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    Jul 29, 2015

    Govt reviewing support for unwed mothers

    UNMARRIED mothers could soon have the same benefits as married ones.

    The Government is reviewing discrepancies in benefits, such as how unwed mothers are given eight weeks of paid maternity leave, compared to the 16 received by married mothers.

    Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin has revealed that he asked colleagues to review the policies when he joined the ministry in April.

    He hopes to make an announcement before next year's Budget.

    "I've a great deal of sympathy for single, unwed mothers," he said. "Some of the differentiation that exists, could we harmonise it? That's being reviewed."

    Unmarried mothers do not get perks such as the Baby Bonus cash gift and parenthood tax rebates, and must wait until they are 35 to buy a Housing Board flat under the singles scheme.

    While these differences have been brought up many times in Parliament, the answer has always been that the Government can move only as far as society is prepared to.

    In March, then minister for social and family development Chan Chun Sing said Singapore needs to find a balance between supporting unwed mothers and the policy to support parenthood within marriage.

    Asked if he thought Singapore society is now prepared to change its stance, Mr Tan said: "My sense is that the public understands and sympathises with single, unwed mothers."

    He added that there is more support available for them than just maternity leave and baby bonuses. "It's about healthcare availability, it's about education opportunities and the support that comes with it."

    He said that issues such as housing, education, health and employment are being discussed from a "whole-of-government perspective".

    MP Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC), who has been regularly asking for equal benefits for unmarried mothers, hopes the review will lead to them getting 16 weeks' maternity leave.

    "Treat them first as mothers," he said. "The fact that they're in those circumstances is something beyond anyone's control. A lot of benefits have now gone to the children, I think anything we can do for mothers themselves is certainly something we should look at."

    Women's group Association of Women for Action and Research called for the review to give unwed mothers the same access to housing and maternity leave as married mothers, as "children should not be penalised for the families they live in".