Singaporeans continued to be grabbled with Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s threat of the country being overtaken by foreign new citizens in the future unless more of our population starts to marry and have children.
Mr Lee also said the Chinese reproduction rate was at 1.08, Indians at 1.09 and Malays at 1.64. The recommended replacement rate is 2.1 for our country to achieve the optimum population mark of 6 million people.
More couples tied the knot last year with a 12 per cent increase in the number of marriages as compared to 2010.
It rose from 24,363 in 2010 to 27,258 in 2011.
But the number of divorces and annulments also rose from 7,338 in 2010 to 7,604 last year.
These findings on divorces and marriages in 2011 were released by the Department of Statistics.
The findings also showed that the median age at divorce rose in the last 10 years.
For males it was 41.3 years in 2011, higher than the 39 years of 2001.
For females, it was 37.7 in 2011 compared with 35.5 years in 2001.
The median age of first—time grooms climbed from 29.7 in 2006 to 30.1 in 2011.
For first—time brides, the median age rose from 27.0 to 28.0.
The number of marriages, divorces and when our population marries all have inter-twinked implication in the complicated population growth equation.
I have provided seven suggestions for the government to consider to improve our low birth rate here:-
1. Revamp Employment Act
I am glad that our Manpower Minister Mr Tan Chuan Jin has promised to review the Employment Act by the end of the year.
Our over-worked women PMETs have little time to spend with their children and many put off the thought of trying to have more kids when they could only be home by 8pm – mostly after working their guts out at the work place.
The high cost of living now also means that we have to work much harder to make ends compared to say ten years ago when the standard of living is much lower.
Inflation last month hovered at 5.3% and doesn’t show any sign of slowing down soon.
Our women are very practical people and with the limited time they have after work, many simply try to have one or two kids at most so that they can spend adequate quality time with them.
It makes sense as you don’t want to have 3-4 children doing their own stuff at home alone by themselves as daddy and mummy are mostly out at work.
Maids are by far a distant supplement to how much personal time they can spend with their own children.
More significantly, many couples do not want to have intimacy after a hard day at work and wives prefer to rest their tired bodies than having a romp in the bed with their husbands.
We also heard of our pregnant women getting the sack when their bosses know that they are pregnant.
Errant employers were merely let off with a stern warning or simple fine.
More can be done to better protect our pregnant women.
Hopefully, MOM can revamp the Employment Act so that our executives don’t have to put in so many hours after the stipulated 44-hour work week.
They also need to take a hard look at implementing minimum wage for our workers as if the average workers could not earn enough to feed themselves how could they ever start a family based on their earned meagre wages?
More than 100, 000 Singaporeans earn less than $1500 a month currently and the blue-collared sector needs a shot in the arm especially on an increase in their wages.
Many single males belong to the low-income blue-collared sector and unless they receive better wages, they will forever stay single.
Moreover, as companies nowadays tend to offer contractual terms for employment, there is a lack of stability for our men to start a family unless MOM starts to review the popular work contractual agreements here.
No men in their right frame of mind will start a family unless his career is in place.
Hopefully, the manpower minister will revamp the Employment Act to better protect our local PMETs.
The current act does not provide adequate protection for our local workers and errant employers have found enough loop holes to exploit the situation.
2. Revamp our educational system
Many parents have also complained of the unnecessary stress placed on our kids when they enter our dreadful educational system.
Even though some of the stress is placed upon themselves by our own kaisu parents, our educational system is indeed too exam-based and muggerish.
There is also too much emphasis of text book learning and the limited places at our prestigious local universities mean that the stress level is raised a few notches especially if you don’t have rich parents to finance you to study abroad if you can’t make it here.
Many mums I know rushed home to go through their children home work entirely missing out on spending time with their husbands further worsening the divorce rate here as many men felt left out at home and seeked dangerous liaisons outside of their marriage.
Many couples also do not want to give birth to another child and let them suffer the stresses of going through our educational system.
The educational ministry needs to take a honest look at our school system and try to provide a less stressful well-grounded education for the average blokes than attempting to ekk out gifted scholars for the government.
Moreover, much of what we have learned in the classrooms are often unused and unrelated to the real work scenario in the world.
3. Review length of our national service
Our men still need to serve 24 months of their best years as conscripts for the country even though we have never enter into war-like confrontation with any neighbouring country before.
When they graduate from tertiary study after serving NS, many males are already in their mid to late twenties.
Our women already have a strong 2-year head start and many are doing better than our men career-wise.
In their bid to strive ahead for their career after graduation, many men have neglect dating at all till they are in their late twenties or even early thirties.
Even though they may start to date immediately after graduation, it is still many years later that they will feel confident of tying the knot with their girlfriends who are also catching up with age.
We all know that the best years for giving birth are between 23 to 28 years old but our men just could not bring themselves to propose to their gals till their career has taken off.
The government should seriously look into reducing the national service further from 24 months to 18 months and gradually do away with conscription altogether as its a burden to the country – especially when we are facing serious population growth problem now.
They can professionalise the army further and inject more army jobs to the population.
With a reduced national service duration, our men can graduate earlier, start to build up their career faster and hopefully propose to our women at a earlier age.
This way, our women will have more time to give birth in between jobs and other pursuits.
