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Parents’ advocacy leads to inclusion of stillborn children’s names on Commemoratives Birth Certificates in Singapore

In Singapore, Ms Mandy Too and Mr Aidan Hoy endured a challenging campaign to include their stillborn child’s name on official certificates, marking a significant step in honoring their child’s memory and bringing comfort to grieving parents.

In support of their cause, MP Jamus Lim advocated for this change, highlighting the issue in Parliament and contributing to the eventual decision to issue commemorative birth certificates for stillborn babies, a gesture that holds deep emotional value for affected families.

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SINGAPORE: A husband and wife, Ms Mandy Too and Mr Aidan Hoy, embarked on a grueling journey to secure recognition for their deceased child by having the child’s name included on the stillborn certificate.

Initially, the stillborn certificate contained basic details such as the hospital of birth, the child’s weight, and parental names, but it omitted space for the child’s name, leaving the couple feeling stifled.

The absence of their child’s name on the stillborn certificate became a poignant issue for the couple, who felt it was vital to honour their child’s life.

They believed it was a matter of dignity, acknowledging the unique connection that exists between parents and the unborn child during the eight to nine months of gestation.

In contrast, parents of newborn children had access to digital birth and death certificates, part of the government’s efforts to modernize services, while parents of stillborn babies received digital stillborn certificates that did not include their children’s names.

The inclusion of the child’s name on the stillborn certificate held profound significance for parents, offering official recognition of the existence of their child.

This recognition was a comforting balm to their grieving hearts. It was the first government document bearing their child’s name, a meaningful gesture that provided solace to the couple and others who had experienced such a loss.

To bestow honour and dignity upon the lives that were lost, even if for a brief period, was a small yet impactful administrative step.

It represented a powerful symbol of remembrance and respect for the families who had suffered the loss of a stillborn child.

Appealing to ICA for the inclusion of stillborn child’s name on documents

Ms Too’s unwavering determination led her to contact the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), the agency responsible for birth and death registration services, with a heartfelt plea to include her twins’ names in their stillborn notification documents.

Her motivation stemmed from a deep yearning for official recognition of her children.

Fueled by her desire for acknowledgment, Ms Too hoped that even if her efforts did not succeed for her twins, they would pave the way for future stillborn children to receive the recognition they deserved.

Her appeal to the ICA resulted in a response from the Ministry of Home Affairs, which explained that only children born alive were registered to ensure they are “identified accordingly in the provision or use of government services throughout their lives.”

In April this year, Ms Too initiated an online petition with the hope of adding weight to the ministry’s review of this matter.

The couple had not initially intended to make their cause public, but they realized the significance of garnering support from bereaved parents who shared their desire for change.

Over 2,800 individuals have since signed the petition.

The petition’s impact was underscored when a grieving mother commented on the lack of her stillborn son’s name on the crematorium’s information screen, which instead displayed her and her husband’s names.

Ms Too’s expectations were modest; she recognized that any change resulting from their efforts would primarily benefit future stillbirths. Yet, she took solace in knowing that their advocacy had the potential to bring about meaningful change for others, providing a sense of purpose and hope in their pursuit.

Jamus Lim’s effort in supporting parents’ wishes for stillborn child names

The involvement of Workers’ Party Member of Parliament Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) in the cause added significant momentum to Ms Too’s efforts.

Associate Professor Lim had earlier shared his personal connection to the issue, having experienced a stillborn brother, during a 2021 parliamentary debate.

When Ms Too reached out to advocate for birth certificates for stillborn babies, Mr Lim readily supported her cause, filing parliamentary questions to highlight the matter.

In one response, Minister for Law and Home Affairs, K Shanmugam noted, “The intent of a birth certificate is to serve as a certification of the registration of a live birth and as an identity document for the child, which can then be used for administrative purposes, such as the provision of Government services. Hence, birth certificates are not issued to stillbirths.”

In September 2022, Asst Prof Lim filed a parliamentary question specifically addressing whether the new digital birth certificates would make provisions for stillborn children’s names.

