Thursday, 4 February 2016

Tackling Singapore's baby shortage; 33,793 Singaporean babies born in SG50

600 more babies for SG50
Golden Jubilee year saw at least 33,793 births, exceeding even the figure in Year of the Dragon
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 3 Feb 2016

The feel-good factor of the SG50 celebrations and enhanced parental perks delivered 600 more babies to Singapore last year.

Latest official figures show the Golden Jubilee year ended with at least 33,793 new babies - the highest in 13 years.

THIS JUST IN: In Singapore's Jubilee Year, we welcomed 33,793 Singaporean babies into #OurSGfamily. This is such happy news! :)
Posted by Heybaby SG on Tuesday, February 2, 2016

It exceeded even the 33,238 births in 2012, the auspicious Year of the Dragon for Chinese births.

The bumper births are a sign that more young Singaporeans are starting to embrace marriage and parenthood, said Dr Kang Soon Hock, head of the social science core at SIM University.

Past parenthood packages and earlier policy interventions have "laid the groundwork" for the gradual mindset change, he said.

Singapore began tackling its dearth of births in 1987 and has over the years offered, among other things, tax rebates, baby bonuses, priority in getting bigger Housing Board flats and subsidies at specified childcare centres.

Last year, the new incentives included a doubling of the one-week paternity leave and an extra $2,000 in baby bonus.

Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, who oversees population issues, welcomed the 1.8 per cent rise over the figure in 2014.

"I am encouraged,'' she said on her Facebook page, adding that to keep the momentum going, she will focus on three areas.

They are: helping fathers play a more active role in raising their children, providing a bigger network of affordable quality childcare, and improving workplace and community support for young parents.

The birth figures refer to babies with at least one Singaporean parent. And last year's number, collated from the quarterly demographic bulletin issued by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, is not the final figure as it does not include Singaporean babies who have yet to be registered by the end of last year.

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan said the rising trend could continue, as the People's Action Party's landslide victory at last year's polls may bolster Singaporeans' confidence in the future of the country.

But getting more babies continues to be an uphill task, said the director of the Centre for Family and Population Research, Professor Jean Yeung.

The two main reasons are the low marriage rate and people getting hitched later. No less significant "is the actual cost and opportunity cost of having a baby", she said.

Among the new parents last year was Ms Tin Pei Ling, the MP for MacPherson, who said childcare services continue to be a need among her constituents.

"We need to do more to increase the availability of childcare spaces at workplaces and make them affordable," said Ms Tin, whose son is six months old.

Mr Louis Ng, an MP for Nee Soon GRC, said he hoped more employers, starting with the civil service, will adopt flexi-work arrangements to give their workers more quality time with their children. "It's just as important to emphasise the joy of raising children, even as we address the financial concerns."

Weak economic outlook could end Singapore's four-year streak of healthy birth numbers.
Posted by TODAY on Thursday, February 4, 2016

More childcare centres set up at workplaces
Numbers up by nearly 50% from 2012 as more women enter workforce
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 1 Feb 2016

For a growing number of parents, junior is only a stone's throw away in a childcare centre near their workplace.

Last year, there were 390 childcare centres at workplaces, which include those in commercial or government buildings, or industrial estates. This is a rise of nearly 50 per cent from that in 2012.

Last month, a childcare centre even opened on Sentosa. Islander Pre-School, under the EtonHouse chain, became the third pre-school there and caters to those working on the island.

Childcare centres at workplaces made up 31 per cent of more than 1,200 childcare centres here last year, up from 26 per cent in 2012, according to figures from the Early Childhood Development Agency.

The increase in such workplace childcare centres comes amid higher demand for childcare services as more women enter the workforce.

It also follows an enhancement of the Workplace Child Care Centre Scheme in 2013, to allow all building owners or employers to apply for grants that cover up to half the cost of converting their premises into a childcare centre for employees. Only government-owned buildings were eligible previously.

Firms with childcare centres in their office premises said there was high demand for such services and they wanted to support their staff.

OCBC - the first bank here to have an on-site childcare centre - partnered the National Trades Union Congress twice to set up The Little Skool-House centres.

One is at OCBC Centre in Raffles Place, set up in 2007, and the other was set up in Tampines Junction office complex in 2010 to meet the needs of parents in the bank's Tampines branch in a building nearby.

