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    Jan 05, 2016

    Minister: More help for dads to be active parents

    FATHERS can expect more help so they can play a more active role in parenting, Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo said.

    Mrs Teo, who oversees population matters at the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD), said yesterday that ensuring this will be one of her priorities for this year.

    Her remarks came as she disclosed that the take-up rate for paternity leave, which was doubled to two weeks on a voluntary basis last year, had been "very modest" and "can be much higher".

    Detailed data is still being compiled and will be released later. "Some young fathers may not be aware of it yet. And some do encounter a little bit of difficulty when they raise it with their employers," she said.

    The civil service and several large corporations have implemented enhanced paternity leave, which gives fathers one extra week off work. The Government pays for this extra week of leave.

    But small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), which hire 70 per cent of the local workforce, have not been as quick to implement it, due to their tight manpower.

    Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, told The Straits Times in November that among eligible SME employees, only 40 per cent take up a full week of paternity leave.

    Mrs Teo said yesterday it is important for fathers to play an active role in raising their children, especially with eight in 10 women aged 25 to 54 active in the workforce.

    She was giving an update on the portfolio, which she took over in October from Grace Fu, who is now Minister for Culture, Community and Youth.

    Speaking to reporters as she welcomed students on their first day of school at the PAP Community Foundation Sparkletots Childcare in Bishan, Mrs Teo said her other focus for the year is to make sure affordable and good quality childcare services are available.

    The Early Childhood Development Agency, she noted, is on track to meeting its target of providing full-day childcare services for one in two children by next year. Some 13,000 places were added last year.

    Latest available figures show that some 30,500 Singaporean babies were born as at Dec 1 last year, Singapore's Golden Jubilee year.

    The final figure for the full year is expected to be close to the 33,193 citizen births in 2014 - up from 31,017 in 2013 but slightly fewer than the 33,238 in 2012, which was the auspicious Year of the Dragon.

    Mrs Teo said boosting the birth rate will require taking approaches that are more than policy- or incentive-focused.

    Rather, it is important to "enhance workplace and community support for parenting", she added.