"The Best Role For Women Is At Home." Is This The Solution To Singapore's Falling Birth Rate?
"It is not gender discrimination. It recognizes that the best role for women is at home."
Singapore's birth rate continues to drop, despite the various measures rolled out by the government over the years, including the baby bonus. The total fertility rate has dipped from 1.16 in 2017, to 1.14 in 2018, which is much below the replacement rate of 2.1.
Latest numbers from the Report on Registration of Births and Deaths 2018 say that the number of babies born in Singapore in 2018 was 39,039 - a 1.5 % drop from 2017.
So, what will it take to get our fertility rate healthy again?
According to Singaporean businessman and former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NTUC Income, Tan Kin Lian, Singapore should follow China's strategy of encouraging women to stay at home and produce children.
In a Facebook post on 17 July 2019, Mr Tan Kin Lian says, "China is addressing the problem of low birth rate. It is encouraging women to stay at home and produce children. It seems to be working - as the women participation rate in the workforce dropped from 75% to 61%."
"It is not gender discrimination. It recognizes that the best role for women is at home."
"My family believed this approach. My wife did not work after we got married. She did an excellent job to raise three children. She is now helping to look after 4 grandchildren. There is no point for her to be stressed out in the office!
"I have a good friend who is now the CEO of a large company. His wife also stopped working to look after their three children. He said that this is meaningful for the family and for her.
"Many women prefer to work. It is their choice.
"But I hope that it is possible for more women to opt to stop working. We have to make it possible for the family to rely on one income. The women should not be forced to work just to supplement the family income."
Do you agree on Mr Tan Kin Lian's views on Singapore's falling birth rates, readers?
Our community feels that this is not the only way to address the declining birth rate in the country. Here are some ideas which we propose instead (as well as those from theAsianparent readers), on how to improve Singapore's birth rate.
1. Improve Grandparent Caregiver Relief
Currently, grandparents helping to care for grand-kids can only claim relief for one child. Given that Singaporean women should have three children each if the birth rate is to be improved, then, Grandparent Caregiver Relief should also increase accordingly.
2. Reduce the levy for domestic helpers
"This should be compatible with how many children you have. For example, if you have more than four kids, then you should not have to pay the levy at all." --Rani Kaur, 31
3. More sick children leave
"When kids fall ill, they usually don't recover in just a day or two. Also, if you have more than one child, it's likely the other child will also fall ill. As such sick children leave should be at least one week per parent."says mummy Sumita Menon, 29
4. Modify the Baby Bonus
While what is currently offered is attractive, there's no added incentive to urge parents to have more than two kids. The current scheme is the same for having either one or two children. Ideally, the bonus should dramatically increase for babies two and three, and drop for baby one and four (and beyond).
5. Provide proper training for domestic helpers
"The fact remains that when resources are scarce, and when they don't have much help, women will postpone motherhood. In Singapore, we need to make sure it is affordable to have a child and make sure that our domestic helps are quality and not just quantity.
"We need to make sure the helpers we bring in are capable of handling children, so we are comfortable to leave our kids with them." says mummy Siti Haslinah, 35
6. Working Mother's Child Relief and tax breaks improved
Similar to how the baby bonus can be made more attractive for parents of more than two kids, tax breaks and the Working Mother's Child Relief subsidy too should peak for those with three children.
For example, Hungary has recently announced a host of measures looking to boost the country's birth rate. Prominent among this is a waiver on personal income tax for women raising at least four children (for the rest of their lives).
7. Create "alone time" for parents
"Offer two weeks heavily subsidized camps for kids above three years. That way parents are “free” to even consider procreating. Otherwise we are so bogged down with our first child; we can’t even begin to consider the prospects of expanding our brood." - Lina Lau, 26
8. Ability to employ more domestic helpers
Those families with three children should be allowed to hire three domestic helpers. The current cap is at two helpers per household.
9. Schools should match their hours with work hours
"One reason that I don’t want children is that I am a career woman. I am not the sort to quit my job if I have kids, and yet I don’t want to leave my child with a maid.
