There have been 2 recently articles published on TODAY that speak about the choices unwed mothers make and how the unequal benefits for single mothers are meant to be a deterrent. I am appalled by the simplistic view that both writers have taken on this issue. This topic is especially close to my heart because Zoey has a cousin who I shall refer to as Jon*.
He was born last year to a Singaporean mother, Sue*. However, because Sue is a unwed teenage mother, Jon is not eligible for any baby bonus cash gift or child development account. Sue was not working at the time of Jon’s birth, but if she had been, she would have only 8 weeks instead of 16 weeks maternity leave. She is not eligible for parenthood tax rebate, qualifying child relief, handicapped child relief, working mother’s child relief, and grandparent caregiver relief. Sue and Jon currently live in her grandmother’s flat. Should Sue want to buy a flat of her own in the future, she will have receive no housing grant or housing priority. She now works odd jobs and relies on the help of family members to make ends meet.
Sue is 18 years old.
The education system has failed to adequately provide relevant sex education for her. Recommending abstinence over proper birth control such as condoms is setting up young people for failure. She ended up pregnant after a relationship with a guy who she thought was “the one”. I am sure that at the point of the child’s conception, the question of whether or not she will receive the same benefits as other mothers was far from her mind. She didn’t use birth control, but I’m not sure she even knows it exists. Unfortunately, when the guy found out Sue was pregnant, he started cheating on her with another girl.
So when Jon was born, Sue registered the birth as a single mother. The guy’s parents refused to contribute to the raising of Jon unless Sue marries him. However, how can Sue marry a guy who cheated on her after finding out she was pregnant?
She did not want to get married to a guy who does not love her. She believes it is pointless to be trapped in a loveless marriage that would probably eventually end in divorce. I believe she made a wise choice.
While some people may say that she should have had an abortion or given up Jon for adoption, I think most parents would agree when I say this – No mother in the world wants to give up their child, so suggesting that she should do so because she does not receive equal benefits is a horrifying proposition.
Is it right that Singapore should penalise Sue and Jon because she is single? Keep in mind that at no point in this scenario is the guy being punished. So basically what the unequal benefits mean is that it is okay for men to sleep around and get women pregnant, because there is no punishment for the men. Women need to be held fully responsible and accountable for daring to get pregnant and keeping the baby. They should be penalised when the men they get involved with are irresponsible and unsuitable marriage material.
There are a lot more arguments I can make for single mothers such as women should have the right to have children with or without men, but I think the most important thing to highlight is this.
Jon is a little Singaporean boy. He will grow up in Singapore. He will study in primary school, secondary school and receive further education here. He will serve National Service like his friends. He will get a job, pay taxes, maybe get married and have children of his own. He deserves to start life on equal footing as any other little Singaporean boy. His mother should be given the help to ensure that Jon gets the best education she can afford. Sue should be eligible for tax relief so that the money saved can be used for Jon’s development. Eventually, Sue should be able to buy a home for Jon to grow up in.
There has been too much talk about this issue, without truly examining the heart of the issue – the children involved. If the government is serious about strengthening the foundation of family in Singapore, it is time to recognise that families come in many different shapes and sizes. Stop punishing those who do not fit into the cookie cutter model and start promoting true equality for all Singaporeans so that every little Singaporean boy or girl will have an equal chance at succeeding in Singapore.
*Names have been changed to protect their identities.