Babies At Any Cost?

The Straits Times, Tuesday, 22 May 2012

My knees went weak when my eyes fell on the article “Tough ‘social choices’ ahead” in today’s papers. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. To address the dismal total fertility rate (TFR) of Singapore, Mr Chan Chun Seng, the Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, is suggesting that our society consider having children out of wedlock! It may have just been a statement intended to provoke but it was no less surprising, and worrying, that it is a ministerial comment, no less.

Others have suggested before that we consider polygamy to help our TFR. Absurd as this might sound, it is at least having children within the institution of marriage. But to suggest that we make babies outside of marriage is totally ridiculous! Whilst it may appear to solve one social issue of having more Singaporeans, it is in fact opening another huge door to future social problems.

For one, the institution of marriage is openly challenged. On the one hand, we are promoting MarriageWorks; yet on the other hand, we are sending a signal that when it comes to having babies, it still works outside of marriage. With more and more engaging in pre-marital sex, we just gave them to green light to get pregnant in the name of national service. Don’t worry where these babies will go after they are born. Just know that the women will not be frowned upon as single mothers. Add to that, these children out of wedlock will likely have no father figure in their lives. No problem – just devote more budget and attention to “Dads for Life!” … if we can get the fathers to own up that they fathered these out of wedlock in the first place. Looks like we may need to draft a pre-coitus agreeement for easy download via an app! Worse yet, gay couples may be allowed to adopt these children … shudder.

The Straits Times, Friday, 4 May 2012

It really saddens me that we should be talking like that at the ministerial level. What kind of a people have we become? And what will we become if we continue along this path? It is so clear that Singaporeans are not wanting to have babies because of selfish reasons. That’s a harsh statement but there really is no other way to put it. We have had enough forums and seminars on TFR and these have yielded largely the same answers … we are all too consumed with ourselves, with making money and wanting our own freedom to sacrifice it for the task (or burden) of parenting.

Perhaps, the minister’s statement is one made out of desperation. And quite understandably too. Values built up over many years of nation building and economic progress are not easy to address, much less change. But does this really justify having Singaporean babies at any cost, even out of wedlock? As with everything else in Singapore, children are seen and regarded in economic terms too. Did not the debate about casinos go the same way? Don’t worry about the social ills of gambling, just think of how many more jobs the casinos will generate. Just set up more counselling centres to help those with gambling and debt issues. So, don’t bother too much about the consequences, just make babies, get the TFR up, and we will set up additional services to deal with the problems up ahead.

Yes, Mr Chan is right in that these are tough ‘social choices’, and my heart goes out to him for having to handle such tough issues in his first ministerial portfolio. My concern is that when statements like these are made publicly, it has already signalled the beginnings of a change management process for the ground to accept these tough decisions ahead.

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