Divorced mum Ms Nur with her children, Adriane Syaqeera, two, and Amirul Syafeeq, five. Her preschool-going son will be eligible for a bursary of $2,000 a year. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Feb 14, 2009

Cash incentives and grants will help give them shot at better life
By Melissa Sim
DIVORCED mother of two Nur Fazrinah, 24, is raising two young children on the $400 a month she gets from her ex-husband.

She has no savings to speak of. But this young mum and her family now have a shot at a better life with cash incentives and grants for school, housing, training and utilities from the Government.

This lifeline could come to $100,000.

The Home Ownership Plus Education, or Hope, scheme was designed for young, intact families with up to two children, but from April1, it will be extended to include divorced mums like Ms Nur.

Community Development, Youth and Sports Minister Vivian Balakrishnan announced this in Parliament on Wednesday, when he addressed measures to help dysfunctional families.

Hope already has 1,700 families on it, but with the scheme being expanded to include divorced mothers, another 300 beneficiaries and their families will get on it.

Dr Balakrishnan said this policy change would send divorced women the message that they need not 'feel pressured' to re-marry in order to provide security for their families.

'If she finds true love, by all means go ahead, but keep the family small, focus your resources and attention on your existing children,' he said.

Ms Nur, who lives with her mother and brother, agreed that her children, aged five and two, are her priority, and she has no immediate plans to remarry.

She divorced her husband two years ago, and had to quit her administrative job last year to look after the children.

Of the $400 in maintenance from him, $65 goes into paying for school transport for the five-year-old, who attends kindergarten, and the rest on food.

Her ex-husband has also been paying their son's kindergarten fees of about $100 a month.

If she gets on the scheme, her preschool-going son will be eligible for a bursary of $2,000 a year.

The bursary used to be only $250. The increase is aimed at covering all the mother's child-care expenses, thus freeing her to continue working, or to look for a job.

Mr Lim Seow Beng of Help Family Service Centre (FSC), which helps single parents, said the extension was something which FSCs had been hoping for.

The director of the As-Salaam PPIS Family Support Centre, Ms Azita Abdul Aziz, said Hope would give a leg up to young mothers at 'a phase in their lives when they are trying to establish themselves' in their careers, but who have young children to care for.

But those who run such family support centres say the eligibility criteria (see box) may be too stringent. For example, the mother has to be no more than 35 and have no more than two children.

Mr Lim said fewer than 10per cent of the divorced mums at his centre meet these criteria.

Ms Azita agreed, noting that most of her clients are in their 30s and 40s, and have three or four children.

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