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Singapore Aims for More Babies, Immigration

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  • mellaniehewlitt
    http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=reutersEdge&storyID=6942824 Singapore Aims for More Babies, Immigration Mon Nov 29, 2004 09:49 AM ET SINGAPORE
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 30, 2004
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      http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type==reutersEdge&storyID=i42824

      Singapore Aims for More Babies, Immigration

      Mon Nov 29, 2004 09:49 AM ET

      SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore, facing a record-low birth rate and
      an aging workforce, is aiming for a 40 percent rise in the number of
      babies born a year following new pro-fertility steps designed to
      rekindle the embers of romance.

      Singapore's government was also looking at other ways to expand its
      population, including increasing its foreign workers, said Junior
      Finance Minister Lim Hwee Hua, a member of the government's "Working
      Committee on Population."

      Singapore is grappling with one of Asia's lowest birth rates, with
      the number of babies born each year well below the 2.1 per woman
      needed to replenish its population.

      In an interview with Reuters, Lim said Singapore needed more babies
      and more foreign workers to counter a rapidly aging workforce and to
      fill jobs in service industries that will lead Singapore in a new era
      of competition from China and India.

      "We do need a critical mass," she said.

      The size of that mass is a source of speculation.

      Dianel Lian, Southeast Asian economist at Morgan Stanley, said in a
      recent report that Singapore may be on the cusp of a monumental
      policy shift that could lead to a doubling in its current population
      of 4.2 million over the long term.

      Lim declined to specify any target for the wealthy Southeast Asian
      island's population but said there were merits in expanded
      immigration, and that Singapore could physically handle the increase
      that Lian envisaged.

      "If you were to look at it from the capacity standpoint then we can
      accommodate that. It may mean taller buildings, more intensive use of
      land. I think from the capacity standpoint that is always possible,"
      she said.

      She said Singaporeans were already accustomed to immigration and
      steady influxes of foreign workers.

      "It's actually probably a little easier to get local Singaporeans
      used to the idea of having nationals working alongside them. By and
      large they would welcome, as long as the birth rate stays at that
      level," she said.

      FLAGGING BIRTH RATE, LIBIDO
      Singapore's policymakers have struggled for years to reverse a
      declining birth rate. Last year was the lowest on record, with
      Singaporean women giving birth to 1.25 babies on average -- a
      fraction of the 5.8 in the "baby-booming" 1960s.

      Singapore is also accused of suffering from a flagging libido, ranked
      for three straight years near the bottom of condom-maker Durex's
      survey of sexually active nations.

      Divorces are at a record high, while marriages fell 5 percent last
      year and the proportion of childless couples has tripled since 1980,
      to 6 percent of the population.

      If current trends continue, by 2030 just 8 percent of Singapore's
      population will be aged 15 to 24, according to the United Nations,
      putting huge strains on a dwindling pool of youngsters to support the
      economy and its aging workforce.

      Lim said new policies unveiled in August -- including cash rewards
      for couples who have babies and longer maternity leave for working
      mothers -- may need fine tuning over the next few years, possibly to
      include more leave for working fathers.

      But Lim said the government had hoped the policies could push the
      birth rate -- the average number of children born to a woman in her
      lifetime -- to about 1.8, or 50,000 babies a year, up about 40
      percent from last year's 36,000 babies.

      "We are quite far below that," said Lim, one of two women in
      Singapore's cabinet and mother of three.

      © Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.

      ----------------------------------------------------------------------
      --------

      By: Mellanie Hewlitt - Singapore Review
      Date: Mon Feb 24, 2003 6:00 pm
      Singapore Review

      Singapore Needs A Little Love and Compassion?

      An amusing perception of the Singapore Procreation Process;

      Everything runs like clockwork in squeaky clean, efficient little
      Singapore. Well, almost everything at least. And what does the Ruling
      Elite do if there is a problem in their neat tidy backyard? They
      address it by way of laws, fines, taxes, imprisonments and law
      suites, this after all is the PAP way. It has worked in the past and
      it will always work in the future. But then again perhaps not.