"So schools should increase their hours to match with work days. Schools shouldn’t start at 7 am, but at 8.30am and they should not end at 2pm but at 6pm. Breakfast, lunch and dinner should be provided at school (either through the canteen or lunch box), as well as a nap time.
So when we come home, we will not be bogged down with homework and feeding the kids, but we can spend quality time." says mummy Tan Li Fern, 30
10. Improve maternity leave
Maternity leave should be an additional one month for every extra child a woman has. For example, four months for first baby (current leave allocation), five months for second baby, six months for third baby. Also, an additional 15 days should be given for multiple births or difficult pregnancies.
"It all boils down to one simple word. SEX. As a survey suggested, Singaporeans aren’t having enough sex and are still still close-minded about having sex. The parliament should start a campaign to make it fashionable to have sex." says Simon Lin, 32
12. Improve paternity leave
Paternity leave should be increased to one month for the second baby, and two months for the third baby.
13. Educate our teenagers
"We need to start educating our older children about having children. Not just should we offer design and technology and home economics in school, we should have a handling a baby class.
"A lot of us, especially men, are terrified of babies, because we have never been around them. If we are exposed to babies from a young age, it wouldn’t be so foreign when we finally have one!" says Prem Gohel, 37.
14. Active campaigns around promoting extended breastfeeding
Milk powder is expensive and there is still a stigma around breastfeeding for longer than six months. To overcome these hurdles, create more awareness about the health and other benefits of breastfeeding for longer.
15. Subsidise milk powder
At the same time, subsidies for milk powder should be available until the child is three years old -- it's one of the biggest costs for many mothers who choose to stop breastfeeding early.
16. Make Singapore more baby friendly
"Build more nursing rooms in shopping centres and playgrounds for kids to play at. Offer babysitting services at restaurants and gyms." says Dominic Sun, 22
17. Free fertility checks
This should be offered to all Singaporean mothers when her first child turns two to see if she is ready for the second baby.
18. Better housing offers and benefits
"We should have a scheme where the more children you have, you are entitled to upgrade your HDB to a bigger flat or to a condo. E.g. Only one child, can only buy three-room flat.
"With two children, you can buy three- or four-room flat and so on. Couples with no children are not entitled to buy anything more than a three-room flat." – Kalvin Tam, 38
19. Reduced medical cost for having second child and subsequent children
On average, giving birth (vaginal delivery) in a public hospital ranges from around S$3,740 to S$5,731.
In a private hospital, this cost jumps to between S$6,048 to S$11,267. A C-section would be even more costly. It's no wonder then that many Singaporeans stop at having just one child.
20. Improved childcare services for working mums
"Let working mothers bring their kids to work (provide creche or child-care facilities) so they can be with their kids during lunch time." says Monica Lim, 26
21. Paid time off should be given for gynae visits
Regular visits to the gynaecologist are a must to ensure the well-being of Singaporean women, including reproductive health. Yet, given that there's no paid leave for these important health checks, many women will choose not to go.
This means fertility issues -- like endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) -- may go unchecked and undiagnosed.
22. More work-at-home opportunities
"There should be more home-based jobs for mothers, so they can work from home and care for their kids." says mummy Iris Sim, 29.
23. More flexi-hours
Employers should offer flexi-hours for parents who care for multiple children.
24. Higher subsidies for infant care
Preschool/ infant care fees should drop for those with two children. The third child should be offered free care.
25. More part-time opportunities
"The government should enforce a regulation to enforce company to hire mothers as part-timers so that they can be with the child." says mummy Nita Rao, 34
26. Cancel car CoE (Certificate of Entitlement) for parents with three kids and above
It's not easy transporting more than one or two kids by public transport. Again, we should take a page out Hungary's book and offer subsidies for large families to buy larger cars. Or cancel the car CoE altogether for parents of three or more kids.
27. Free education and childcare
"Education and childcare should be free-of-charge up till University level." says Rishi Maniam, 39
28. Free health care
"Children should get free health care up to age 21. This will help improve low birth rates." says Terence Oh, 36
29. Subsidies for basics
"Parents in Singapore pay a lot for basic necessities like milk powder and diapers. We should receive vouchers to redeem them for a subsidised rate." says Tejwinder Singh, 33
Also read: Fertility Clinics in Singapore