The one that sometimes understands how you feel without you having to say anything. The one that taught you sacrifice is the most selfless thing you can do. The one that taught you to be strong either from you learning by example or from you learning from their mistakes. The one that you gave and still give, absolute hell to.
The person who experiences all the above at the highest frequency is your mother.
The role of a mother has most definitely evolved through time. The role of a mother existed from the time we were all hunter-gatherers to the present where a woman can be a mother, a wife and a worker all at the same time. It’s safe to say that, generally speaking on behalf of the masses, women are doing more now than ever before. With this stretch in commitments to several roles, the question then becomes whether the law and the rights that follow have also expanded in proportion to this stretch. This article aims to examine women’s rights, in particular the rights of mothers, to see if the law for Singaporean mothers caters to the needs of our generation.
A recent article by the Straits Times brought to light the issue of legitimate children where a single mother who was not married had to adopt her own child. This sounds like the most absurd phenomena since we associate the adoption process with making someone else’s child legally your own. What happened in this case however, was that an unwed mother adopted her own 2-year-old. But why did she have to do this? Let’s take a look at some laws in Singapore that relate to an illegitimate child.
The Legitimacy Act indirectly states that a child born out of wedlock is an illegitimate child in the first line of the statute which reads that it is “An Act to provide for the legitimation of children born out of wedlock”. The Act further states that an illegitimate child may be rendered legitimate if the biological parents of the child eventually marry each other. Once the child is rendered legitimate, the child will then be able to enjoy property rights. By property rights I mean any property left behind by parents. This Act only gives rights to an illegitimate child if their parent has died and has left behind no other legitimate children. There is a very clear line drawn between a child born to married parents and a child born to parents who are unmarried. In addition to that, illegitimate children have no entitlement under Inheritance (Family Provision) Act and are excluded from the definition of a “child” under the Intestate Succession Act. Since laws mostly reflect society’s attitudes, we can easily deduce that we define a ‘family’ as two heterosexual parents who are lawfully married and bore children within the confines of this marriage. For a nation that prides itself on being the forefront of trade, economic growth and technology, it seems that we are very backward when it comes to things as fundamental as family. We have restricted the idea of a family so much that it has excluded other variations like gay parent families or single parent families. What makes us think that these parents or their children are less deserving of legal recognition? We might as well be living in some kind of medieval Game of Thrones reality, where illegitimate children are openly mocked and called bastards for absolutely no logical reason. Some of you may argue that morals must be valued. But my question is at what cost?
As critical as I may be, I must also note that progress has been made. As of 1 January 2017, maternity leave benefits will be extended to eligible unwed mothers whose Singaporean child is born or has an estimated delivery date (“EDD”) on or after 1 January 2017. By virtue of the Child Development Co-Savings Act, an unwed mother is eligible for 16 weeks maternity leave if her child is a Singapore citizen, the child is born or has an EDD on or after 1 January 2017, and the mother has worked for an employer or has been self-employed for at least 3 continuous months before the birth of the child. In addition to that, a $3,000 Child Development Account grant is available to all new mothers of Singaporean children regardless of the marital status of the child’s parents.
Aaand let me just go back to me being my critical self. Another area of concern is that of housing for unmarried mothers. In an in-depth interview conducted by AWARE (Association of Women for Action and Research) with over 50 single mothers circa 2015 to 2016, the common difficulty was finding and keeping housing. The current law only allows single mothers to be eligible for a HDB flat if she is aged 35 and above. Furthermore, the flat must be bought jointly with other single co-applicants.
Lastly, did you know that a single mother/unmarried woman can’t apply for a PPO in the event of her being abused by her partner? PPO stands for Personal Protection Order, and it used by an individual who is experiencing violence from their spouse. Under a PPO, the court will order that either ‘the offender cannot use family violence against the family member’ or ‘the offender cannot incite or assist anyone to commit family violence against the family member’. It is the most common form of Protection Order and it is issued by the court. Currently, women who are unmarried can only issue a police report or a Magistrate’s Complaint. Police reports might not even help to alleviate the matter. This is because the violence caused to the woman may not be considered an arrestable offence. This means that unless the woman suffered a degree of hurt amounting to a life-threatening injury or permanent disfigurement, the police cannot arrest the abuser without a warrant. I do not see why there is a difference between protection issued to married and unmarried women because domestic violence is the same regardless of marital status. Domestic violence is the blatant disregard of the bodily autonomy of the person you claim to care for and rights should be accorded to everyone.
Mothers are our first caregivers and teachers. All mothers regardless of marital status should be taken care of physically, mentally and psychologically because their actions and mental state are constantly being watched by little eyes. These little eyes pick up on the actions of their mothers which leads to character development. Future generations should not have to grow up with a stigma attached to them that makes them feel like less. This Mother’s Day let us make a conscious effort to be an inclusive society and to celebrate all mothers.
Also, shout out to my mum.
- Unwed mum adopts own biological daughter — Straits Times
- Recognise and support all mothers equally — Aware
- Buying a Flat Eligibility Schemes — HDB
- Extend protection order to unwed women — Asia One