updated 25 Oct 2012, 18:57
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Sat, Sep 29, 2012
The Straits Times
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Baby-making ideas tossed up at dialogue
by Phua Mei Pin

One man asked for more financial help for couples who have trouble conceiving. A social worker suggested that more resources and support be made available to those wanting to adopt children.

And one young man jokingly suggested that all single MPs get married before the next general election, to set a good example.

From light-hearted to serious, many ideas were thrown up by participants at a dialogue on population last night, with most fixed firmly on one goal: to get Singaporeans in the family way.

Although the organisers had intended for the session to discuss the economic implications of Singapore's ageing population and shrinking labour force, most of the 100 or so participants were more interested in coming up with ideas to encourage Singaporeans to start families.

The session, which lasted more than an hour, was held by the National Population and Talent Division as part of a series of dialogues to get people to talk about what Singapore's population strategy should be.

Attending the dialogue were Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran and Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin.

A 26-year-old woman said she was single not because she did not want to start a family, but because she needed to build her career first, to ensure a minimal standard for her future family.

A mother said that by the time her 20-year-old daughter was done with school and comfortable with her career, her daughter would probably be past her child-bearing years.

To sympathetic looks and nods around the room, she confessed: "I really have no clue how to solve this."

The young man drew laughter when he said: "Last year's GE, we saw quite a lot of MPs who are singles. I think it would be good if they set an example and get married in the next five years." To which Mr Iswaran said: "Don't look at us! We're both married with kids."

Only one participant raised an issue related to the economy, and it was to point out the pressures that small and medium enterprises faced after the Government tightened the tap on foreign manpower.

Responding, Mr Tan said he understood their concerns, but added: "One of the big steps that we feel companies can do is to wean ourselves off the access to a fairly free-flowing inflow of labour from before, to one that's a tighter labour market."

Both he and Mr Iswaran also tried to highlight the interplay between personal choices and the larger economic considerations of foreign manpower, unemployment and slower growth.

Mr Iswaran acknowledged that Singaporeans need to have a fundamental conversation about their values and families, and that some would choose to emphasise careers while others would prefer to focus on their families. But he also reminded the group that they would only have such options in a lively economy.

"We should not leave these discussions with the presumption that somehow, Singapore's economic future is a certainty," he said.

"The fact of the matter is, it will have a profound impact on the way we live our lives in the future."

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