08/26/2004, 00.00
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New Prime Minister Lee promises government funds for couples who want more children

Singapore (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The government of Singapore will pay families to boost record-low birth rates, new Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his inauguration speech.

Mr Lee unveiled plans to increase maternity leave and cut working hours to allow single people to meet more easily.

At a forecast 9% Singapore's economy is growing fast this year but so are divorce and unemployment rates. Analysts warn that future growth may be hampered by an aging workforce.

To encourage bigger families, the government plans to reimburse companies for the cost of an employee's first four children as well as raise maternity leave from 8 to 12 weeks.

Singapore's birth rate dropped last year to 1.26 babies per woman of childbearing age, a record low compared to 5.8 in the 1960s.

The number of couples without children has tripled in the past 24 years and is now at 6%.

To help single people meet, government workers will hitherto work only five days a week, half a day less than at present. (LF)

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