February 9th, 2011

Paternity leave should be made mandatory


Policies to support gender equality and improved parenting leave needed if Singapore hopes to reverse declining birth rate trend.

Singapore 9th February – AWARE called for comprehensive changes to parental leave in a press conference today, held at its Dover Crescent premises.

There are many reasons for Singapore’s low birth rate, but two important factors in trying to reverse the trend are better support for parenting responsibilities and policies that promote gender equality.

Studies have shown a direct correlation, in developed nations, between the level of gender equality in a society and its total fertility rate (TFR). When women have to bear the bulk of childcare responsibilities, they are less inclined to have children. Where there are policies that support gender equality and equally shared childcare duties between father and mother, more babies are born.

Singapore’s current parenting leave policies – four months for new mothers and none for new fathers – reinforce gender stereotypes of women as caregivers and men as providers.

These policies entrench gender inequality. These policies need to be changed if Singapore hopes to reverse the declining birth rate trend.

Specifically, AWARE calls for five policy changes:

● Make paid paternity leave of two weeks mandatory, with the cost shared between the employer and the state

● Convert the 4th month of maternity leave into ‘parental leave’ to be taken by either parent, with the state sharing the cost with the employer when the father takes this leave

● Offer a ‘parenting present’ of $4,000 to couples where the father takes the 4th month of parental leave

● Convert the currently mandated 6 days of paid childcare leave into dependent’s leave, with ‘dependents’ including older children and parents

● Extend to unwed parents the same parenting leave benefits enjoyed by married parents.

In making the call for these policy changes, and particularly for paid paternity leave to be mandated by law, AWARE finds support in the views expressed by 1,001 working parents in a recent survey commissioned by AWARE and conducted by students of Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

When asked whether they thought paternity leave should be made compulsory, 91% said yes. Of these, 93% explained that paternity leave would allow fathers to be more involved in parenting.

Half of the parents said their employers offered paid paternity leave, and of these the bulk – 59% – get between one and three days of such leave. Of the fathers who have a paternity leave option three quarters took the leave.

The AWARE-led survey was conducted by final-year Business Studies and Business Information Technology students who are specialising in marketing at Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Business & Accountancy. Conducted between October 2010 and January 2011, the survey involved face-to-face interviews with 1,001 working mums and dads who have at least one child aged seven or below.

A significant number of the parents – 57% – said they would welcome having the option of transferring parenting leave from mother to father.

The joys of fatherhood

AWARE would like to see fathers given the opportunity to play a more active role in the care of their newborn babies, not just so that they will share the parenting load with their wives but also so that they will have more time for the joys of fatherhood and for developing a bond with their children.

This can be achieved by converting the 4th month of maternity leave into ‘parental leave’ that can be taken by either parent. To encourage fathers to take this leave and spend a month looking after their babies, AWARE suggests that a ‘parenting present’ of $4,000 be offered to couples where the father opts for this parental leave.

As employers might baulk at the idea of their male staff taking anything from two to six weeks of parental leave, AWARE suggests that the cost of this leave be shared between the employer and the state.

Dependent’s leave

Currently married parents with children under the age of seven are entitled to up to six days of paid childcare leave a year. AWARE would like to see this converted into six days of paid ‘dependent’s care’ leave applicable to any working Singaporean, with ‘dependents’ including older children and parents.

This, AWARE believes, would be a more equitable policy as it acknowledges the needs of working Singaporeans, whether married or single, who have to care for aged parents or dependent siblings. Furthermore, children above seven years old will still need the care of their parents.

Unwed parents

AWARE would like to see all parenting leave benefits available to married parents extended to unwed parents. Often it is these parents, and their children, who need the most support. Many are in their situation not by choice. Denying them parenting leave benefits is tantamount to punishing them, and their children, for being single parents.

AWARE’s position on this matter was shared by the parents surveyed – an overwhelming 91% said unwed parents deserve the same benefits as their married counterparts.

Read our media release HERE and take a look at the survey conducted by Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Business & Accountancy HERE .


  1. Hi I answered the 5 questions asked by The Straits Times Online survey.

    Make paid paternity leave of two weeks mandatory, with the cost shared between the employer and the state.
    • Won’t work
    Please help us understand why you selected this answer

    The mindsets of would-to-be fathers that child bearing is a job for mothers should be solved first. I believe the main (or shall I say first) reason for the low birth rate is due to the males here being brought up by mothers who treated them as kings or princes at homes where they do not need to do a single housework.

