Fathers and children of unwed parents to benefit from Bill
Child Development Co-Savings Act (Amendment) Bill passes
He used to be a Linkin Park fan. Now, he is a Pororo fan.
"Quite embarrassingly, I can sing most of the songs you hear at Pororo Park in Marina Square," Member of Parliament (MP) Louis Ng said of the theme park centred around the penguin cartoon character.
"I know for a fact that life had changed when I subconsciously started singing Pororo songs," he added.
The father of a 26-month-old girl, shared his parenthood journey in Parliament yesterday during the debate on the Child Development Co-Savings Act (Amendment) Bill.
Passed yesterday, the Bill allows for an additional week of government-paid paternity leave, and the extension of the Child Development Co-Savings Scheme to Singaporean children of unwed parents.
The additional week of paternity leave is now granted by employers on a voluntary basis.
The Act is expected to be amended again later this year to make the additional week mandatory. (See report)
Citing take-up rates for paternity leave in 2013 and 2014, Mr Ng said the figures were not encouraging.
In 2013, 28 per cent of fathers took up the government-paid paternity leave. In 2014, it was about 36 per cent.
Last year, the figure went up to 40 per cent, or about 12,300 fathers, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development.
Mr Ng encouraged employers to not only grant their employees paternity leave, but also actively encourage them to take it.
"And for fathers, and speaking up as a father, you will not regret spending time - quality time - with your child in this amazing journey called parenthood.
"It is a journey that changes your life, that makes you a better person. This is a journey your child needs you to play an active role in," he said.
Illustrating further on how his life had changed thanks to his daughter, Mr Ng said what used to be tea parties with the Prime Minister and other ministers are now weekly imaginary tea parties with his daughter.
"The tea parties are now much less stressful, but those imaginary cups of tea are very useful in letting me understand my daughter better," he said with a smile.
Associate Professor Daniel Goh, the other MP to speak on the Bill, said he is "cautiously optimistic".
The non-constituency MP from the Workers' Party said the amendment addressed two "structural obstacles" brought up in the Workers' Party 2013 population policy paper - discrimination towards single parent families and pro-birth policies favouring higher income families.
"We have been arguing that, while having children inside of marriage should continue to be encouraged, children born to unwed parents should not be denied the benefits that children of married parents received.
"We believe no child deserves to be disadvantaged and psychologically damaged for the norms their parents break," he said.
Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, in his closing speech to the debate, said: "While we do what we can for the children, we do think that we must continue to try to encourage and support parenthood within the confines of marriage.
"This is the prevailing social norm, and as I mentioned earlier, I think many of us would agree that it would always be ideal if children can grow up within the confines of that.
"But having said that, we do recognise that situations happen, and we do want to support the children, and we do also want to support the families."
Assoc Prof Goh also highlighted Singapore's struggle with low birth rates, adding that "equality matters for increasing birth rates".
That includes making flexi-work arrangements accessible to fathers so that they can fulfil their parenting aspirations, as well as making the Additional Child Care Subsidy - meant for working mothers - gender-neutral.
Mr Tan assured the House that the Government hopes to raise the total fertility rate to 1.4 or 1.5.
Last year's rate stood at 1.24.
"I do call on all members in this House who still have some ways to go in terms of contributing to the data, so please, Louis (Ng), help us on that front as well, and (Tin) Pei Ling, as I can see.
"But it's something that, I think, we all have a part to play, and I think, in terms of environment, in terms of culture, really, it is not something that is just mandated by Government.
"It is something that is created by all of us, because societal attitudes really is the sum total of individual attitudes as well.
"So I think we all have a part to play, so let's all chip in," Mr Tan said.
About the amendments
Amendments to the Child Development Co-Savings Act at a glance:
Additional week of Government-paid paternity leave
Employers or self- employed fathers who have voluntarily granted or taken a second week of paternity leave respectively will be able to seek reimbursement from the Government from July 1.
This was first announced at last year's National Day Rally. Fathers whose child was born on or after Jan 1 last year can take the second week of paternity leave from Aug 24, 2015. This also applies to:
- children whose estimated delivery date was on or after Jan 1, 2015, but was born before that;
- adopted Singaporean children where the application to adopt is on or after Jan 1, 2015; and
l adopted non-Singaporean children whose dependant's pass is issued on or after Jan 1, 2015.
Later this year, the Act will be further amended to make the second week of paternity leave mandatory, as announced earlier at the National Population and Talent Division's Committee of Supply debate.
Extension of the Child Development Co-Savings Scheme to Singaporean children of unwed parents
The Scheme allows the Government to provide financial assistance for the development of Singaporean children through a co-savings arrangement under the Child Development Account (CDA).
The CDA is a special savings account where the Government matches parents' deposits, up to a ceiling. It can be used for childcare fees and medical expenses.
Singaporean children born from September will be eligible for CDA benefits, including a $3,000 CDA First Step Grant.
More amendments to the Act, which includes mandating the full 16-week paid maternity leave for unwed mothers, will be made at a later date.