OCBC's head of human resource planning Jacinta Low said: "We want to give (our) staff peace of mind, knowing that their child is well cared for in a safe environment, and encourage employees to be more involved in the crucial growing years of their children."

But operators noted some companies may not be keen to have childcare facilities on their premises.

Ms June Rusdon, chief executive of Busy Bees Asia, which owns brands such as Learning Vision, said: "Some building owners have the perception that having a childcare centre negatively affects the 'image' of their building."

Kinderland Educare Services general manager Seet Lee Kiang also noted that some owners of private buildings seem less keen on allocating space for childcare facilities.

Meanwhile, firms said they benefit from having workplace childcare centres.

IT firm NCS' human resource head Doreen Loh said: "We've observed higher productivity and lower absenteeism rate among the parents." Parents said having children in centres at their workplace and not near their homes has benefits.

Mr Derrick Sim, 31, who co-owns a marine services company with his father, works in an office on Sentosa. His two-year-old daughter is enrolled at Islander Pre-School.

"My company is a family business, so having my child enrolled in a centre on Sentosa allows for more opportunity for family bonding, as both my father and I can spend time with my daughter," he said.

OCBC process and service innovation manager Rebecca Chiew, 32, has two sons in the pre-school in OCBC Centre.

She said: "I get to spend more time with them during our morning and evening commutes. Having the pre-school and my office in the same building is also useful during emergencies - I can rush to them quickly when the need arises."

Second-highest number of citizen marriages in ‘more than a decade’ in 2015: Josephine Teo

The 23,805 citizen marriages last year was lower than 2014’s 24,000, says the Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office. 
Channel NewsAsia, 13 Feb 2016

There were 23,805 citizen marriages last year, making it the second-highest “in more than a decade”, said Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Josephine Teo on Saturday (Feb 13).

In her blogpost, Mrs Teo said the number was slightly lower than in 2014. There were 24,000 marriages that involved at least one Singaporean in that year, according to statistics from the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD).

“My congratulations to each and every couple! I hope that they have a happy and fulfilling marriage,” she wrote.

The Senior Minister of State, who helps oversee the NPTD, cited three highly successful marriages, including the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his wife, saying that they are all characterised by “steadfast loyalty, commitment and devotion”.

“A fairy-tale wedding is nice, but it certainly does not guarantee a lasting marriage. Neither is it necessary,” Mrs Teo wrote.

HELLO, MY #VALENTINE![Note: This is apparently an online "myth" circulating since 2010. But, how nice a story for...
Posted by Josephine Teo on Saturday, February 13, 2016


She also said finding love and entering a marriage starts with “making time to find someone to build a relationship and to share your life with”.

She recounted her meeting with two groups of tertiary students last month to hear their dating experiences and challenges. One female student commented that there was no harm in being proactive so that “we can give fate a chance to work its magic”, Mrs Teo said, quoting the student.

“What about those of you who are single? Have you reached out to find that special someone? Remember, you need to be proactive – to give fate a chance to work its magic,” she suggested.

What's with Singapore's baby bump?
Insight takes a look at how the country is tackling the low fertility issue and what can be done.
By Pearl Lee, The Sunday Times, 14 Feb 2016

Giving cause for cheer, 33,793 citizen babies were born during last year's Golden Jubilee celebrations, the highest number in 13 years.

That tops even the 33,238 Singaporean babies born in the Dragon Year in 2012, which the Chinese believe to be an auspicious year to have children.

There have been numerous incentives in cash bonuses and subsidies over the years to encourage couples to have children. In 2013, the Marriage and Parenthood package cost the Government $2 billion.

Apart from handing out cash carrots, the Government is looking to support parents with their childcare duties, too. Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, who oversees population matters, said earlier this month that fathers may soon get two weeks of compulsory paternity leave.

Singapore's birth rates, however, continue to be in the ultra-low zone, under 1.4 - which is below the replacement rate of 2.1 children.

It is also too early to say if last year's uptick is a sign of a more permanent rise, or just a blip. Observers have put down last year's record number of babies to the celebratory mood of SG50.

But Professor Jean Yeung, director of the Centre for Family and Population Research, thinks last year's increase could be a one-off.

Prof Yeung says: "As economic uncertainty is looming, people tend to postpone major decisions on life events such as getting married or having a new baby."