      The tiny city state and its ever paternalistic government have a
      problem which cannot be solved by the usual cocktail of laws, fines,
      litigation and campaigns. This problem is a highly personal one which
      extends into the private bedrooms of its citizens. How does a well
      meaning parent tell its usually compliant and obedient children
      to "get on with it", to "make hay whilst the sun shines" and more
      directly put, to "go forth, procreate, multiply and reproduce."?

      Along with the status of a developed nation, Singapore has also
      inherited its trade mark problems. Its population (particularly the
      better educated and wealthier Chinese majority) is not replacing
      itself and birth rates have been declining continously over the
      years. And this is a problem which the paternalistic government
      cannot address in its usual draconian style. No, you cannot impose a
      fine, and neither can you pass a law to solve this sensitive issue.
      And if left unaddressed, there is every potential that the little
      city-state with its population of 4 million people will "develop"
      itself to extinction.

      The task is growing more urgent because the birth rate among
      Singapore's four million people is falling steadily and now
      languishes at 1.4 children per woman. That's below the 2.1
      demographers say is necessary for a population to replace itself.

      In the past, Singapore's ruling elite have approached the problem
      with their usual efficiency and diligence, by way of campaigns and
      policy implementations. Indeed, their attempt to play cupid had not
      gone unnoticed and has been the source of much amusement (see
      previous article attached below; "Government Promotes Unions Of Its
      Best and Brightest; Soul Mates in 7 Minutes?", The Wallstreet
      Journal).

      After several failed attempts, the "Powers that be" finally realized
      that (at least for matters of the heart, and bedroom type activities)
      they cannot point a gun to a person's head and mandate him/her to
      kick start the domestic baby making factory. No Mr Lee, it does not
      work this way, that's not how Adam and Eve started out, and that's
      certainly not how the Good Lord created the universe.

      Perhaps one reason for the government's dismal failures is the
      overwhelming emphasis on academic qualifications and other "hard
      factors". The government set-up two different social units to
      encourage marriage amongst the younger generation. One for graduates
      (SDU, Singapore's best and brightest?) and one for non-graduates
      (SDS). The underlying message of cause was that new generation of
      Singaporeans should choose their partners and marry within the
      confines of their own designated Academic Caste System. Hence, it is
      small wonder why many younger and more liberal minded Singaporeans
      find this archaic medieval academic caste system highly objectionable
      and terribly unromantic.

      Many may also remember the infamous "Graduate Mother Scheme" which
      the government tried to implement a decade ago. For those who are
      unfamiliar, it would be best described as the PAP's way to implement
      their version of the Laws of Un-Natural Selection, and propagate the
      ruling elite's own twisted version of the theory of evolution.
      Graduate couples were then given huge financial incentives and
      support to have more children. The rationale being that children from
      graduate couples were more likely to be intelligent and gifted. Of
      cause the flip side of the equation logically implied that children
      of non-graduate parents were total misfits and genetically inferior!

      This measure of the worth of a human life (accessed solely on
      academic merits) raised many questioning eyebrows, from graduates and
      non-graduates alike. And it came as no surprise that the scheme was a
      colossal failure, a heartening reflection that the Singapore
      population still retained some semblance of independent thought and
      dignity when it comes to matters of the heart at least

      But aside from the colossal failures of the government sponsored
      match making programs, a host of other factors account for the
      declining birth rates. "Go forth and multiply" you say? Well that's
      more easily said then done for the average couple in Singapore with
      an average household income of approximately SGD3-4000/-. Unless you
      are part of the ruling elite who take home a minimum net income of
      SGD150,000/- per month (or SGD1.6 million per year), (the average pay
      packet for a PAP minister), life is not easy in expensive little
      Singapore.

