SINGAPORE: New pro—family and pro—baby initiatives are expected to be announced early next year, in conjunction with the release of the White Paper on Population.
They will cover a wide spectrum of areas, including support for housing, medical costs and childcare.
Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Chan Chun Sing, said beyond monetary incentives, the key is in getting Singaporeans to give as much priority to starting a family as they do to their careers.
He was speaking to the media, sharing priorities for the new Social and Family Development Ministry, which he will helm from November 1.
Singapore’s total fertility rate (TFR) of 1.2 is a far cry from the replacement level of 2.1.
The government recently set a new target —— to raise the TFR to 1.4 or 1.5.
Mr Chan admitted it is "a stretch target", but not impossible to achieve.
"If you look at the other equivalent Asian societies, I think quite a number of (their TFRs) are below 1," said Mr Chan.
"If we can encourage and help our people to settle down earlier, and if we can encourage those who have settled down to have their first baby earlier, then it is possible."
He explained: "If you look at it at a very mathematical or mechanical sense, a birth (takes place with) about a two—year interval on average, so if people settle down a bit earlier and have their first child a bit earlier, then they won’t run up the biological clock of both the male and the female, and then you will have the chance to reach the stretch target."
The decision to get married and have children is deemed as a personal one, and that is a challenge which the government has to overcome in encouraging Singaporeans to settle down early.
The government intends to promote the joys of family among Singaporeans.
Mr Chan said his ministry will work with agencies such as the National Population and Talent Division as well as the Education Ministry to strengthen the transmission of such values.
He also stressed that families play a crucial role in encouraging marriage and parenthood.
"You give up something, perhaps your ability to travel a few weeks overseas to an exotic place, you may give up some of the other (lifestyle) patterns but you gain something else," he said.
"I always remember this advice, from one of my seniors: there is never a perfect time to get married or to have a child because all conditions are right, but the perfect time is when you have made the commitment to overcome life’s challenges with your partner to build a family."
Heeding practical concerns, the government will also roll out new measures under the Marriage and Parenthood package.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong mentioned some of them during his National Day Rally Speech in August.
Some measures include more help with housing for young couples, subsidies for infant care and childcare as well as a Medisave account for every child at birth.
Mr Chan said details will be revealed by the individual ministries—in—charge.
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