COMMENT: A step towards recognising other family types

kirsten han

File photo from Getty Images

This year’s Budget symbolised a big step towards recognising and cherishing families in Singapore, even if some of them might not fall under the “traditional” family model.

There was the announcement that unwed mothers will get 16 weeks of maternity leave, placing them on par with their married counterparts. Children of unwed mothers will also be eligible for the Child Development Account, which helps cover childcare and healthcare costs.

Then came the news that fathers will get two weeks of government-paid paternity leave for children born after 1 January 2017 if they are lawfully married to the mothers of their children and if they have served their employer for at least three months before their children’s birth. Currently, fathers qualify for one week of government-paid paternity leave and employers have the discretion whether to let fathers go on the second week of paternity leave. Shared parental leave will eventually be increased from one to four weeks.

On top of that, adoption leave will be increased from four to 12 weeks, with adoptive fathers able to share up to four weeks of the adoption leave.

These are changes that were a long time coming, and the result of hard work and persistent advocacy from both within and outside Parliament. There’s much to feel pleased about.

But there’s still so much that can be done. As we look into the future, we should find ways to be more inclusive and embrace families of all shapes and sizes, and those that are formed outside the institution of marriage. 

First, there should be no difference in support and benefits given to unwed mothers, married mothers and divorced mothers. Unwed mothers should benefit from the Baby Bonus Scheme, and be eligible to buy affordable HDB flats so that they can provide their children with a permanent home.

Over time, we should move away from the idea of marriage as a prerequisite to form a family unit. Marriage should not be a requirement to assess parents who can qualify for parental leave - being married is not an indicator of how committed a parent is to his or her child.

Perhaps one day, we can shed the heteronormativity – the attitude that heterosexuality is the only normal and natural form of sexuality - that grips every discussion about family with children in Singapore.

When that day comes, we can recognise that parents of same-sex families in Singapore love their children just as much as any other parents. We should remove the barriers that same-sex couples face in caring for their families in Singapore – be it the difficulty to adopt or apply for citizenship for their children, or just to keep up with the cost of raising their children because of their ineligibility for a host of subsidies and schemes.

The announcements made in the 2016 Budget show that Singapore is moving away from the anachronistic ideas about “family”. Hopefully, it will continue along this path and learn that love, not heterosexuality or marriage, is what ultimately defines a family.

Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are her own.