“Benefits such as the Baby Bonus Cash Gift and housing benefits are tied to the parent’s marital status,” the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said in a letter to the Straits Times on Thursday, 25 May.
The ministry was responding to earlier letters to the press on the subject of assistance for and the legitimacy of unwed mothers.
“The benefits will not be extended even if an unwed mother adopts her own child, as they are meant to encourage parenthood within marriage,” wrote Yee Siaw Ling, Director of the MSF’s Family Service Division.
Despite these restrictions, Ms Yee said that “currently, all Singaporean children get to enjoy the entire suite of Government benefits that support their growth and development, regardless of the marital status of their parents.”
These, she said, include the Medisave grant for newborns, infant care and childcare subsidies and foreign domestic worker levy concession.
“All Singaporean children also have access to social assistance, education and healthcare subsidies,” she added.
The ministry’s explanations, however, drew criticisms from non-governmental organisation (NGO), the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE).
“Housing is a basic need which is absolutely fundamental; it should not be used in this carrot-and-stick way at the expense of meeting needs,” the NGO said on its Facebook page.
“MSF makes a distinction in this letter between benefits that support ‘growth and development’ of the child, and those that ‘encourage parenthood’, but any serious assessment of children’s needs must recognise the harmful and destabilising impact of not being able to access affordable housing,” AWARE said.
It added: “Bear in mind that it’s not just housing subsidies that unmarried parents cannot receive: HDB rules bar them from unsubsidised purchase until they are aged 35.”
The organisation also disputed the MSF’s position on the Baby Bonus issue.
“The reasoning for the Baby Bonus cash gift is rather odd when you consider that divorcees and widows who adopt a child can receive this too (see http://www.ifaq.gov.sg/BBSS/apps/fcd_faqmain.aspx#FAQ_133987).
“Is the idea simply that having previously been married makes you more deserving of support as a parent? This seems to set up a strange and arbitrary division between never-married and divorced/widowed unmarried parents.”
AWARE said that the MSF’s letter “suggests that ‘personal reasons’ for adoption centre around relations with the biological father.”
“There is no recognition of what unmarried mothers have spoken of time and time again: the hurtful STIGMA of the label of illegitimacy – the label which public agencies persist in using.”
It is indeed puzzling why the ministry would prevent mothers, even if they are unwed, from housing benefits. Isn’t it true that when one is a mother to a child, whether she is married or not, she will still have to care for her child?
The MSF claims that “currently, all Singaporean children get to enjoy the entire suite of Government benefits that support their growth and development, regardless of the marital status of their parents.”
Isn’t housing the very basic, very fundamental support for a child’s development and growth? Doesn’t the MSF (and the HDB) realise how important a house is to a family, whether the mother is wed or unwed, is single or married?
Why are we senselessly sticking to the rule when we have, right before our very eyes, flesh and blood who need a home?
Instead of discriminating based on parental status, perhaps it is time for us to recognise that mothers are mothers, period. And as such they deserve all the support and benefits that others receive.
After all, when a mother has support, will it not also benefit the child who, incidentally, is an innocent party?
Why is the ministry being such a stickler for what are clearly illogical rules which hurt mothers and in fact their children too?
How does this help with their “growth and development”?
And isn’t a mother and a child as much a family as any other?