Singapore (AsiaNews) Wei Siang Yu, an eccentric Singapore medical doctor nicknamed "Dr. Love", is organizing a TV talk show to encourage couples to have children. The program will be followed by a reality show called "Dr Love Superbaby Making Show" in which 10 couples of various nationalities compete to be the first to bear a child.
This unique initiative has the potential to become an answer to country's drastically declining birth rate, a fact which has concerned Singapore authorities for quite some time. Singapore is a country which is not replacing its elderly population with the same number of newborns.
Dr. Wei Siang Yu says government incentives are inadequate: "Everything can't be solved via national policies Money can't resolve everything. We must also take into consideration people's feelings and emotions."
In 2002 the country's birth rate fell to an all-time low of 1.4, much lower than the 2.1 needed to have a growing population. The birth rate had already fallen considerably over the years, from 5.5 in 1960 to 1.7 in 1990.
During 2002 43,000 babies were born in a population of 4,138,000 inhabitants, with 1,046,000 people younger than 18 and 253,000 under age 5. Persons over age 60 form 12% of the total population.
An increase in births occurred in the year 2000, the year of the dragon a year considered to be most fortunate in the Chinese calendar. During that year around 47,000 babies were born.
The government's encouragement of couples to have children has become all the more frequent and pressing lately. Countless campaigns and financial incentives have been set up to encourage families to have more children, as in lower taxes for families after their 3rd child, subsides for child assistance, special concessions for signing children up at schools for families with several children as well as concessions in government allotment of homes and paid maternity leave up to 4 years.
In 2001 a Baby Bonus government aid program was proposed, promising an annual check worth 500 Singapore dollars (291 US dollars) for a family's 2nd child and 1000 Singapore dollars (582 US dollars) for its 3rd. The program also included paid maternity leave for the 3rd child.
In the past Singapore complained about the opposite problem and the government tried to regulate the way in which the population grew.
Between 1947 and 1957 the rise in life expectancy, the increase in birth rates together with immigration form Malaysia caused the country to grow annually by 4.4%.
Since 1949, the Singapore Family Planning Association has offered assistance and family planning advice to couples and since 1960 has received government funding. In 1996, the government instituted the Family Planning and Population Board to guarantee health care services and education on family planning.
In 1970. to counteract the new upswing in the country's amount of births, the government legalized abortion and voluntary sterilization. From 1969-72 it established a series of policies known as "population disincentives", increasing costs for families with more than 2 children in that maternity leave was no longer paid and hospital payments and taxes were increased for each additional child.
Large families no longer had priority in the government's allotment of homes, while single children and parents who had opted for voluntary sterilization were give preference in their choice of primary schools.
Moreover, voluntary sterilization was compensated with 7 days of paid sick leave in addition to benefits in allotment of homes and education. Publicity campaigns urged parents to "stop at two", warning families of the risks to their income and future security if they had more children.
The country's poor classes felt the financial restraints even more so. Nonetheless, the government justified its policies by saying it encouraged poor people to concentrate their limited resources on the few children they had, in order to lift them out of the poverty felt by their parents' generation.
In the 1980s Singapore authorities began becoming concerned at the population's fall in number, especially in terms of the rate of births among educated women.
In 1984 the government introduced certain polices in favor of educated women with many children and the marriage of couples with university degrees, while offering 10,000 Singapore dollars (5820 US dollars) to women with lower degrees who sterilized themselves after their second child.
The governemnt slogan "stop at two" was changed to "make three or more, if you can afford them". (MR)