    I am a student from Temasek Polytechnic. I am doing a project on redesigning processes. I have chosen AWARE’s attempt to close the gender inequality gap through education and textbooks.

    The reengineering of this process is not to educate students but to change the mindsets of mothers to treat their sons and daughters fairly. In some cases, the fathers’ mindsets should be changed too because they pressurize the mothers to force the daughters to do the housework as they claim house chores is a woman’s job.

    So, the state should educate the old people’s mindsets first and the young ones will follow. Do stress upon the scientific fact that males are physically stronger and so they should be the ones doing the housework and child bearing.

    Thank you. Do e-mail me at syahroz@hotmail.com for any updates.

    Convert the 4th month of maternity leave into ‘parental leave’ to be taken by either parent, with the state sharing the cost with the employer when the father takes this leave.
    • Will work
    Please help us understand why you selected this answer

    Will work but have to ensure the fathers take good care of their children. If not, fine them.

    Offer a ‘parenting present’ of $4,000 to couples where the father takes the 4th month of parental leave.
    • Won’t work
    Please help us understand why you selected this answer

    Money or shall I say ‘bribery’ will work in the short term but not in the long term. God knows where the $4000 will be spent on. Most probably on cigarettes, drinking, gambling etc. The 2004 tsunami incident had proven that men in general care about themselves and would save their own lives. On the other hand, the mothers will go to their children to save them before themselves.

    It is hard to change mindsets (especially older ones). We just need to reason the facts politely to them.

    Convert the currently mandated 6 days of paid childcare leave into dependent’s leave, with ‘dependents’ including older children and parents.
    • Will work
    Please help us understand why you selected this answer

    Extend to unwed parents the same parenting leave benefits enjoyed by married parents.
    • Won’t work
    Please help us understand why you selected this answer

    PLEASE DON’T! If a couple do not wish to get married, it simply shows they are NOT and do NOT want to be responsible and committed to each other. What more their children?

    If this policy proceeds, children will grow up knowing that help will come if they were to ‘accidentally’ make babies.

    From a different angle, the impact to society’s ethics will be much grater if the policy is referring to cases like unwed parents like Angelina and Brad.

    Get our responsibilities, commitments and obligations right first before we want to be more ‘open’ and have more freedom for the society.

    Meaning, we should not be selfish. Others before self. Those who only see rights without obligations eventually destroy themselves.

    P.S: If you want my project report, I am willing to share for the benefit of the society.

  2. Lee

    Hello, I’m a male Singaporean. I think whilst the idea of a paternity leave is great as I know many men would indeed love to bond with their newbond child, the idea that it should be always be about “money being bourne by both the employer and the state” might not be so. One of the key concerns I am sure many men would be worried about would definitely be, “If I return to my desk about my leave, will I be asked to leave?” It has happened to men who has been selected for key appointments in the army and thus are required to report back to camp more than once a year. Sure, the army reimburses the money to the company but what use is that money if the project they’re rushing for is not completed on time?

    It definitely is no rumour many Singaporean men are starting to be overlooked in the job market due to cheaper and foreigners of no NS and family obligations. I felt it myself when I was working for someone. I am now an employer and yes, I am also thinking it might actually be better to employ foreigners.

    I am also married, no kids, and I cook and do the household chores (sometimes more than my wife). Many of my friends do as well. We enjoy it. We enjoy the fact that we have a house that we take care of. Many of my friends with children have found great joy changing their childrens’ diapers, potty training them, bringing them out for playtime and experienced real worry on their 1st day of school when they have the time off work (and we all know that can be tough but we’re all trying). My father did the same for me and my siblings and I love him as much as my mum. I don’t smoke, nor drink (except on social occasions) and had ever visited a prostitute or many things men have been accused of. I know many men like me. No, I’m not rare nor gay nor ugly.

    • Dana Lam

      Dear Lee,

      Thank you for sharing your pleasure in keeping house and family so unreservedly with AWARE. It is also so great to hear of the joys your friends have in minding children. You do everyone a great favour in sharing these experiences. I have had the pleasure of knowing many men who are great at and enjoy a certain amount of housework and child-care. It gives me great pleasure to add you to the list! AWARE’s position on family policies is that they should encourage and allow more men to participate and to share in the joy of childcare and family.

