Single mothers hope for more help
Who wants to be a single mother?
Who wants to go around having to explain that bump, the missing wedding band and the absent husband?
Single mothers say they are always judged. The whispers never stop, and that's just within the family.
The Government has gone beyond taking baby steps to help single mothers. But there are still differences when it comes to the benefits they receive.
Like the $6,000 Baby Bonus cash gift, which married mothers get for their first and second children. Single mums are not eligible.
Two single mothers say they made a mistake with the men they trusted. But ending the pregnancy was not a mistake they were prepared to make.
Kay, 22 was planning to get married to her boyfriend, but changed her mind when he started being abusive after she moved in with him.
"He would spit on me and even hit me. For the sake of my child's wellbeing and mine, I had to do what was right for the both of us and leave," she says as tears rolled down her cheeks.
Kay and her son cannot be identified because of an ongoing court case with her son's father over access to the boy.
She fell in love with her boyfriend, a foreigner, in January 2011. A year later,she found out she was pregnant.
She has been the child's sole caregiver since he was born in 2013.
As her family are very religious, they struggled to accept her pregnancy and eventually kicked her out of home.
She has been living at her sister's place since.
"I can't live at my sister's forever. At some point, we will have to give them their space because she has her own family.
"I'm ready to start working the moment my son goes to childcare in March. I already have a job at the supermarket down the road from where I live," she says.
She currently survives on $700 which she gets from the Ministry of Social and Family Development, as well as $350 from another organisation, given out in a combination of cash and grocery vouchers.
While thankful for the help she already receives, Kay is hoping for a place of her own.
She has applied multiple times to HDB for a rental flat to live in, but was rejected.
Kay says she is not expecting to earn a lot with her limited education, so the heavily-subsidised rental she is hoping to pay will help leave most of the money she makes for her son.
ABORTION NOT AN OPTION
Sarah, 34, a business development executive, says she also had a tough time landing a HDB flat too.
She had been living with her family, but most of them were not supportive of her decision to keep her child.
When her son turned two in 2012, a counsellor she had been in touch with helped her with the application process of buying her own HDB flat. But there were restrictions.
"There were so many rules. I could only take resale flat, I couldn't take a HDB loan and they gave me two months, after I received the approval letter, to find a flat," says the single mother, who asked that we only use her middle name.
In the end, she managed to buy a four-room resale flat.
The journey of raising her son single-handedly has been tough, but she says abortion was never an option.
She was shocked by her boyfriend's reaction when she revealed that she was 10 weeks pregnant, she adds.
"He told me to 'wash it away'.
"To me, I had made the mistake of falling pregnant with a man who wasn't committed, but I wasn't going to make another mistake by getting rid of an innocent child," she says, adding that her sister was the only family member supportive of her decision.
Her son was born in October 2010.
"I took six weeks of maternity leave because I had to save some for vaccination appointments.
"At the time, I was taking home $2,400 and when I went back to work, $750 of my salary went to a baby-sitter who looked after my newborn child.
"I was left with $1,650 for groceries and baby necessities. I never compromised on milk powder because that was my son's only food source but I had to when it came to diapers and other things," she says.
"His clothes were mostly hand-me-downs from my sister and because she had a daughter, sometimes, he would wear pink clothes."
She didn't care what it looked like. She was just grateful for her sister's help.
"I always put my son to bed early and I'm strict about the time. There was one night where he was taking awhile to fall asleep and I told him that he needed to soon because I had work the next morning.
"He looked at me with innocent eyes and asked 'mummy why do you work so hard?'
"I had to explain to him that if I didn't go to work, we wouldn't have money," she says.
'Norms are slowly but surely changing'
TNP PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Yes, single mothers are eligible for a range of benefits. And needy families receive even more help.
But no, says the Government. They won't get everything married mothers are entitled to, like a total of 16 weeks of paid maternity leave.
Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing said in Parliament on Monday that these additional benefits are given "to encourage and support parenthood within the context of marriage".
This form of parenthood is a prevailing societal norm in Singapore which the Government seeks to preserve, he added.
A National Population And Talent Division survey released last year showed that 80 per cent of single respondents and 85 per cent of married respondents feel that only legally married couples should have children. This survey involved 4,646 respondents.
Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Kuik Shiao-Yin and MP Seah Kian Peng tell The New Paper on Sunday that they will continue to push for single mothers to have greater access to benefits and help.
Ms Kuik says: "I hope that the state can seriously consider giving equal maternity leave or Child Development Account (CDA) dollar-for-dollar matching benefit to single mothers."
Now, unwed mothers do not receive the Baby Bonus cash gift of $6,000 or the Government's co-matching contribution of up to $6,000 in the baby's CDA.
Both Ms Kuik and Mr Seah predict that things will change eventually.
Mr Seah says the extent of benefits provided and the speed at which they are given out are works in progress. "The system has been dynamic, not static," he adds.
Public sentiment is also changing, points out Ms Kuik. "The state is probably well aware that public mores are changing and there is growing public acceptance of single mothers."
She adds that the state tends to take a more conservative approach, allowing itself more time to calibrate policies.
The Government may monitor the benefits given to single mothers and see if it encourages the single-parent family model.
If it does not, but instead creates positive outcomes, more benefits may be given, she explains.
Ms Kuik, a new mother reasons: "I champion (the cause of) single mothers simply because I am now a mother myself, and can empathise with the beauty and burden of parenthood.
"I also have friends and employees, all from different economic backgrounds who are single mothers.
"I am privileged to know single mothers who are hardworking, courageous and faithful to their responsibilities."