Policies to promote births must come from the heart

I learnt an important lesson from the report on South Korean county Haenam's success in raising birth rates ("Baby campaign bearing fruit in S. Korean county"; Tuesday).

That is, birth rates cannot be raised simply by incentives from the top; rather, they must go hand in hand with efforts from the ground.

Singapore is struggling with an alarmingly low fertility rate of less than 1.4, way below the replacement level to maintain population level. The Government is increasingly generous with giving out carrots such as the Baby Bonus cash gift, maternity leave and even subsidies for fertility treatment.

Surveys show, however, that fewer people are motivated by incentives ("Fewer sold on incentives to start a family: Survey"; July 7, 2015).

Like Singapore, Haenam also provided generous incentives such as cash benefits and childcare benefit. But it did not stop there.

Among many other things, it provided naming and babysitting services for free, and delivered gifts such as baby clothes and beef to mothers.

These pro-family measures are, surely, not just cool-headed calculations, but also heart-warming considerations that come from the ground.

In the Singapore context, we can encourage babies the grassroots way.

Each constituency should mobilise its grassroots volunteers to initiate ways to celebrate the joy of babies and support people to get the right resources they need in a timely manner.

It is often said that it takes a village to raise a child. It's time for the community to reach out to the singles, couples and families to promote the value of family.

The birth of a baby will always cheer a family. Together, we can spread cheer to the entire community with the arrival of more babies.

William Tan Whee Kiem

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2016, with the headline 'Policies to promote births must come from the heart'. Print Edition | Subscribe