provides 18 weeks leave at the minimum wage, and does not discriminate between the marriage status of the eligible employee.
Singapore has progressively moved to support single mothers with other measures in recent years, including education, healthcare and childcare.
“For example, all mothers, regardless of whether they are married, are eligible for infantcare and childcare subsidies. The foreign domestic worker levy concession is also extended to all parents of children aged below 12, including single mothers,” Chan Chun Sung said in Singapore’s defence.
“These help to keep care for young children affordable and enable mothers to continue to work to achieve self sufficiency.”
Chan Chun Sung also noted that all working mothers are eligible for child care leave before the child turns 7 years old regardless of their marriage status, and extended child care leave when the child is 7 to 12 years old.
“To give all our children a good head start, Government-funded education programmes and support in our pre-schools, early intervention centres, mainstream schools and special education schools are extended to all children,” he said. “A higher level of assistance is provided to children from lower income families or those who have developmental or special needs.”
Chan Chun Sung has long been a proponent of the institution of marriage and its benefits for society, despite the declining marriage rate in wider society.
Chan Chun Sung has said that ‘the sun, moon and stars’ were not all in alignment at the time he was married to his wife, but that they saw marriage as a commitment to share their life – good and bad - together.
Singapore will continue to hold working single mothers to ransom, with no plans to bring their maternity benefits into line with married women.