SINGAPORE – The number of babies born out of wedlock has been falling steadily in the past decade, even after the Government extended some pro-natal benefits to unwed mothers in recent years.
Member of Parliament Louis Ng said this will allay concerns some may have that giving the benefits married women enjoy to single mums will lead to a rise in the number of unwed mothers.
Mr Ng, who had asked for data for the past two years in a parliamentary question last month, learnt 836 babies were born to Singaporean unwed mothers last year, based on provisional figures.
This was a slight dip from 843 babies born in 2016. But when compared with data The Straits Times obtained from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), last year’s figures show a sharp 31 per cent fall from the 1,218 babies born out of wedlock in 2007.
The steady decline also mirrors the slide in the number of abortions carried out in the past decade, which fell from 11,933 in 2007 to 6,815 last year.
In particular, the Health Ministry told ST the number of abortions among single women has fallen by about 48 per cent in the past decade, from more than 5,800 in 2007 to slightly more than 3,000 in 2017. They include divorcees and widows.
Social workers, who help pregnant women in distress, said the fall in abortions and births out of wedlock could be due to the greater use of contraception.
Mr Ng told ST: “The statistics show that there is no need to worry there will be more children born out of wedlock as policies change. We should push for single mothers to get equal rights, to get the same benefits that married women get, as it is not easy for them to raise a child on their own. Just think of the (welfare) of the children involved.”
For years, MPs have fought for unwed mothers to get benefits that married mothers get. The Government has always stressed that it supports parenthood within marriage.
A policy shift came in 2013, when paid childcare leave was extended to unwed mothers. Then in 2016, the Government started giving children born to unwed parents the Child Development Account (CDA), which can be used for education and medical expenses.
From January last year, unwed mothers also receive 16 weeks of paid maternity leave – up from eight weeks – which is the same as married mothers.
However, they still do not get some benefits that married women enjoy, like the Baby Bonus cash gift.
An MSF spokesman told ST that 756 mothers with 767 children between them have enjoyed the CDA benefits so far. At least 15 women have applied for the 16-week maternity leave.
Government benefits are very helpful and supplement their single income, say single mothers.
Social workers said the unwed mums they counsel range from teenagers to women in their 30s.
Some men had walked out of the relationship after learning of the pregnancy, while some women felt they were not ready to marry their boyfriends for various reasons, said Ms Mary John, a case worker from the Family Life Society, which helps women facing a pregnancy crisis.
For unwed mothers, those who stated the name of the baby’s father in the child’s birth certificate outnumbered those who did not, going by Ministry of Social and Family Development data.
Social workers said some do not want the child to have anything to do with the father.
A 21-year-old audit assistant, who wanted to be known only as Nicole, said her boyfriend did not contribute financially to raise their four-month-old son. She earns less than $2,000 a month and the $3,000 grant from the Government is a big help.
Her boyfriend, who had initially asked her to go for an abortion, also did not want his name on the child’s birth certificate.
She said: “I don’t want to rush into marriage as marriage is for a lifetime and I don’t want to regret (my choice). We have our differences and we are still trying to work things out.”