This Valentine's Day, Insight looks at the fertility problem that continues to plague Singapore, as well as some creative solutions the Republic and other countries with similar population issues have come up with.

Tackling Singapore's baby shortage

Barriers to babyhood include getting Cupid's arrow to hit a target, money worries when couples do get together, and the loss of career and lifestyle ambitions. Insight looks at what's brooding about breeding.
By Pearl Lee, The Sunday Times, 14 Feb 2016

Ms Low Jia Xin, 27, intends to have just one child, although her husband would prefer two, or even more, kids.

It is just one for Ms Low because she is worried that is all they can afford, never mind that the couple have good jobs in the civil service.

Lawyer Jill Koh, 26, who will get married at the end of this year to her businessman fiance, is adamant she will have children only in her 30s.

Her reason: She wants to work and travel, which would be difficult with a baby in tow.

These were some replies Insight received when asking prospective parents why they want only one child, or are putting off having children. Over the years, the Government has thrown baby-making incentives at couples, including cash bonuses and grants, childcare subsidies, and parenthood and childcare leave, even subsidising the hefty cost of fertility treatment.

But for a country known to tackle problems swiftly and efficiently, Singapore has found itself stumped as it attempts to get more couples to have babies, and have them earlier.

Sure, 33,793 Singaporean babies were born during last year's Golden Jubilee, the highest number in 13 years. But Singapore still struggles with ultra-low fertility rates of below 1.4 - way below the replacement rate of 2.1 to maintain population levels.

Fertility rates are based on the average number of children born to a woman who completes her childbearing years.

The push for babies was in the spotlight earlier this month when the Government dangled a new carrot, saying it may make a second week of paternity leave compulsory, in addition to the current one week.

Some commuters were also upset by the latest fertility campaign from voluntary organisation I Love Children, whose advertisements in MRT stations feature cartoon sperm and slogans like "Women are born with a finite number of eggs".

But beyond the slogans, cash carrots and the usual Chinese New Year pressuring of newlyweds, what else does it take to get couples to not only take the plunge into parenthood, but to do so earlier and have more children too?


Not getting married early, not getting married at all, and worries about the costs of raising kids and the state of the economy are some of the factors behind the overall fertility slump, according to those interviewed by The Sunday Times.

Ironically, Singapore's push for higher education may have worked against the push for babies.

As women focused on their studies and careers, they put off plans for marriage and parenthood.

In 1970, the median age of a first-time bride was 23.1. By 1990, this rose to 25.3, and in 2014, 28.2.

As the chances of conceiving naturally decrease as a woman hits her 30s, those who marry after 30 are not likely to have large families.

Not only that, but the proportion of currently married, divorced or widowed women who stay childless has almost tripled in the past two decades.

In 2014, 11.2 per cent of women aged 40 to 49 - the age group that is likely to have completed childbearing - had no children. The figure was 4.2 per cent in 1994.

In a 2012 paper, National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Paulin Straughan says that while the state's pro-family policies are important, they speak only to those who are already married. However, the issue of couples not having children is one closely linked to people getting married later.

In today's world, where courtship strongly emphasises personal choice and self-fulfilment, choosing a life partner is made more challenging, says Dr Straughan. Hence, finding a partner takes a longer time. Compounding the problem are the goals and expectations young professionals set when they start work.

Most want to achieve a higher standard of living, and covet items such as cars and overseas trips. As they build their disposable income, most are happy to put off courtship and marriage, Dr Straughan says.

This means it is no longer unusual to remain single when one reaches the late 20s or 30s. Singles no longer feel social pressure to get married and have a family, she says.

Professor Jean Yeung, director of the Centre for Family and Population Research, shares a similar view. She tells The Sunday Times that the predominant reason for the low birth rate is the low marriage rate.

"Too many young people are not getting married. For those who do get married, we do get an average of 1.5 babies per couple," she says. "More resources need to be committed to boost the marriage rate if we want more Singaporean babies."

As for those who are married, financial issues - perceived or real - seem to weigh heavily.

Ms Low, who plans to have only one child, hopes to quit her job and stay at home when the stork delivers. "It is important to be there for the child," she adds.

But this also means the family's disposable income will decrease.

And as Dr Straughan points out, while most dual-income middle- class couples are able to provide basic childcare for their children, their wants are far greater.

This goes beyond compulsory mainstream education.

Even before the children are in primary school, their parents have enrolled them in tuition and enrichment classes in academic and non- academic areas.

