By Massita Ahmad
Bernama’s correspondent across the causeway shares her take on the island city of Singapore. This week, Massita Ahmad writes on the Singapore government effort in encouraging Singaporeans to have more children while moving forward.
SINGAPORE (Bernama) — “Even the best marksman could miss the target. The seed is in place for the perfect landing.” “Blaze on in your twenties.” “Row together as one beat.”
Being a mother to none, these phrases referring to procreation emblazoned creatively on the MRT train’s window, added with a cartoon illustration of a sperm and ovum, managed to carve a smile at my face when reading them.
These advertisements have been featured widely in the republic since February, part of the fertility campaign run by ilovechildren (ILC), a non-profit organisation set up in 2005 with a mission to advocate early parenthood among couples.
Though, the campaign drew criticism from some, ILC stood up by saying it “presents facts and hopes to encourage people to have children earlier, as well as to raise awareness of the risks associated with late pregnancies.”
ILC’s effort is in line with the republic’s hope to see more babies with many rewards offered by the government since 30 years ago.
The republic which celebrated its Golden Jubilee last year recorded at least 33,793 new babies, the highest in 13 years. It surpassed the 33,238 births in 2012, the Year of the Dragon.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong himself remains hopeful that Singaporeans will continue to have more children while moving forward.
Lee’s government has announced a slew of new incentives during the 2016 Budget for children.
The Singapore government will introduce a new Child Development Account (CDA), the First Step grant for all Singaporean children.
Parents will automatically receive S$3,000 in their child’s CDA, which they can use for their children’s healthcare and childcare needs.
Parents who save more will continue to receive dollar-for-dollar matching from the government, up to the co-savings cap.
For example, if they put S$3,000 (RM9,000) into their first or second child’s CDA, they will receive an additional $3,000 in matching grants, bringing the total Government CDA grant to S$6,000 (RM18,000), for a total of S$9,000 (RM27,000) in the account.
Similarly, the third and subsequent children will also receive the CDA First Step grant.
The government will also roll out a new initiative for child development, called KidSTART, for children in their first six years.
According to the government, there is extensive research which shows that experiences in the early years of a child’s life significantly influences his or her physical, cognitive, and social development.
The government has been enhancing development programmes through preschools and primary schools.
However, the government notes that there is a small group of parents who may need more support in giving their children a good start in life.
KidSTART will draw together government and community resources, to help these children receive appropriate learning, developmental, and health support.
About 1,000 children are expected to benefit and the pilot programme is expected to cost the government more than S$20 million (RM60 million).
Having children is “part of being a family and having a full life,” Lee was quoted as saying.
Singapore has been encouraging births over the last three decades by offering, among others, tax rebates, baby bonus, priority in getting bigger HDB flats and subsidies at specified childcare centres.
Its government will also do more to help families with children in rental housing.
In last year’s National Day Rally, the Prime Minister had mentioned about the Fresh Start Housing Scheme.
There are some families who previously bought a flat, but sold it, and are now living in public rental flats.
These families are not eligible for housing grants meant for first-timers as they had received a housing subsidy before.
For those who are determined to work hard to own a home again, the government wants to give them a fresh start.
The Fresh Start Housing Scheme will provide a grant of up to S$35,000 (RM104,000) to help such families with young children to own a 2-room flat, with a shorter lease, which will be more affordable for them.
Families will need to demonstrate effort, for example, by staying employed and making sure their children attend school.
Singapore’s resident population was at 3.9 million as at June 2015.