Singapore and the single mother

Surekha A. Yadav
Surekha A. Yadav

MAY 19 — Here’s the scenario; a woman, over 30 years old, decides to have a baby. 

She is not married but she is financially stable and has the time and support network to enable her to raise a child.

She is prepared to use a sperm donor or have the baby with a friend/ boyfriend who doesn’t necessarily want to raise the baby. Her parents support the decision.

It seems a fairly reasonable proposition.

Some people simply don’t get married — or their marriages don’t work. Relationships can be a bit of a lottery and some people are focused on their careers. 

But at some point, they decide they are ready for a child and believe they can raise one or two (or more) independently. 

What’s wrong with that?

A lot, according to Singapore’s current policy framework which still makes it very difficult for single women to have and raise children. 

Of course, this applies not just to financially stable older potential single mothers, young women and girls who get pregnant outside of marriage, for whatever reason, find themselves equally disadvantaged. 

Children born outside of a married couple receive fewer grants, tax incentives and subsidies from the state. 

The baby bonus — a cash payment of up to S$8,000 (RM24,254) on the birth of a first and second child is not given to single mothers.

And crucially single mothers don’t qualify for subsidised HDB housing until they are 35 and even then, they may not receive larger-sized family units. 

Children born outside of a married couple are labelled illegitimate and receive no automatic right to inheritance — even from their mothers. 

In order to confer the same status and rights as a child born in wedlock, single mothers have to adopt their own biological children — a process that can cost over S$1,000. 

Effectively, women are punished for having children outside of marriage and children born to single mothers also face an effective punishment — they are not treated equally. 

There have been some efforts to equalise the situation; single mothers can now avail themselves of maternity leave and do receive a range of subsidies but the benefits are not equal to those received by a married couple. 

This seems a poor situation from a policy perspective. Firstly, because single women tend to need more support and secondly even from the government’s own broader point of view, Singapore needs babies.

The country has some of the lowest birth and fertility rates in the world — with a woman on average having just one child in her lifetime. 

At that rate, organically our population would be decreasing by 50 per cent every generation. Singaporeans would be going extinct.

It’s only immigration that allows the country to maintain its workforce and talent pool. That isn’t necessarily a viable solution long-term. 

The local population needs to have more children and single women, particularly those who are making a conscious decision in favour of children, should probably be empowered to do so.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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