We are Singapore, Singaporeans (Do you still remember?)

The heated debate in the Parliament points to a White Paper which was published and projected that the population would hit 6.9 million in 2030. The Workers’ Party (“WP”) was of the the view that the population increase should be revised downwards. Mr Chen Show Mao, one of the 5 MPs from Aljunied GRC, urged the Government to get more Singaporeans to work. Mr Chen cited that there are 1.06 million Singaporeans in 2012 who are not in active employment and Mr Chen has urged the ruling party to encourage these Singaporeans to work instead of importing foreigners to take up jobs which Singaporeans can be employed to work.

Mr Chen also shared that the ageing population should not be considered dependents or hindrances to a dynamic Singapore, but rather a ‘triumph of development’, many of whom still have much to offer our country. We should not neglect the greying population just because they are not as agile and dexterous as they were in their prime years, but we should encourage the greying population to lead a healthy lifestyle by exercising, eating properly, traveling and working. We should provide excellent healthcare and encourage more doctors to take up geriatrics medicine as a sub-specialty.

As a born and  bred Singaporean woman who is married with 2 kids and in her late thirties, I observe that many are not marrying or giving birth to kids until it is too late because of several key factors which I will highlight in my blog post. Although the Government has revealed a much better parenthood package for married couples who are trying for babies, it is dismal to say that having children does not mean just trying for babies and getting pregnant but the costs of rearing children are tremendous in Singapore and I know very well because I have 2 boys at home.

Pre-schools and childcare centres are run privately and are not fully regulated or wholly under the purview of MOE. As such, parents have to pay a premium or wait in the queue if they want to put their children into good pre-schools. Good private pre-schools charge S$1200 or more per month. If you want to put your children into enrichment classes for Chinese or Music, you have to be prepared to fork out another S$600 for 10 weeks’ of lessons.

I have 2 boys and of course I want to have a baby girl, who doesn’t? But I have got to think about my own stamina and the costs of bringing up my 2 sons . My first son was premature and suffered from acid-reflux, so we have been taking great care of his meals and we even employed one helper to feed him as he was not growing well and throwing up all the time. Now that he has started nursery, his condition is getting much better, but he is still a fussy eater. I am already very tired after worrying about him for nearly 4 years. My friends reminded via Facebook that in order to get our kids into good schools, we have to consider which school we want to volunteer at when my 4-year-old turns 5 next year. As if I am not stressed out enough, I have to worry now that my first child cannot get into one of the better schools. I am also tasked with the important duty of choosing which primary school to put him into and volunteer my hours at that primary school from next year onwards so that he gets into a good primary school.

On Monday, I just found out that the cost of employing an Indonesian maid is so expensive. My Indonesian maid is due to go home in May 2013 and I called up the agency to look for another maid and I am astonished that we have to pay a fresh Indonesian maid who cannot speak English S$450 and on top of that, we have to pay for her foreign domestic workers’ levy which is S$170, pay for her toiletries and meals which in total is about S$300 per month. We also have to give her an off-day every week and if we do not provide off-days, we have to pay her an additional S$70. In total, the cost of employing an Indonesian maid in Singapore is S$990. Some of us are super lucky to have parents who are very healthy and help in the supervisory of the maids, but for others who do not have such help, they can only rely on part-time nannies or child-care centres.

It is common that children from 1 to 6 get sick easily, especially when they are still building up their immunity system towards germs and viruses. However of late, our over-crowded child-care centres have been hit by a series of HFMD epidemics which have put MOH on alert. HFMD is Hand, foot and mouth disease, which is a human syndrome caused by intestinal viruses of the picornaviridae family. HFMD usually affects infants and children, and is quite common. It is moderately contagious and is spread through direct contact with the mucus, saliva, or feces of an infected person. It typically occurs in small epidemics in nursery schools or kindergartens, usually during the summer and autumn months. The usual incubation period is 3–7 days. My son just went back to school on Monday because there was a case of HFMD  from the class next to his. To be on the safe side, I decided to take him out of school for several days last week because I also have a younger baby to think about. This episode disrupted my son’s progressive learning.

On top of this, I run my own businesses, so a lot lies on my shoulders to make my businesses work, plus I have 2 children whom I need to ferry to enrichment classes or playgroups. I would like to purchase a car but the COE of a small car is S$90,000, which is more than the cost of the car which I want to buy and I am not asking for a big or luxurious car. All I need is a sedan to ferry my maid and children to enrichment classes and playgroups. In first-world countries, Singapore tops the charts by retailing motor cars at exorbitant rates.

With the rising population, the cost of owning any property has rocketed to astronomical amounts. My brother-in-law has to wait for 5 years or more to own a flat at Punggol 21 and the flat doesn’t come cheap. It is also very inconvenient for young couples who applied for Punggol because the Punggol LRT is always breaking down. Without any mode of transport, how are the younger population going to get to work on time, not to mention that working hours have stretched from 9 hours to 12 hours per day. They are pooped by the time they get home and are already too exhausted for baby-making.

I am merely stating the obvious. I know the Government is trying its best to provide for a better environment conducive for child-bearing but the underlying costs of living in Singapore has turned many couples away from being parents. Many marry late and thus face challenges with fertility. Stress is one of the most common factors for couples who are unable to conceive naturally. In addition, men and women alike are less fertile as they age. With stress, many white collar workers have also turned to alcohol and smoking to relieve stress and pressure, and these habits affect conception and fertility. Many who are capable and wealthy choose not to have children and turn to rearing pets for company.

Furthermore, it is also despairing to see that the foundation of marriage is not as strong as before. We are seeing rising number of divorces and also adultery cases, crimes which have rocked and affected the Government Departments lately and even costs PAP of a SMC ward. As many women are tertiary-educated, they refuse to take it lying down when husbands commit adultery or vice versa. They have the monetary means and are educated enough to know that they can always turn to divorce lawyers to settle their spousal disputes. Many go straight into divorce without even trying out marriage counseling and this is the real state of marital affairs in Singapore.

If we do not solve the above-mentioned problems, it will be hard to convince the well-educated and learned couples to have more children. I am truly blessed with 2 kids and every day, they teach me something new. They have taught me to try to be a better person and also appreciate my immediate family much more. They have taught me not to take things for granted and live every day in the present. I want to urge more couples to have children but I also want to highlight the issues that we face to increase our pathetic fertility rate. Before I sign off, I want to share a song which I always sing-along during National Day. As I live in the East, we were able to hear the fireworks during National Day. The song meant something to me because every National Day, I am reminded that I am a Singaporean and this is my country, this is my flag, this is my future, this is my life, this is my family, these are my friends, We are Singapore, Singaporeans. I hope that I can continue to sing this song with pride, honour and a sense of belonging in the coming years.


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