With extra lessons becoming the norm and not the exception, household spending on tuition hit $1.1 billion in 2013, almost double the $650 million a decade ago.

And then there are economic uncertainties that weigh on couples.

Ms Low, who is a university graduate, as is her husband, says: "The Government can give cash grants and subsidies, and they give parents a good start.

"But having a child is for the long term. We don't know what the financial climate will be or how much a university education will cost in the future."

Indeed, after the 2009 global financial crisis, 30,131 citizen babies were born the following year, with the total fertility rate tumbling to a historic low of 1.15.

NUS sociologist Tan Ern Ser, who is also a council member at Families For Life, a council under the Ministry of Social and Family Development, says that parents, especially middle-class ones, are "most serious about their offspring having sufficient opportunities and resources to make it in life".

"A pessimistic economic outlook does not give much confidence that they can provide that," he says.


One area that could help prod reproduction is more flexibility in the workplace.

Dr Straughan says it is not realistic for the Government to keep giving cash grants and subsidies to encourage people to give birth.

What it can give that is valued by people is time.

And she has some ideas.

First, allow couples to split the maternity and paternity leave between themselves. "The opportunity cost would not fall solely on the mother this way," she says.

Second, let companies lump childcare leave and parent-care leave under the broader term of family leave. This way, everyone with either children or parents can take time off for caregiving duties, and employers will not be able to discriminate against one particular group of employees.

Third, normalise flexi-work.

Employees can work whenever and wherever they can, which means parents can focus on their job even at home, when junior is in school or asleep.

"We need to change the organisational culture to one of innate trust," adds Dr Straughan.

"But this is also the hardest to do."

Prof Yeung also believes the focus should be on reducing the opportunity costs of getting married and having children. This means giving women equal job advancement opportunities and giving men more time and space to be involved in family matters.

Mr Desmond Choo, an MP for Tampines GRC, is all for legislating flexi-work. He made his parliamentary debut last month calling for mothers to get eight weeks of flexible work arrangement, on top of the 16 weeks of maternity leave they now get.

He argued that this will help mothers transit from caring for a newborn to full-time work. And he has first-hand experience.

Mr Choo's civil servant wife Pamela Lee gave birth to their first child, Sarah, last September.

She took annual leave to stay with the baby after her maternity leave ended. He says: "The transition period is not easy. Mothers worry about whether the baby is able to adapt to a new routine, and the baby would have developed an attachment to the mother by this time.

"We have to be very sensitive to a parent's transition needs. There is a lot of anxiety for the mother. If the workplace is not supportive, the mother may feel stuck."

Companies have told him that such a flexi-work scheme would put a strain on them.

They also said that a two-week paternity leave scheme would burden other workers.

"But the view that women should stay home as the main caregiver is already an archaic one," Mr Choo counters. "Workplaces need to be flexible and progressive in order to maximise talent.

"I believe this will be a differentiating point to people. Talent will no longer just chase after a good salary, but also a workplace that supports them having a family."


That might be just the ticket for the likes of lawyer Ms Koh, who is sometimes in the office till midnight.

Having a child is not on the horizon now because, she says, "if I have kids, I will have to manage my work hours, and if I travel, it will have to be to kid-friendly places without long flights".

Ms Koh adds: "I do want to have children eventually, but I feel like I have to treasure my youth now."

But for some couples, state incentives, finances and career aspirations are irrelevant.

They have kids because they simply want them.

Take tax manager Cheryl Sia, 32, and pathologist Ng Tong Yong, 38.

The couple had their daughter, Christie, in 2013, and their son, Hansel, last year.

Ms Sia says: "It is not easy, and we are often tired. We don't have a maid and we don't drive. Our parents are also not able to help with childcare. But we want children."

The duo may have a third child when Hansel is slightly older.

Some adjustments had to be made. Both children were sent to a full-day infant care facility when they were four months old and Ms Sia's maternity leave ended.

She also switched to another role at work, as her previous project- based role meant she operated on unpredictable timelines.

Dr Ng also takes time off using his annual leave to tend to his children, if need be. He says: "Fathers are increasingly playing a more involved role in family matters. And for me, I want to do what I can to support my wife's decisions."

Government incentives have helped the couple cope with child- raising, but Ms Sia points out: "We definitely did not plan according to government grants and subsidies."

