Fertility ads give birth to controversy

A voluntary welfare group advocating early parenthood has defended an advertising campaign featuring four controversial cartoons.

The ads - which show sperm and eggs in situations such as rowing together in a boat or playing darts - were placed in train stations by I Love Children (ILC) this week, with slogans like "Even the best marksman could miss the target" and "Women are born with a finite number of eggs".

The group hopes they will encourage people to conceive earlier while they are more fertile, but they have been criticised by some members of the public for being distasteful and insensitive.

Women's rights group the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) has called the campaign "scaremongering", saying it might have an emotional impact on women who might be infertile or who have had miscarriages.

ILC president Joni Ong maintained that the campaign is about educating couples. "We are here... to give you information on fertility, on lifestyles," she said.

"We hope to give you enough information so that, as a couple, you can make a decision on when you have children, whether or not you want to have children. We want to see more babies being born."

Conceding that this year's campaign has provoked a stronger reaction than previous ones, she said: "Yes, these advertisements are very much in your face, but they generated talk that we didn't get in previous years, when our visuals were more muted. If this leads to more awareness, then it is good."

The advertisements will run at train stations for a month, while an ILC bus will visit busy areas such as shopping malls through the year.

ILC, set up in 2005, is sustained through a mix of government, corporate and individual funding, and has 10 board members.

Mrs Ong - a mother of five, who is seen as one of the foremost fertility advocates here - said the campaign has received positive feedback and raised questions from couples looking to have children.

"So, many couples do need information on having children, and we are here to help them," she added.

Aware programmes and communications senior manager Jolene Tan credited ILC for being upfront with its agenda but disagrees with how it has done it.

"Having a child is a personal choice," she said. "It is not appropriate and inclusive for them to set a universal pattern for what people's family lives should be like.

"This campaign is not helpful, it seems designed to cause anxiety, putting pressure on people, rather than giving them a nuanced understanding of fertility."

Many people who have seen the advertisements said they did not wish to be told what to do.

Business owner Aaron Kong, 36, whose wife delivered their first child, a boy, a month ago, said: "(Having a child) was a personal choice, and not because someone told me to.

"I find it very counterproductive to have only one type of message. It makes it seem as if women are a public good. It should be a couple's decision, based on what they want in life, or where they are in life, and it should not be portrayed as wrong if they don't have children."

This article was first published on Feb 5, 2016.
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