      Thank you also for sharing the very valid concern over job security. While the State has spared no expense in calling on women to reproduce, pregnant women and mothers have faced discrimination exactly of the type you describe. The issue is something the State, employers and all of us in society have to negotiate together.

      Your voice counts in this.

      Keep in touch!

  3. Dana Lam

    Dear Hirah,

    Thank you for copying AWARE on your comments. You are right on many counts and your project paper sounds very interesting. We shall look forward to reading your report.

    Please allow me to clarify a couple of points.

    1) AWARE’s recommendations are grounded on our position on gender equality as necessary for helping women and men cope with their lives. Studies have also pointed to a direct co-relation between gender equality and the TFR: TFR is higher in places where gender equality is practiced. It follows that State policies hoping to reverse low TFR should aim at redressing gender inequality perpetuated by current policies that do not acknowledge/ support men’s role as fathers.

    2) I totally agree with your point that women, ourselves, must watch against contributing to gender stereotypes starting with the way we raise children. Women should also watch against perpetrating stereotypes in our daily interactions with men as friends, girlfriends, sisters, wives, co-workers.

    3) While mothers are doing the bigger job of child-rearing they don’t necessarily have the strongest impact on the child’s perception of gender roles. The “absent” father is equally modelling his role for his children. So also the child’s community of extended family, school and society in general. To change such an entrenched mindset as sexual stereotypes, everyone – young and old, men and women, married and single – have to recognise their own power in affecting change.

    4) The recommendation to extend equal parenting benefit to unwed mothers or fathers is to support the individuals in our society who are harder put to cope. Not all unwed parents have the choice of getting married. Marriage is not necessarily a solution, either. If the couple is unsuited to each other, it could cause more problems later.

    5) Lastly, I strongly advise against your proposed argument that men are stronger and so should do the housework. The argument for gender equality in the family is to enable individuals to share in both the responsibilities and the rewards of family and support each other in fulfilling their full potential as individuals.

    The future is in your hands.

    • Hirah

      Hi MS Dana Lam,

      My apologies for the late reply as I had been busy preparing for my exams. Thank you for the explanations and information.

      I’ll send you an attached file of my report right after my exams. Anytime after 3rd March.

      With much regards,

  4. Lin Wu-Clark

    I would like to ask a question about the survey. What about parents using maids to look after the baby? What were the responses like?

    I’m not Singaporean and I’ve noticed that when I go running in the Botanical Gardens on a weekend, there is a substantial number of young children (under age 5) accompanied by maids, not parents. Do these parents sleep in late on a weekend?

  5. Mother of 2


    I am glad that AWARE is taking the initiative in encouraging father to be more involved in the newborn. Many european countries has 2 months of paternity leave for the father and most of them take it because as much as the mother could bond with the child when they take care of the baby full time, the father deserves such opportunity too, to be totally away from the stress and fatigue of work, and spend good quality times with the child.

    There are more intangible advantages than it sounds to have this rule rolled out. In long term, it does not only help to create a better culture of family closeness, it may also reduce divorce rate and increase birth rate – when the husband can experience what exactly a newmother goes through after child birth, the bond between husband and wife will be strengthen very much.

    In encouraging such policy, money can be a good gift / incentive, but stressing too much on who to share the cost does make the entire proposal sound really not sincere.

    Besides that, in many european country, the mother who return to work can have many privileges to demand for facility – a conducive and private room to pump breastmilk, and a fridge to store their breast milk – this is how far these countries are willing to go to encourage best practise for a new born, not to mention the long maternity and paternity leave for parents. The working mother will not feel insecure that they may lose her job while doing the best for the baby. Singapore needs to have a culture where the working mother should not feel threathen or fear to lose their job by having a baby. I guess apart from all the incentives (money and gifts), it is this idea that all women should be assured off, to encourage them to have babies at the first place.


    • Dana Lam

      Thank you, Mother of 2. We couldn’t agree more. Current provisions for maternity leave while generous and well-meaning have exposed women to workplace discrimination for carrying the baby. Where AWARE hopes to get to is where neither men nor women need to “feel threaten or fear to lose their job by having a baby.”

  6. New Mom

    I am a young mother of a 6-week newborn. As much as it is said that motherhood is an instinct, it is no doubt draining and sadly frustrating to be going through it alone, inexperienced. And I wonder why I am alone and scorn the irony between the campaigns and the call for higher birth rate by the government.

