Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC
at the Second Reading of the Child Development Co-Savings (Amendment) Bill [Bill No. 17/2016].
Madam, I stand in full support of this Bill, a Bill which starts a new chapter in our journey in parenthood and a Bill which brings about a fundamental change in our parenthood policies, a much needed fundamental change.
I also stand in full support of this Bill because it is not only about the dollars and cents but also the hours, the minutes and the seconds, the precious time we spend with our children.
Support for single unwed mothers
The amendments to Section 3 bring about a stronger sense of inclusiveness.
Single unwed mothers do not enjoy most of the benefits and support given to married mothers. You don’t need to be a single parent to realise the difficulties they go through and they face in bringing up their child or children.
No matter what the circumstances are that led to them being single unwed mothers, we should undoubtedly still help them, especially their child or children who like us are fellow Singaporeans.
As I mentioned during the COS debates, to be a truly inclusive society, equal rights should be and have to be given to unwed mothers and we should ensure that they don’t feel alone in this journey. We must help and support them rather than penalise them. This is the right thing to do.
And so I’m extremely delighted that the proposed amendment to Section 3 seeks to expand the categories of children who may be eligible under the Child Development Co-Savings Scheme. Children other than children of married woman will now qualify for the scheme.
Together with MSF, we have all fought hard for this. I have joined 16 other MPs, NCMPs and NMPs and AWARE who over the past 12 years spoke up for this.
The change in this policy is timely and I do hope this opens the flood gate for help and support for single unwed mothers and the days of penalising them are history and they will get the same high level of support we give our married mothers.
Fathers playing a bigger role in parenthood
But this Bill doesn’t just talk about mothers, it also emphases the important role fathers play.
Research at the University of Bergen has shown that and I quote “A sensitive and attentive father has a positive influence on his child’s development, but only if he spends a considerable amount of time with the child during its first year”. This research is part of a major project at The Norwegian Centre for Child Behavioural Development.
The researcher’s advice was simple and I quote again “Try to get leave from work in order to spend as much time as possible with your child during its first year. But above all; make sure you spend high quality time with your child.”
The amendments in this Bill seek to provide this by allowing employers to claim reimbursement from the government for the extra week of paternity leave. Subsequent amendments to this Act where the second week of paternity leave will be legislated will further strengthen this.
I urge the government to do even more, not just by providing more grants which is important but also help ensure both fathers and mothers have the chance to spend more time with their children and with each other.
The government is now writing this next and brand new chapter and we now need employers and fathers to join us.
Minister Tan had previously stated that in 2013, about 28% of fathers took up the Government-Paid Paternity Leave; in 2014, it was about 36%. These figures are clearly not encouraging.
I sincerely hope that employers will not only grant their employees their 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 and it is a journey your child needs you to play an active role in.
This journey has changed me. I’ve gone from being the biggest Linkin Park fan to now being the biggest Pororo Park fan. Quite embarrassingly, I can sing most of the songs you hear at Pororo Park. I know for a fact that life has changed when I subconsciously start singing Pororo songs.
Life has also changed from having tea parties with PM and Ministers to now having weekly tea parties with my daughter. But the tea parties are now less stressful but those imaginary cups of tea are very useful in letting me understand my daughter better.
Life has also changed as I am no longer the most stubborn person in my house. My daughter has unfortunately learnt to say the word “no” and I never knew that someone can say no so many times a day. I sincerely hope though that she doesn’t change and every guy that approaches her in the future, she will say “no”.
Having no regrets
Madam, I’m often asked what special powers I wish I have. My reply has always been that I wish I have the power to turn back time.
As much as I try to live a life without regret, there will always be regrets and always a wish that we could have done things better, always a wish that we could have spent more time with our loved one. And as recently published in a Straits Times article, “regret is an incurable ache”.
Time spent with our children is precious and should be cherished and the memories created will last forever and are priceless.
We can’t buy time and we can’t turn back time. We can’t get the hours, the minutes and the seconds lost. But we can every day treasure and value the time we have with our children and our loved ones.
Madam, this Bill is an important step forward for unwed mothers, for all fathers, mothers, children and employers. This is a journey we must all take together and the only regret one will have is that they didn’t participate in this journey.
Let me end with a less known quote about parenthood by Jill Smokler:
“Being a parent is dirty and scary and beautiful and hard and miraculous and exhausting and thankless and joyful and frustrating all at once. It’s everything.”
Madam, I wholeheartedly support this Bill.