Monday 22 July 2013

42,663 babies in 2012

Fewer kids with both parents from Singapore
A rising number of babies are being born to Singaporeans with foreign spouses. Theresa Tan and Jane Ng examine the implications of this demographic shift.
The Sunday Times, 21 Jul 2013

There were 42,663 babies born in Singapore last year, but only half of them had parents who were both Singapore citizens. Their proportion of all births shrank sharply from 2000.

The rest were born to citizens with foreign spouses, or foreign couples. And this group swelled considerably from before.

It is a significant demographic shift, experts say, with implications for what it means to be Singaporean and how to integrate foreigners who are here to stay.

The data on parents' nationality appears in the Report on Registration of Births and Deaths 2012, published by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) this month.

A comparison of birth statistics for 2000 and 2012, both auspicious Dragon Years in the Chinese zodiac, shows:

A sharp decline in the number of babies with parents who are both Singaporean - 22,650 (53.1 per cent of all babies) last year, down from 31,308 (66.6 per cent).

Slightly more babies born to Singaporeans and their foreign spouses - 10,588 (24.8 per cent) last year, up from 10,309 (21.9 per cent).

The number of babies born to parents who are both foreigners has nearly doubled - 9,425 (22.1 per cent) last year, from 5,380 (11.4 per cent).

Sociologists and demographers say the shift comes as fewer Singaporeans are marrying and having babies and more marry foreigners.

Meanwhile, the number of permanent residents (PRs) and non-residents such as foreign workers doubled from one million in 2000 to two million last year and this explains the sharp rise in the number of babies born to foreigners here.

Demographer Gavin Jones noted that the ICA statistics shed some light on immigration patterns, giving a rare breakdown of data by nationality. For instance, the statistics suggest a significant presence of newcomers from Asean countries, China and India.

Babies born to couples from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, for example, formed 4.5 per cent of babies born last year - more than triple the 1.3 per cent in 2000.

According to the Census 2010, the Indian and Others minorities in the resident population grew over the previous decade, while the proportion of Chinese and Malays shrank.

Sociologists say the changes also mean the country is looking at a shrinking "Singaporean core" or may have to redefine what it means to be Singaporean.

How many of the babies with a foreign parent will stay for the long haul is a question to ponder, said sociologist Paulin Straughan. This can affect population size, especially given the baby shortage and ageing population here.

"This is a wake-up call that policies must evolve with the demographic shift," she said.

Singapore should offer dual citizenship to children of Singaporean-foreigner unions, she added, to attract these children to choose Singapore as their home when they grow up.

Children of foreign parents may find the national school system a good way to integrate into the Singapore way of life, said sociologist Tan Ern Ser, but there is a need to determine if there are sufficient places in schools for these children, while still giving priority to Singaporeans.

Singaporean couples interviewed were surprised to learn of the large number of babies born to foreigners.

But Singaporean teacher Yvonne Neo, 30, felt racial and national boundaries are blurring as more Singaporeans marry foreigners or Singaporeans of a different race.

She is married to a Malay Singaporean, teacher Mohamed Shahrom Taha, 34, and they have a seven-month-old son, Mohamed Mikail.

She said: "Everyone is worried that we are living in a less Singaporean society, but we have been an immigrant society all along. We must learn to be more inclusive while raising our kids."

Marriages with men from China on the rise
By Jane Ng, The Sunday Times, 21 Jul 2013

Singaporean Cara Ng, 43, never thought she would marry a man from China, not least because of her poor command of Chinese.

But Cupid struck after her mother introduced her to Mr Zhang Lei, who was armed with a medical degree from China and was here to do his Master of Science degree. Now 49, he is a Chinese physician.

Her mother met his grandmother at a taiji class and they decided to play match-makers.

After an eight-month romance, they tied the knot and have since overcome misunderstandings caused by language differences. They have three daughters aged between 15 and 17 and a 15-month-old son.

Madam Ng, an accountant turned housewife, said her Chinese has improved but "when I get angry, I scold him in English".

A small but growing number of babies are born to Singaporean women and their husbands from China. There were 306 such babies last year, comprising 0.7 per cent of all births, up from just 64 (0.1 per cent) in 2000.

When it comes to babies born to Singaporean mothers with foreign husbands, Malaysian men still top the list. But the number of babies born to such couples has dipped. There were 1,384 babies (3.2 per cent of all births) last year, down from 1,560 (3.3 per cent) in 2000.

There was a rise in the number of babies born to Singaporean women and men from Australia, America, Britain and countries classified as Others, including countries in Europe, Africa and South America.

Sociologists say that for Singaporeans with foreign spouses, men tend to marry Asians, whereas women tend to pair up with Westerners.

This is because the local men tend to be less educated and seek brides from poorer countries, while the women are better educated and may meet their partners while studying or working abroad.

One reason for the rising number of women pairing up with men from China could be the emergence of Chinese middle-class professionals.

Match-maker Horatio Li, boss of Good Luck Friends Centre, sees more male Chinese professionals seeking wives. Ten years ago, he had no such clients.

He said: "Some of these Chinese men studied in the United States or Britain, speak good English and have good incomes. These are qualities Singaporean women like."

Wives may face visa problems
By Theresa Tan, The Sunday Times, 21 Jul 2013

Singaporean property agent Dennis Ng's first marriage to a Singaporean ended after three years and no children.

