updated 7 Nov 2012, 16:54
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Wed, Aug 15, 2012
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More childcare leave needed for single mums
by Esther Ng

It's not easy being a single unwed mother.

Just ask Ms Emily Boo, 43.

Family relations can be strained. Society will judge, but to top it off, the system can be unfriendly, as Madam Boo describes it.

Unwed mothers are entitled to only two days of childcare leave per year for a child below the age of seven.

The two days are capped, regardless of the number of children, whereas married parents are entitled to six days of childcare leave for children of that age.

"I have only 14 days of annual leave and if I use it up for my son when he is sick, I won't have any left for other emergencies or leave for myself," said the customer service executive.

"Why are we punished? It's not that I don't want to get married, but the father of my son does not want to marry me," Ms Boo added.

The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) says more can be done to help this group in a paper submitted to the National Population and Talent Division.

Dr Janil Puthucheary, MP for Pasir- Ris Punggol GRC, had highlighted a number of "inequalities" unwed mothers faced last October during the debate of the President's Address.

As a father of three, Dr Puthucheary said that childcare leave is absolutely necessary to allow a parent to work and when needed, care for a sick child.

"Withholding it affects the child most of all," he had said. "Why do we feel a need to deny a Singaporean child the care of her parent when she falls sick?"

But these women need help in other areas too.

"Housing is so expensive. A three-room resale flat in my area is over $300,000, I can't afford it on my salary of $2,000," said Ms Boo.

"My Member of Parliament has written several times to HDB, but each time the reply is to rent a room in the open market or live with your family. But what if you can't get along?" she said.

Ms Boo lives with her relatives in a four-room flat. She and her seven-year-old son share the same room.

"We can't be sharing the same room when he grows bigger," she said.

If Ms Boo was divorced or widowed, she would qualify to rent a flat from HDB. But as a single unwed mother, she does not qualify.

The single mother is worried about securing an affordable roof over their heads because her mother, with whom she does not get along, plans to sell the flat and downgrade to a studio apartment.

She hopes to be allowed to buy a Build to Order (BTO) flat or rent a subsidised flat from HDB. Under HDB rules, only those who form a family nucleus, such as parents and children, widows and widowers or divorcees with legal custody of their children can buy a BTO flat.

Singer Maia Lee knows the struggles all too well.


She too is a single unwed mother of two children - a 10-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter.

"I appealed to my MP to get me a rental flat, but it's no use," she said. She believes it's because hers is not recognised as a family unit. Lee and her children live with her parents in a three-room flat.

"That's five of us crammed in a tiny flat. Kids need space to grow," she said.

That's exactly the reason single unwed mother Bazlin, 26, hopes the Government will recognise single unwed mothers and their children as a family unit and allow them to buy BTO flats.

Miss Bazlin, a customer service executive, who declined to give her last name, told The New Paper that she and her eight-year-old daughter sleep in the living room of her stepmother's three-room flat. She said: "I don't want rental housing because I grew up from such an environment. Twenty years on, there's no change - the drug addicts and broken families - the same problems are still there. It's so depressing.

"I don't feel safe bringing my daughter up in that environment."

The customer service executive added: "My stepmother has two teenage boys of her own. We are two ladies and we sleep in the living room. It's not convenient.

"I'm a responsible parent, I've always managed to find a job and put food on the table. I'd rather my wages go towards the mortgage of a BTO flat because that's affordable, than rent."

Miss Lee, 29, also feels that the state should provide more affordable childcare facilities. "Childcare is so expensive and the more affordable ones have a wait list of six months to a year.

"It's one of the reasons I've taken to working from home," she said.

She runs Poppykins Boutique, an online kids clothes business, with a friend.

Miss Lee makes babydoll dresses for all kinds of occasions like theme parties, as well as casual outfits and accessories.

Aware, in its report, said depriving this group of women benefits like housing hurt the families who need the support.

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