600 more babies for SG50

The feel-good factor of the SG50 celebrations and enhanced parental perks delivered 600 more babies to Singapore last year.

Latest official figures show the Golden Jubilee year ended with at least 33,793 new babies - the highest in 13 years.

It exceeded even the 33,238 births in 2012, the auspicious Year of the Dragon for Chinese births.

The bumper births are a sign that more young Singaporeans are starting to embrace marriage and parenthood, said Dr Kang Soon Hock, head of the social science core at SIM University.

Past parenthood packages and earlier policy interventions have "laid the groundwork" for the gradual mindset change, he said.

Singapore began tackling its dearth of births in 1987 and has over the years offered, among other things, tax rebates, baby bonuses, priority in getting bigger Housing Board flats and subsidies at specified childcare centres. 

Last year, the new incentives included a doubling of the one-week paternity leave and an extra $2,000 in baby bonus.

Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, who oversees population issues, welcomed the 1.8 per cent rise over the figure in 2014.

"I am encouraged,'' she said on her Facebook page, adding that to keep the momentum going, she will focus on three areas.

They are: helping fathers play a more active role in raising their children, providing a bigger network of affordable quality childcare, and improving workplace and community support for young parents.

The birth figures refer to babies with at least one Singaporean parent. And last year's number, collated from the quarterly demographic bulletin issued by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, is not the final figure as it does not include Singaporean babies who have yet to be registered by the end of last year. 

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan said the rising trend could continue, as the People's Action Party's landslide victory at last year's polls may bolster Singaporeans' confidence in the future of the country.

But getting more babies continues to be an uphill task, said the director of the Centre for Family and Population Research, Professor Jean Yeung.

The two main reasons are the low marriage rate and people getting hitched later. No less significant "is the actual cost and opportunity cost of having a baby", she said.

Among the new parents last year was Ms Tin Pei Ling, the MP for MacPherson, who said childcare services continue to be a need among her constituents.

"We need to do more to increase the availability of childcare spaces at workplaces and make them affordable," said Ms Tin, whose son is six months old.

Mr Louis Ng, an MP for Nee Soon GRC, said he hoped more employers, starting with the civil service, will adopt flexi-work arrangements to give their workers more quality time with their children. "It's just as important to emphasise the joy of raising children, even as we address the financial concerns." 


This article was first published on Feb 3, 2016.
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