Building support for Singapore families and boosting the birth rate

File photograph of Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo mingling with a Singaporean family.
File photograph of Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo mingling with a Singaporean family.PHOTO: OVERSEAS SINGAPOREAN UNIT

SINGAPORE - When Singapore announced in April that it would introduce a mandatory two-week paternity leave starting next year, the business sector was - in Mrs Josephine Teo's words - "somewhat surprised".

And for that, they have one man to thank: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"They have PM to thank for it because PM was very supportive of the idea of daddies playing a bigger role," said Mrs Teo. Mr Lee himself is a father of four.

Looking ahead, what Singapore hopes to do is to build a certain support level at work places for fathers so that "there's nothing very untoward or very unusual about daddies saying, sorry I got to go take care of my kid".

After all, adds Mrs Teo, "the only thing that the father can't do is breastfeed".

The Senior Minister of State who oversees population matters, sat down with The Straits Times' Janice Tai and Toh Yong Chuan last week for a frank discussion on issues ranging from infertility ("there is no fertility indicator") to singles ("why should we pass judgment on them?")

But her focus was on what more can be done to help Singapore's millennials in forming families.

Read the full reports here.

You don't need much space to have sex: Josephine Teo on ‘no flat, no child’ belief

Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

You do not need much space to have sex.

That was the feisty rejoinder from Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, who oversees the National Population and Talent Division, to a question on whether young people are not getting their flats early enough to have children.

The suggestion was that this could be a chicken-and-egg problem. To qualify for the Parenthood Priority Scheme, which gives first- time married couples first dibs on getting a flat, they must be expecting or have a citizen child below 16.


Build support networks for young parents: Josephine Teo

Ms Josephine Teo (centre), Senior Minister of State at the Prime Minister's Office, carrying the first 2016 baby, Khairy Rusyaidy (left) and the last SG50 baby, Ansley Soong (right) at Kandang Kerbau Hospital (KKH) on Jan 1, 2016. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

Fifteen years after the Baby Bonus scheme was introduced to encourage Singaporeans to have children, the Government is shifting its focus.

It is, for now, putting on hold further increases in incentives such as the baby bonus and leave benefits.

Instead, the spotlight will be on building up support networks to help young parents, said Mrs Josephine Teo, the Government's point person on population issues.


Millennials are ‘gung-ho’: Josephine Teo

Millennials (left to right) Faith Ong, 19, Ngee Ann Poly Mass Communications student, Amalina Rozman, 25, Creative Director and Delane Lim, 31, CEO. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

How are millennials different from baby boomers and Generation X?

They live longer and have more options.

This means they will be open to being "gung-ho" pioneers by taking the leap to have children even as they begin building their careers, Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo believes.


Striving to balance work, life and raising kids

Civil servant Mrs Loh, with husband Melvin Loh, 34, and daughters Beth (left), three and Olivia, one. She hopes that those who take no-pay leave after birth will be able to remain in the same position they were in when they go back to work. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

When Mrs Lindy Loh had her first child three years ago, she took four months of no-pay leave after four months of maternity leave.

When she had her second child last year, she took seven months of no-pay leave.

Both times, it came at a cost. The first led to an internal transfer while the second caused her position to be made vacant and ultimately led to her decision to move to a new job.


Get ready for millennial families

Young couples participating in a dialogue session about housing with the Ministry of National Development. Housing is one of the key factors in whether millennials marry or start families. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

Speaking at the National Day Rally this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pointed to technological disruption as a defining feature of the future economy, and the resultant need to adjust the ways we work and live.

What about the impact on families? Specifically, how will the millennial generation - Singaporeans in their mid-teens to early 30s - approach marriage and parenthood? Might disruptions in industries and workplaces also disrupt plans by millennials to settle down?

One thing is clear. Millennial Singaporeans, who number nearly a million, are not about to start families because someone exhorts them to.