In a sign the Government will take a holistic approach to tackle the low birth rates, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his Chinese New Year message that the state will support parents and their child-raising responsibilities.

The family is one's "pillar of strength and support", and "cheers us on when we are down and rejoices with us when we achieve success", Mr Lee said. "Beside babies, family is also about living a full life, experiencing joys and sorrows over a lifetime together with our loved ones."

For Ms Sia, the invaluable rewards of motherhood are "the hugs and kisses" from her little ones.

Dr Kang Soon Hock, who heads the social science core at SIM University, says of the measures the state has pushed out: "There will always be people who do not wish to have children, and these measures may not do much to change their minds. But for those who are considering children, it helps to know such support exists.

"We have to try and remove as many barriers as we can."

But will workplace support, more paternity leave, cash carrots and a more family-friendly society be enough?

Or will the younger generations' aspirational desires for better lifestyles and careers, amid worries about the financial costs of raising children, hold sway?

As Ms Low, who has decided to stay home once she has a child, puts it: "I still struggle with my decision.

"My friends are all climbing the corporate ladder, and I don't want to miss out on that. But I know that a sacrifice has to be made if we want to have children."

What's stopping couples in Singapore from having more babies? Money worries are not the only barrier to having babies.
Posted by The Straits Times on Saturday, February 13, 2016

I, robot baby

By Pearl Lee, The Sunday Times, 14 Feb 2016

Sometimes, more cash and leave are not enough to nudge birth rates up. Here are some creative measures other countries have adopted to get more babies going.

Baby Yotaro, with a round head and gleaming "eyes", laughs, cries, gets sick and sneezes. It also requires tender loving care.

But the baby is not real. Nor is it a toy. It is a robot infant created by a group of student scientists in 2010 at Japan's University of Tsukuba.

The synthetic but cute Yotaro's mission is to help make people want to have children of their own.

The baby was originally "born" when the students wanted to create a robot with international appeal. Cue a robotic infant, which does not need to have language skills programmed.

But when they took Baby Yotaro to robot competitions, people were intrigued and wanted to touch and play with it.

Project leader Hiroki Kunimura realised Yotaro could well help Japan's fertility crisis.

In an interview with CNN in 2010, Mr Kunimura noted that young Japanese couples are so occupied with work they do not have opportunities to play and interact with babies.

But now, prospective parents can experience caring for Yotaro to see if they want a real baby.

But Japan needs more than just Baby Yotaro. In 2014, the fertility rate slipped to 1.42 from 1.43 the year before.

In Singapore, could a robot baby be key to triggering babymaking emotions? Professor Chen I-Ming, director of Nanyang Technological University's Robotics Research Centre, does not think so.

Using a robot infant to encourage couples to give birth "is a very Japanese idea", he says.

"Japan is obsessed with machines. The people keep robot dogs too," he adds, referring to Aibo, a home-use entertainment robot.

In Singapore, robots are used mainly for research purposes, says Prof Chen. "Besides, it is a huge jump, from playing with a robot, to having a baby."

Checking in for romance

By Pearl Lee, The Sunday Times, 14 Feb 2016

Sometimes,more cash and leave are not enough to nudge birth rates up. Here are some creative measures other countries have adopted to get more babies going.

When voluntary organisation I Love Children (ILC) launched an SG50 hotel promotion for couples last year, it became the butt of jokes among netizens.

They ribbed Singaporeans for needing external help to procreate. But in Singapore, where homes are not cheap and it is not uncommon for married couples to live with their parents, some private time may be just what they need.

Plus, Singaporeans love a good bargain, and a complimentary hotel buffet breakfast is always a draw.

On ILC's website, the organisation made it clear what the promotion was about - a staycation to help married couples "kick-start (their) family planning".

Its advertisement featured a man and a woman under pristine white bedsheets, smiling at each other. Twelve hotels took part, ranging from high-end Equarius Hotel in Resorts World Sentosa for $788 per night, to rooms at Village Hotel Changi for $170.

Most offered a package meant to help couples get in the mood for romance - complimentary chocolates, strawberries and wine, and a rose-petal bath.

One went the extra mile.

The boutique Naumi Hotel in Seah Street offered guests a copy of the Kama Sutra and a "naughty pack" of props.

The hotel is offering the same promotion this Valentine's Day.