Now 40, he says he is enjoying marital bliss with his 24-year-old Vietnamese wife Nguyen Thi Dieu Hien, whom he met when she came to Singapore to visit her sister, who is also married to a Singaporean.

"We can click. Our lives are really simple but we are very happy," he said. "Singaporean women's expectations are increasing and this gives the men pressure. One reason my first marriage broke down was the differences in expectations."

The couple married last year after a whirlwind romance and they have a seven-month-old son, Jayden. A second baby is already on the way.

Like Mr Ng, more Singaporean men are starting families with foreign women, in particular those from China and Asean countries.

Last year, 16.9 per cent of all babies born had a Singaporean father and a foreign mother, up from 15.6 per cent in 2000.

While Malaysian mums still topped the list of foreign women who had babies with Singaporean men, the number of babies from this group declined considerably from 3,763 (8 per cent of babies born in 2000) to 2,411 (5.7 per cent) last year.

There were also fewer babies born to Singaporean men with Indonesian wives.

But the number born to Singaporean men and women from China rose from 1,122 (2.4 per cent in 2000) to 2,034 (4.8 per cent) last year.

There was also a sharp rise in the number born to women from Asean countries excluding Malaysia and Indonesia. They had 1,498 babies (3.5 per cent last year), up from 676 (1.4 per cent) in 2000.

Matchmakers and those who work with foreign brides say a growing number of Singaporean men are marrying Chinese, Filipino, Thai and Vietnamese women.

Many of these men tend to be older and poorer and their marriages to poor foreign women face unique challenges, social workers note.

The wives may find it hard to stay in Singapore for long periods and families risk being broken up if the woman cannot extend her visa.

Many such foreign wives are here on long-term visit passes of between three months and a year. Some get only tourist visas for a month, said Ms Elizabeth Tan of the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, a Catholic group that helps foreign brides.

There are also professional Singaporean men who meet their spouses while working abroad.

Assistant manager Alvin Tan, 35, met his Chinese wife Xue Bo, 37, while running a business consultancy in Kunming, China. Both are graduates and have been married for five years.

He said: "We just hit it off. I find it very easy to talk to her and we both share the Christian faith."

They moved to Singapore in 2009 to start a family and Ms Xue is now a permanent resident and working as an accounts assistant. They have two children, daughter Xin Rui, four, and son Shao Jie, two.

"Some of my friends say Singaporean girls are too demanding but I think it depends on who you meet," he said. "It's so hard to find true love so let's not judge people by their nationalities."

More choose to have their babies here
By Jane Ng, The Sunday Times, 21 Jul 2013

Rajat and Aarti Nagpal arrived in Singapore from India in 2011 and had their second child here last year.

Mr Nagpal, 34, a regional director at Expedia, said Singapore's medical facilities and cleanliness were among the factors that helped them decide to have a baby here.

"It is closer to our home country - we have a flight every four hours to India," he said.

Their born-in-Singapore baby boy is now seven months old. They also have a nine-year-old daughter.

Indian nationals Anupriya and Nitin Chellani had both their sons here. Rian is four and Aadit is four months old. Mr Chellani, 33, came here in 2004 and works in a bank. The family are Singapore permanent residents.

Mrs Chellani, 31, a part-time teacher, said: "Singapore is a very convenient place to live and work. There is no racism and it is a multi- cultural and multi-ethnic place. It has the international appeal, the infrastructure and facilities. And I want my children to grow up in a safe environment."

They are among a rising number of foreign couples who had babies here last year.

From 2000 to last year, the number of babies born to couples from the Indian sub-continent tripled to 1,935 (4.5 per cent of all babies), the number born to Chinese couples doubled to 1,100 (2.6 per cent), and the number for those from Asean countries - excluding Malaysia and Indonesia - shot up fivefold to 1,221 (2.9 per cent).

No statistics are available for Asean babies by nationality, but a Philippine Embassy spokesman said the number of Filipino workers here has risen over the past decade. About 60 per cent of the 160,000 Filipinos here are skilled workers and professionals, and the rest are maids.

"Filipinos love children and we like big families. In fact, the Philippines is one of the few Asian societies which is not expected to age considerably in the coming years," she added.

Filipino housewife and Singapore permanent resident Shirley Velasco, 33, considered going back to the Philippines to have her second child as it would cost less there, but eventually had her baby here.

"Singapore is safe for raising children - I don't have to worry about kidnapping. The education is of a good quality too," said Madam Velasco, who has been here since 2008.

Her Filipino husband Lawrence Erfe, 34, is an architect and also a permanent resident here. They have a seven-year-old daughter and a son who was born last year.

Apart from India and the Philippines, many couples who had babies here last year were from China.

Mr Tony Du, 58, chairman of new immigrant group The Tianfu Association, said Chinese nationals are attracted by Singapore's "fairer system" in education and in the workplace.

"In China, you would need connections to get ahead. Here, hard work can get you far," said the engineer, who came here in 1991 as a supervisor in a poultry factory and eventually brought his wife and son over. The Du family got citizenship in 1994.

Malaysian couples bucked the trend by having fewer babies here than before. The number went down from 1,622 (3.5 per cent of all babies) in 2000 to 1,199 (2.8 per cent) last year.

A Malaysian High Commission spokesman said that could reflect a rise in the number of Malaysian career women who may not want as many children as before, and difficulty in finding affordable housing and childcare here.

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