Single moms in double bind
The dire straits that forced Mary Jane Veloso to seek a job abroad despite the risks of winding up as an undocumented worker echo the dilemma faced by millions of other single mothers in the Philippines.
Data from the National Statistics Office indicate that more than 37 percent of the 1.8 million babies born in the Philippines in 2008—at least 666,000—had unmarried mothers, representing a worrying increase of over 12 percent from the previous year and an upswing that has become a trend in recent times.
Like Veloso, single mothers often find themselves desperate for resources to support the young children often left in their custody, according to provisions in the Family Code.
Shorn of emotional support because of the absence of a life partner, these women find themselves besieged by the burdens of solo parenting and the rigid expectations in the workplace. As well, the stigma of going it alone because of a dysfunctional marriage in this very Catholic country restrains many single mothers from speaking up to avoid calling attention to themselves. Most of them, like Veloso, choose to seek alternatives on their own.
As one single mother explains it, the stigma “often focuses on the circumstances on why some women became solo parents rather than how they can be the best parent even without a partner.”
Which makes the Solo Parents’ Welfare Act of 2000, or Republic Act No. 8972, a welcome relief. This progressive piece of legislation focuses on the evolving nature of Filipino families, and the need to acknowledge and support alternative versions of this basic unit of society.
The law also addresses the discrimination that children of solo parents often experience from private schools that would insist on traditional notions of a nuclear family.
Among other benefits, RA 8972 allows single mothers flexible work hours, as long as this does not affect their work performance. They may also avail themselves of educational benefits from the Department of Education, the Commission on Higher Education and Tesda (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority).
But the plight of single mothers as workers burdened with the responsibility of being sole breadwinners has prompted some lawmakers to seek amendments to the law to support this vulnerable sector even more. The proposed amendments include an increase in tax exemptions, the provision of PhilHealth cards for solo parents living below the poverty line, discounts on products, food supplements and medical supplies needed by very young children, and increasing the age of a solo parent’s dependent from 18 to 21.
More significantly, the suggested changes have increased the accountability of employers, some of whom look unkindly at single mothers because of the perception of their reduced productivity as they juggle twin responsibilities at work and at home.
To address work discrimination, one of the proposed amendments seeks to penalize employers who fail to provide solo parents the benefits due them under RA 8972, with a fine of P50,000 or one-year imprisonment, or both. Subsequent violations also carry a P200,000 fine or jail time, or both.
Very laudable moves, for sure, but one must ask: How are the labor and social welfare departments monitoring compliance with this 15-year-old law? Have these agencies done enough to ensure that the provisions of
RA 8972 are accessible to single mothers so they are well-informed of their rights? Indeed, are employers even aware of their increased responsibility under the law?
With Veloso’s case now top of mind, can the basic provisions of the law be included in the predeparture orientation given overseas Filipino workers who, according to conservative government statistics, numbered 2.22 million in 2012, with 48.3 percent (or at least 1.072 million) of them being women?
The same statistics indicate that most women OFWs—often in their 20s and 30s, like Veloso—land low-paying jobs abroad, mainly as domestic and unskilled workers. Which makes government support even more crucial for these women who reluctantly leave their young children behind in order to provide them a better future.
As the country marks another Labor Day, the government should do more than just pay customary tribute to workers, especially the overburdened single mothers, lest more of them wind up with a fate similar to that of Mary Jane Veloso.