      The start-up costs for a new family can be staggering, with big
      ticket items like a car and a house. Even a 1.6 Litre Japanese car
      will cost at least SGD80,000/-, which is the equivalent of a decent 3
      bedroom house in some countries. And a small 1,200 Sq Ft apartment
      can set you back SGD1,000,000.- and more, depending on the locality
      and tenor. What about government "subsidised" housing?
      Well, "subsidised" housing here takes the form of HDB (Housing
      Development Board) flats which will cost between SGD200,000 to
      SGD400,000/-, the equivalent of a decent size house in Australia or
      New Zealand.

      And the costs and expenses do not stop here. The government has also
      imposed compulsory savings in the form of CPF (Central Provident
      Fund), which is mandatory and ties up approx 20% of the monthly pay
      of the citizens. There is no access to these funds until you reach
      the retirement age of 55 years. And if you fall ill or need a
      operation before this age, good luck matey you are on your own. Then
      there are the other daily expenses like ERP (Electronic Road
      Pricing), maid levies, GST, all of which is imposed in a city state
      which is conspicuously bereft of any public welfare or unemployment
      benefits.

      In short, staggering initial capital outlay required in starting a
      family here, as well as increasing costs of living, have paved the
      way for dual income households where both husband and wife typically
      work 12 hour days just to make ends meet. And after a hectic work
      day, there is little time left over for other more "romantic"
      pastimes, let alone raising a child.

      Even when there is an increase in marriage rates, there is no sure
      sign that this would reverse the declining birth rates as the vast
      majority of couples either opt not to have children, or in the event
      they do, the wealthy and affluent class (which are most targeted by
      the Singapore Government) have instead chosen to have children
      abroad. One such individual was a banker (who requested to remain
      anonymous) who stated that he would want his child to have a normal
      and happy childhood, as opposed to the rigid, oppressive and highly
      competitive pressure-cooked education system in Singapore. He took a
      3 week holiday and arranged for his wife to give birth to their
      bouncing baby boy in New York, so that the child had the rights and
      benefits of US citizenship. And theirs is not an isolated case as
      there are many who have opted for a better and easier life for their
      children via this route.

      Far from encouraging increasing birth-rates, a combination
      of dismal government policies and "social engineering", and
      unfavourable work and living conditions (for the locals) have
      resulted in an exodus of the more affluent segments of the
      population, further worsening an already bad situation.

      At the end of the day, the act of procreation is highly intimate and
      individualistic, very personal in nature. One really wonders if years
      of repressive indoctrination have robbed the native populace of the
      free will, independence and ability to rise to the occasion,
      instilling an over-dependent, compliant and submissive culture which
      is anti-thesis to the aggressive survival instinct that is crucial
      for reproduction.

      But not withstanding the difficult and oppressive social and
      financial environment moulded by the government, surely our fore
      fathers and distant ancestors have faced greater challenges in the
      past, and still managed to sow their royal oats and ensured the
      continued existence of their bloodlines? So what's really missing in
      Singapore's Procreation Equation? A liberal dose of good old
      fashioned love.

      One can almost picture the look of uncomprehending horror on the
      faces of the Ruling Elite. How preposterous, marry and procreate in
      the name of love? But that would mean breaching the Academic Caste
      System! GOOD HAVENS NO! We cant' have people running all over the
      place, haphazardly falling in love and procreating, that's wrong!
      That's not within the prescribed framework of the nicely laid out
      plans Singapore's Ruling Elite had crafted for Singapore Inc.

      But some would argue that "letting nature take its own natural
      course" is a formulae that has worked for humanity in the last two to
      five thousand years. Perhaps its high time some brave hearted martyr
      ventures forth and informs the "Powers that be in Singapore" that
      they should try a little bit of good old fashioned love (and throw in
      the obligatory bouquet of roses) and compassion, if they wished to
      play cupid.

      Perhaps its also time for the overzealous parent to leave the
      children some slack, they are all grown up and they have to figure
      this one out for themselves. Alternatively, does anyone have the
      recipe for Love Potion No 9. If you do, please mark it URGENT and
      forward it to the PAP.

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