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.
This is Singapore. We like things to be neat here. That much is clear.
This obsession with neatness and preordained categories permeates to all aspects of our lives in Singapore. Case in point: the attachment to nuclear families. Neat, mother-father-two-kids-or-three-if-you-can-afford-it nuclear families.
People who don’t fall into this category tend to get the short shrift. We saw this in action again in Parliament on Wednesday, when Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam explained that the Working Mother’s Child Relief and the Foreign Maid Levy Relief scheme were “to support married women who remain in the workforce and raise their children within the context of marriage” and would therefore not be extended to single mothers.
The DPM also went on to explain that the schemes are a reflection of the “prevailing societal norm” where people tend to get married before starting a family.
Implicit upon such a framing of policy is the reasoning that tax reliefs and benefits should only be extended to those who fit the establishment mould, and those who don’t should not be rewarded for their contrary ways.
Women – and men, for that matter – don’t usually decide on whether to have children based on the tax rebates that they can get, whether in or out of wedlock. The fact that the Baby Bonus scheme has had a limited effect on getting married Singaporeans to have kids would suggest that. It is highly unlikely that extending more benefits to single mothers would actually cause an increase in the number of single mothers.
Children are children. And Singapore is desperate for them, as we have heard time and again from government pronouncements, Maybe Baby campaigns and the like. So it makes no sense for us to provide benefits – supposedly for the parents, but also with a great impact on the child – that only happen “in the context of marriage” so as to support the “prevailing societal norm”. We should instead foster an environment where every child is equally welcome and valued, regardless of the marital status of his or her parents.
Single parents need support. It’s encouraging that some is already provided, but the fact remains that children are still being treated differently according to whether they come from a nuclear family. Benefits for parents cannot be so easily separated from benefits for children – support, or lack thereof, for one or the other has an impact on the whole family.
I can understand that the government has particular policy goals, and a population issue to address. But crafting policies that separate children according to the “context” in which they are born and raised does little to achieve these policy goals, and everything to signal that some families – and by extension, children – are more accepted than others.