Unfair treatment of single mums a deterrent to unwanted pregnancies

From ‘Unequal benefits for single unwed mums a matter of deterrence’, 3 Aug 15, Voices, Today

(Sum Siew Kee): I agree with the writer of “Unwed mums did make choices that led to their situation” (Aug 1), and I wish to add a point. Some people argue for more benefits on the grounds that the child is innocent. While this is true, the child is also the parents’ responsibility.

For something to be a strong disincentive, it often must go beyond affecting the person himself. Nothing is more motivating than preventing harm from coming to the people one loves. For example, jail terms are a deterrent not only because of the unpleasant confinement, but also the loss of income, which may create hardship for the offender’s family.

Likewise, loan sharks ask for their client’s address because they can incentivise their clients to pay their debt by inflicting some pain on their family. Kidnapping a person and asking for ransom would work better than torturing him directly. Terrorists, criminals and the justice system understand this principle.

In the case of benefits for single mothers, if we intend to deter people from unwanted pregnancies, we must make good on the threat of inadequate support for a child born out of wedlock, otherwise the deterrent will not work. In conclusion, the matter is a balance between social justice and setting the right incentives.

The writer sounds like he holds a Masters in Criminal Psychology, using hard economics to justify why not treating single moms as we would typical parents is a form of ‘social justice’. What’s missing from this simplistic view of an ancient human predicament is the apparent failure to appreciate the emotional aspects of unwed motherhood. It’s such gnawing stigma about how single moms ‘asked for it’ that drives some to give their kids up for adoption, or worse, abort the baby before it has the chance to grow into a curious toddler asking Mommy ‘Why don’t I have a Daddy like my friends in school?’.

We leave those who choose to discard their foetuses alone, but when a mother decides to rear a child herself, we shake our heads, wag fingers and think ‘shotgun’. In the case of this Mr Sum, he uses the yardstick of kidnapping ransom and incarceration to make the disconcerting point that some form of ‘soft punishment’ of this bastard child of an illicit union not sanctioned by thy Heavenly Father must exist. Remove the scarlet ‘A’, and we’ll have fatherless babies crawling all over the place.

There are other ways to deter unwanted pregnancies besides the ‘threat of inadequate support’ of course. Sex education and knowledge of the various contraceptive measures available, for example. Or slapping charges on fathers who run away from personal responsibility. If unwed parenthood isn’t in your opinion socially acceptable as a ‘lifestyle’ and those who embrace it should not be granted equal parental rights, it follows that we shouldn’t make life easy for ex-convicts, divorcees, gamblers, morbidly obese people, prostitutes, smokers or people who are HIV positive either. All these folks ‘made their choice’. It’s our choice if we want to be humane or not.

Of all the conservative folk who frown on single motherhood, the worst culprits are policy-makers. In 1984, then Trade and Industry Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Singapore was still a fairly conservative society and ‘would not welcome’ unmarried mothers. 10 years later, we remain just as conservative, with PM Goh Chok Tong declaring that the acceptance of unmarried motherhood as a ‘respectable’ part of society was WRONG. Echoing the letter writer’s incentive theory above, he went on to say that ‘removing the stigma’ may encourage more women to have more babies out of the wedlock. In other words, the shame of being an unwed parent, and omiting them from housing policies, is necessary so that others won’t think it ‘fashionable’ to bear the child of some dark and handsome stranger after a torrid one night stand. Like Terence Cao for instance.

So much for an inclusive society. Incidentally, the 90’s saw the release of a ‘single mother’ anthem, Heart’s ‘All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You’, which tells the tale of a woman conceiving with a stranger after a rainy night of ‘magic’ and giving birth to a child with ‘his own eyes’. Damn these Western soft-rock bands and their illegitimate love-child fantasies. 20 years on and they continue to threaten our ‘Asian values’.

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