Mr Shanmugam responded with the rationale behind the existing registration process, noting that the design aimed to streamline administrative procedures, as names of stillborn children were not deemed essential for the government to administer public policies and programs, while also sparing grieving parents from additional administrative burdens.

Despite this explanation, Mr Shanmugam acknowledged the desire of parents to include their stillborn children’s names and committed to reviewing the feasibility of allowing this practice.

Additionally, alternative options like a commemorative birth certificate were considered as part of the ongoing assessment.

ICA initiates issuance of Commemorative Birth Certificates for stillborn children on October 1

In early October, Ms Too received a reassuring email from ICA, informing her of the possibility to apply for commemorative birth certificates for her twins.

This unexpected gesture deeply touched Ms. Too, who expressed her heartfelt appreciation for the ICA’s responsiveness.

For her and many parents in similar situations, obtaining official recognition was a significant source of comfort during their grieving process.

The couple wasted no time in taking advantage of this opportunity. They promptly submitted their applications and, earlier this month, received digital copies of their children’s commemorative birth certificates.

These certificates marked a crucial milestone, serving as the first official government documents bearing their children’s names, a poignant and meaningful realization for the parents.

In response to inquiries from CNA, the ICA confirmed the commencement of issuing commemorative birth certificates to parents of stillborn children on 1 October.

While these certificates carry the names of the stillborn children, it’s important to note that they do not possess the status of official legal documents.

This limitation is attributed to the existing legal provisions under the Registration of Births and Deaths Act 2021, which do not include provisions for naming stillborn children.

Nevertheless, the Ministry of Home Affairs is said to be actively reviewing the matter, and more details will be disclosed “in due course.”

Maternity hospitals have been informed about the availability of commemorative birth certificates, enabling them to relay this option to bereaved parents.

Additionally, this information is now accessible on the ICA’s website, providing a straightforward process for parents to apply for these certificates within a year of the stillbirth.

Following the news of the latest development, Asst Prof Lim shared his thoughts on Facebook: “The #workersparty consistently champions causes in Parliament that align with the broader interests of Singaporean society. Occasionally, we also highlight more specific issues that, while less widespread, are just as crucial because they reflect our core values and our commitment to doing what’s right.”

He continued, “This is why I was eager to support Mandy’s initiative for the issuance of birth certificates for stillborn infants. After she presented a strong case, I submitted several Parliamentary Questions to spotlight the matter. The Ministry’s response was positive, indicating a path forward contingent upon evident public support. Mandy’s subsequent campaign gathered thousands of signatures, confirming a genuine demand among bereaved parents.”

Asst Prof Lim concluded, “I was greatly encouraged by the recent decision of the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority to begin issuing commemorative birth certificates for stillborn children. They’ve also taken the essential step of notifying bereaved parents about this option—an important consideration during a time of loss. Although it’s a modest change in procedure, it carries immense significance for those who are mourning.”

Outpouring of support for couple striving to honour their stillborn children

The couple’s struggle for recognition resonated strongly on CNA’s Facebook post, with numerous online users expressing their unwavering support.

Many shared comments applauding the couple’s efforts to have their stillborn children’s names included on their certificates, highlighting the deep love and cherished memories that these children hold, even if they were born still.

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One user shared a personal connection to the issue, revealing that she had also experienced a stillbirth. She empathized with the pain of losing a child, emphasizing that this profound loss transcends gestation periods or age.

The acknowledgement of a lost baby is a crucial step for grieving parents in their journey towards finding closure and moving forward. This user stressed the importance of making such stories less of a taboo, ensuring that the experiences of those who have gone through this loss are acknowledged and respected.

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Another user underscored the significance of naming a child, asserting that this right belongs to the parents, regardless of whether the child was stillborn or born alive.

The act of naming holds particular importance for parents of stillborn children, representing their unfulfilled hopes and the dreams they held for their child.

The user did, however, critique the bureaucratic process, pointing out the mechanical and impersonal nature of going to a police station to report the child’s death and receiving a mere notification of stillbirth.

She expressed a longing for a more compassionate and comforting reporting procedure to ease the burdens on grieving parents during such a challenging time.

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