ILC's campaign may lend itself to easy jokes. But Singapore is not the only country enticing couples to make whoopee while away from home.

In 2014, a travel company in Denmark, Spies Rejser, launched a campaign to urge Danes to go on a vacation and "do it for Denmark" while they relax and unwind.

Denmark, too, faces a population problem. Its birth rate is among the lowest in Europe, with 1.7 children born per family.

It may be hard to plan getaways on a whim in Singapore, where people work the longest hours in the world. So, a staycation would provide the perfect setting, without mum and dad interrupting.

How about some French ooh la la?

Sometimes,more cash and leave are not enough to nudge birth rates up. Here are some creative measures other countries have adopted to get more babies going.
By Chong Zi Liang, The Sunday Times, 14 Feb 2016

Despite Singapore's push for lifelong upgrading, one form of adult "learning" has not arrived here yet.

The French call it la rééducation périnéale, or the re-education of the perineum, the area where pelvic floor muscles reside.

Where the Singapore Government subsidises its people to pick up new skills to revitalise careers, the French state pays for a special kind of workout to get new mothers feeling like themselves again as soon as possible.

After going through the considerable physical exertions of childbirth, women are prescribed 10 sessions - courtesy of the taxpayer - of exercises to strengthen the muscles near the reproductive organs.

There, they are put through their paces as therapists guide them in learning to control and contract their vaginal muscles.

For accuracy's sake, electronic probes are used to measure the strength of the contractions and gauge progress. Each session costs between €20 (S$31) and €30, as prices vary across the country.

Those who complete the programme are rewarded with 10 classes of abdominal training to develop a strong core for proper posture.

These efforts are supposed to be the tune-up needed to get back in condition to bear another child.

In Singapore, KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) conducts a pre- and post-natal fitball class that includes pelvic floor exercises. Four sessions cost $161.57. There are no subsidies.

KKH senior physiotherapist Caroline Chua says such workouts speed up recovery after childbirth and are a boost to sex lives.

"Exercising the pelvic floor muscles helps to improve the blood circulation to the perineal area, therefore promoting arousal that will help to increase desire, especially in women," she says.

As the muscles control the bladder and bowel, strengthening them will help prevent incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse that might delay another pregnancy.

"These muscles cannot be seen, but you can feel them working, for instance, when you hold on to your urine or wind," she says.

Proponents of the French scheme have written about their experiences in international media such as The New York Times, expressing their delight at getting to know their bodies on a whole new level, and never having to worry about peeing a little every time they sneeze. And yes, there is the added benefit of getting into shape to wear a bikini as well.

Critics sneer at what they see as a leading sign of the European welfare state run amok.

But no one in the developed world can argue with France's total fertility rate, which was 2.01 in 2014 and has hovered around that number since it rebounded in the late 1990s. It is also far higher than the European Union's 1.58.

Admittedly, that French figure has been attributed to factors such as a conducive environment for mothers to continue working.

But Singapore's total fertility rate, which stood at 1.25 in 2014, needs all the lift it can get.

So, it is perhaps time for the Government to flex its financial might and make mothercare as widespread as childcare.

Ms Chua notes that men can do with some perineum re-education of their own. "In men, exercising the pelvic floor muscles will help to control erection and ejaculation, therefore preventing erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation," she says.

In the name of equality, men should also be encouraged to drill themselves in physical routines that improve stamina and vitality. Dads are cool; dad bods are decidedly not.

South Korean civil servants turn off lights to get turned on

By Chong Zi Liang, The Sunday Times, 14 Feb 2016

Sometimes, more cash and leave are not enough to nudge birth rates up. Here are some creative measures other countries have adopted to get more babies going.

In 2010, South Korea's Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family Affairs faced an embarrassing situation.

Although one of its tasks was to boost the country's birth rate, the procreation efforts of its own staff were proving limp. The average rate of its employees was only 1.16 children per couple, way below the 1.82 of civil servants countrywide.

So, it hit on a plan: All the lights in the ministry's building were switched off at 7pm sharp once a month. The hope was that employees would go home early and be in the mood for love.

The following year, there was a slight uptick in South Korea's total fertility rate, from 1.23 in 2010 to 1.24, although whether the ministry's blackout effort played a part is not known.

Perhaps a much bigger impact can be made here if, as the authorities like to say, a "whole-of-government approach" is taken.