If our women and men marry later, there is not much time to capture the best reproduction period and reducing national service could be one huge step in getting our population to marry earlier.
4. Start dating classes in schools
I always feel that our local men need some lessons in courting as Asian women still prefer the men to do all the dating work.
Many men I know are tongue-tied and lack social skills to interact with the opposite sex. I am one of them.
Some even don’t dare to approach gals for fear of rejection or simply lack the self confidence to do so.
That is probably why our local women tend to prefer foreign expats who are more socialable and at ease with the oppositie sex.
Dating lessons can be taught in our high tertiary institutions like our polytechnics and universities.
Hopefully, with some dating lessons, our men will be bold enough to ask for dates from our local women and not check out marriage agencies to wed women from third world countries.
5. Review housing policy
I was fortunate to be able to book a HDB BTO executive flat at $143, 000 almost 20 years ago.
I heard that it costs around $400, 000 to book a BTO 5-room flat now in a decent location and alot more if you buy a second-hand one in a matured estate.
The cost of our BTO flat should also be lowered so that more couples can have access to a house if they want to tie the knot.
However, there is another catch here if you book a HDB BTO flat.
You need to produce a marriage certificate within six months in order to be the official owner of the flat.
If not, you may lose the flat entirely.
Many couples were literally forced to ROM much earlier than they intend to because of the completion of their flat and in fact, some couples splitted a few months after marrying as they are not ready for the plunge yet.
HDB can perhaps provide more time for our young couples to produce a ROM certificate so that couples don’t feel pressured to tie the knot so soon when their flats are ready for occupation.
I know that many couples get married because of their HDB flats and perhaps this is one huge reason why many couples divorce within the first year of marriage.
More can be done to separate the issue of flat ownership from marriage.
Marriage should be taken with much deliberation and doing so when there is another tangible factor other than the love for each other cause many couples to enter into matrimony for the wrong reason.
Owning a HDB BTO flat ought to be one of the reasons but not the main reason for our couples to tie the knot.
6. Review Women’s Chapter
Our divorce rate has being climbing for the past few years and show no sign of slowing down.
Work stress, gender differences and the high cost of living all contribute to at least one in three marriages failing here.
Last year, a total of 7.600 divorces were filed in the family court.
Divorces have an impact on our children who may grow up fearing relationship and ultimately marriages further exaceberating the problem.
Many men have lamented at the slanted Women’s Chapter which actually makes divorce easily accessible to our women folks.
More can be done perhaps to allow marital counselling reachable to our troubled couples caught in marital conflicts.
For example, in America, insurance companies allow their clients to claim against counselling fees.
Though there are many family service centres which provide low-cost counselling servcies to our troubled couples, many FSC counsellors are young social workers who have just passed out.
Some FSC counsellors are at least 20 years younger than their clients!
Many professional marital counsellors charge at least $100 an hour and some even charge between $150 to $200 an hour if they are popular and well qualified.
More can be done to allow our troubled couples to have easier access to professional marital counsellors.
Too many divorces within a society does not argur well for the social fabric of a country and may even dissuade our young people from tying the knot for fear that their marriages will also face an untimely ugly end.
Some couples I know do not want to have any children for fear that they will be caught in an ugly custody situation if the marriage ends in divorce.
More can be done to tighten up the Women’s Chapter and makes marital counselling mandatory before the divorce is finalised.
Hopefully, couples facing marital issue in their marriage will have easier access to marital counselling and believe that divorce should be the last option available rather than the first opt-out we have here whenever a marriage faces problem.
More can also be done to allow singles to keep their babies.
In 2007, The Singapore Health Ministry recorded 11,933 abortions.”
And shockingly enough, about half are carried out by married women.
Many singles chose to abort their pregnancy before marriage due either to cultural norm or lack of support from family and the state.
Imagine if half of our singles decide to keep their babies and that represent an additional 3,000 new births annually.
In Australia, unwed mothers are provided a monthly allowance to help them raise their babies well till 18 years of age.
This incentive is so well received that scores of teenagers decided to have babies out of wedlock which of course is socially unhealthy.
I am merely saying that more can be done to relook the circumstances surrounding the pregnancies of our unwed mothers.
If they are well supported, their babies can help resolve our birth problem here.
Its still a mystery why it is so difficult to adopt a child here when many couples face difficulty in reproducing due either to their age or medical reason.
A check through the internet search reveals little about the adoption figures for our country.
A couple friend whom I knew have told me that its very difficult to adopt a child from overseas.
There is a thick pile of paper work to fill and you have to abide by a lot of conditions stated by the official adoption agency.
You have to adopt children provided by the agency and could not go about adopting your own preference sourced on your own.
Of course, you also need to have some cash available to pay for the baby adopted.
Another friend who successfully adopted two Malaysian boys told me that he paid $25, 000 for each boy adopted.
It was all worth it as the two boys completed an otherwise childless family setting due to the wife’s medical condition.
I hope that the government will facilitate easier adoption programmes for those who are keen on adoption.
Many couples who married late due to personal reasons can then have an option to have children through the adoption channel.
I know that the authorities are worried about possible baby trafficking here but tighetening the processes so much will only deter many couples from pursuing this avenue.
Adoption is one huge possible source for population growth and hopefully our government will seriously look into loosening the procedures so that many childless couples can have an alternative viable source.
Written by: Gilbert Goh