It’s been a long time coming: Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing has announced that single unwed parents will also be entitled to childcare and infant care leave from May 1.
Parents are entitled to six days of childcare leave for children below seven years old, and two days for children between seven and 12-years-old. Parents of children who are below two-years-old will also be entitled for another six days of unpaid infant care leave.
Single parents may have been previously excluded due to the government’s desire to encourage marriage and nuclear families, but it’s better late than never. It is also the first time in a long while that I’ve seen the government respect personal choice when it comes to family and child-rearing, taking a step away from the discrimination of unwed parents.
Such a measure will probably be much more appreciated and useful than pouring tons of money into “pro-family initiatives” that focus on getting (heterosexual) couples hooked up and hitched before having children. Beyond the problematic definitions of “pro-family” (especially seen in the light of the government’s willingness to collaborate with conservative evangelical group Focus on the Family), it is unclear how effective such brow-beating will be.
While it’s good to put resources into helping businesses become more family-friendly for their employees, money and “Family Day”-type activities are not enough. True change will require the close examination of Singapore’s work culture and the demands of the high-paced lifestyle. It will become necessary to explore different ways of working and doing business, such as job-sharing and working from home. Singaporeans have to be convinced somehow that it is okay to leave their offices and desks on time every day, rather than feeling the pressure to stay on for as long as possible as a show of dedication and hard work. Employers need to also evaluate if they are making too many demands on the lives of their workers.
Solving such a problem cannot just fall to the Ministry for Social and Family Development. It has to do with everything from the economy to education to housing to healthcare to gender relations. All the obstacles that prevent couples who want to have children (note the emphasis on the couple’s own desire) from doing so must be scrutinised, taken apart and put back together in a fairer, better way.