    1) No paternity leave
    My husband is a very hands on dad. However, he cannot spend more time with us due to the constrains planning leave. Other than mother-child bonding, it makes me wonder what about family bonding and father-child bonding. The irony: The recent dads for life movement to inspire, mobilize and involve Dads to be positive influencers in their children’s lives for life.

    2) Lack of family support
    Every CNY, I will be grilled on when I am getting pregnant by the entire family; now that the newborn has arrived, I cannot get any support from my own family. The reason? Both my parents and my parent-in-laws are working. The times when mothers are housewives and/or kids grow up with their grandparents are long over. The irony: The raise in retirement age and the call by the government to work beyond the retirement age.

    3) Support from work
    Needless to say, I face discrimination right from my employer having knowledge that I am pregnant. Then the negotiation to take first 2 months mandatory and to defer the next 2 months came along. Part of me knows that the remaining 2 months is just going to be a hush hush item that will expire after the one year period. Can I insist to take all 4 months at one time? The answer is yes but I have to bear the consequences and face possible promotion exclusion and job loss. Is this fair? That, we all know the answer.

    4) Can I be a Stay-At-Home-Mother (“SAHM”)
    The thought of sending my child to infantcare centres or babysitter or employing a maid makes me uncomfortable that my child is under the mercy of strangers. Both my husband and I would like to nurture and take care of our child ourselves, instead of sending her to strangers. Afterall, that’s parenthood. With the stigma that women are to stay at home and be the primary caretaker, I do not see myself as a potential SAHM. Why? I am equally educated and holds a job with similar pay amount as my husband. And I am not going into the entire raising cost of living whereby it takes double income to just be comfortable. The irony: With Singapore looking at how to raise its productivity, the labour movement encourages mothers to work.

    I am very willing to share my 4 months maternity leave with my husband, who is very happy to take the opportunity to share my burden, bond with the newborn and share moments that will be lost forever.

    Would I consider having another child? Why not, afterall the government policies certainly do not dictate my life and family decisions. Any improvement in the policies merely acts as an encouragement and it is nice to know that your little voice is heard and that there is that small support from the government in the end.

  7. DH

    I looked through the bios of the board members and it seems not one is trained in quantitative research methods except maybe for the lady with a PhD from UC Berkeley.
    The most immediate flaw from your study I find very disturbing: which working adult in the right mind would say no if the government were to legislate additional days on compulsory leave. Very Naive Research methodology. Very.

    If it so interests you, I think the literature on Life-cycle theory by Franco Modigliani(Nobel Prize in economic 1985) should serve to educate you well on why temporary measures you are proposing MIGHT not work.

  8. Kate


    My name is Kate and I would like to share some ideas which came across lately. Recently, the topic has been pretty hot on our low birth rates. There are many reasons as to why young couples do not wish to have chidren or they would just want to stick with only 1 child which 1st far most would be financial concern. Of course, with the goverment’s support like baby bonus is something which is benefical to young parents. I have a question since if the goverment would want to encourage more Singaporeans to give birth so why can’t they extend the baby bonus to single parents?

    I am a divorcee with 2 young schooling children and of course we were all benefited from the goverment’s baby bonus. However, I am pregnant again but sad to say both myself and my partner are not able to be together due to unforseen circumstances. We both love kids and would not want to go for abortion. I checked with MCYS and realise that baby bonus only benefit those who are of legal marriage. There is a contradiction when the goverment wants Singaporeans to give birth but at the same time stringent on certain rules.

    So, if Singaporeans like us whom could not provide a proper family for the child and may be facing financial strains being a single parent though we would like to contribute to the society. Shouldn’t the government let us have the benefit of having baby bonus too?

  9. P.C. Lee

    AWARE, thank you for your continuing efforts in promoting gender equality. Despite the progress we’ve made, women still carry the bulk of responsibility of taking care of children and household. I think it is difficult to change mindset of adults. Since civic/moral education are taught from primary school years, the Ministry of Education should incorporate gender equality as one of the values taught to school children. The benefits will not be immediate but hopefully, our younger and future generations will embrace gender equality as part of their lives.

  10. […] AWARE raised the issue of mandatory paternity leave last year, it was pooh-poohed by some who said it wouldn’t work. But no single measure when […]