01/30/2014, 00.00
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In the Year of the Horse, Singapore's PM calls for more marriages and children

In his message to the nation for the Lunar New Year, Lee Hsien Loong focuses on the birth rate. Last year, the rate dropped from 1.29 in 2012 to 1.19. On Valentine's Day, 300 couples will be married. The goal is to bring the birth rate to the replacement minimum of 2.1.

Singapore (AsiaNews/Agencies) - In anticipation of the Lunar New Year, which this year falls on January 31 marking the transition from the Year of the Snake to the Year of the Horse, Singapore Prime Minister of Lee Hsien Loong urged young couples to get off to a "galloping start" and have more children, to reverse a birth rate that has been dropping for too many years.

In his message to the nation on New Year's Eve, the prime minister said that the city-state needs "enough children to form the next generation", something essential, Lee noted, at a time of high immigration and a flagging birth rate.

"Unfortunately, despite our efforts to promote marriage and parenthood, our birth rates are still too low," the prime minister said.

In fact, at the beginning of last year, the government of Singapore took steps to boost the birth rate, announcing an increase in baby bonuses and longer family leave.

The two measures came on top of a broader policy designed to promote population growth and reduce dependence on immigrants.

Yet, the birth rate continue to drop. Singapore's current fertility rate is 1.19 babies per female, down from 1.29 in 2012.

The rate for ethnic Chinese Singaporeans, who make up 74 per cent of the resident population, is even lower, at 1.06.

"We must try to do better. I hope the Year of the Horse will see some improvement," Lee said.

After 40 years of anti-family policies, the prime minister has tried to reverse the trend in the past two years by persuading Singaporeans to marry young and have children.

Lee Kuan Yew, the father of the current prime minister and the Father of the city-state, introduced family planning policies in the 1950s and 1960s that legalised abortion and promoted sterilisation to contain the rapid growth of the population.

Despite incentives and recent initiatives in favour of couples, Singapore has failed to raise its fertility rate to 2.1, the minimum threshold for the native population's replacement.

The 61-year-old prime minister also relies on fate to boost the birth rate. This year, he noted that Valentine's Day falls on the auspicious 15th day of Lunar New Year festivities known as Chap Goh Mei.

"Almost 300 couples have registered to marry on this auspicious day, so we are off to a galloping start," he said. "I hope to hear more wedding bells and new-borns' cries throughout the year."

Smaller than New York and without natural resources, the city-state's 2010 gross domestic product (GDP) stood at 285 billion Singapore dollars (about US$ 231 billion), up 14.5 per cent, the highest in all of Asia.

However, wealth is not equally distributed and the city-state's economic prosperity has accentuated the disparity among citizens.

Singapore's Gini coefficient - a measure of income distribution inequality - now stands at 0.48 (it was 0.444 in 2000).

The Gini coefficient ranges between zero (perfect equality) and one (perfect inequality).

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