Should the whole civil service ensure that no one clocks overtime once a month, 82,000 people will get to knock off work on the dot.

Observers point out that the country's interest might still be served if civil servants set aside workplace performance once a month, and embrace productivity in the bedroom instead.

The potential success can be exported to other industries. After all, the private sector looks to the civil service as a benchmark of employment practices as it is the biggest employer in Singapore.

Many businesses already support a blackout of sorts once a year during Earth Hour, when the use of lights is minimised.

And even if it all proves futile in the end, just think of all the fossil fuel Singapore would have saved.

Life isn't always planned

Change in mindset of couples here may be needed if Singapore is to reverse its dismal birth rate
By Chong Zi Liang, The Sunday Times, 14 Feb 2016

Chinese New Year is a time for kinship, overeating and endearingly stilted conversations with people you know you really should see more often.

But there is also nothing like a gathering of the extended family to serve as a reminder of the impending demographic crisis facing Singapore.

My mother, who at 67 is old enough to have sung three different national anthems during her time in school, is the third of seven siblings.

Between them, they produced 11 children, with my second uncle having the biggest brood. He fathered three during the 1960s and 1970s, when concerns about overpopulation led to the Stop At Two policy.

At 30, I am the second youngest in my generation of 11. And yet, I have only three nieces and nephews.

To put it more starkly, it has been over a decade since the stork last visited my mum's side of the family.

Like many other developed countries, Singapore has learnt the hard way that education and the modern lifestyle are the most effective 
contraceptives ever invented.

Barring a dramatic reversal of attitudes, the country will be struggling to even come close to the replacement rate of 2.1 children per couple for a long time to come.

As with many Singaporeans, the constant drumbeat of news about the dismal situation has meant that I have lodged it at the back of my mind.


Once in a while, it floats up in my consciousness that running out of Singaporean babies could very well be our extinction event.

But it is not human nature to want to tackle a problem that is far away and over the horizon, one that seems to be too large for a single individual to deal with anyway.

A sudden, external threat can rally a nation.

But a slow-acting malaise - climate change being a prominent example - eats away while people go about their daily lives. So, too, with the population issue.

The 2006 film, Children Of Men, portrays a world that has suffered two decades of global human infertility. Instead of putting the best minds together to solve the problem, mankind descends into chaos and war, while society slowly rots away in despair.

To its credit, the Government has been emphasising the joys of parenthood and family bonding instead of sounding the doomsday scenario to scare people into procreation.

But Gen Y has not yet obliged with a resounding response to the numerous childbearing carrots over the years.

The first years of the 2000s, when people of my generation entered their 20s, saw a sharp decline in citizen births, from 41,617 in 2000 to 35,337 in 2002.

Last year's so-called bumper crop of at least 33,793 Jubilee year babies is the closest we have gotten to that number since.

As for myself, just two years ago, I would have said an emphatic "no" to the question of having children.

It seemed like a statement of fact, much like the answer to whether there are winters in Singapore.

Now, should I be confronted with unexpected news that I am to become a father, I suppose the initial shock would give way soon enough to an acceptance that life is about to enter a once unfathomable dimension. (No congratulations needed, this is strictly hypothetical.)

My evolving view on parenthood will hardly have women eager to start a family swooning over me.

But in the eyes of the authorities, it is, at least, a shift in the right direction.

Perhaps it is time for everyone to break out of the mental block that babies should be conceived only in the perfect scenario of a stable marriage and after careful planning by a couple who has enjoyed at least two years of marital bliss.

But no. Real life is often unplanned. And real life is frequently messy.

Sometimes, new life is brought into this world because a couple decides to forgo protection just this once for the heck of it and, come on, what are the odds?

And sometimes, it even occurs outside of wedlock for this exact reason. It is not an ideal situation, but I have already seen this happen to people around me to know that life, well, happens.

I believe that Singaporeans instinctively understand this.

Which was why many cheered the news last year that the Government was reviewing some of the discrepancies in benefits that unwed mothers receive compared with their married counterparts.

In the meantime, efforts will no doubt be made to continue to cajole, coax and persuade people to have more children.

Will my time come?

I do not know yet, but just three years ago, a hailstorm rained down on our tropical, sunny island.

Officials from the National Population and Talent Division went on a study trip to South Korea and Denmark last month to...
Posted by The Straits Times on Saturday, April 2, 2016

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