Fewer kids with both parents from Singapore

This story was first published in The Sunday Times on July 21, 2013

There were 42,663 babies born in Singapore last year, but only half of them had parents who were both Singapore citizens. Their proportion of all births shrank sharply from 2000.

The rest were born to citizens with foreign spouses, or foreign couples. And this group swelled considerably from before.

It is a significant demographic shift, experts say, with implications for what it means to be Singaporean and how to integrate foreigners who are here to stay.

The data on parents' nationality appears in the Report on Registration of Births and Deaths 2012, published by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) this month.

A comparison of birth statistics for 2000 and 2012, both auspicious Dragon Years in the Chinese zodiac, shows:

A sharp decline in the number of babies with parents who are both Singaporean - 22,650 (53.1 per cent of all babies) last year, down from 31,308 (66.6 per cent).

Slightly more babies born to Singaporeans and their foreign spouses - 10,588 (24.8 per cent) last year, up from 10,309 (21.9 per cent).

The number of babies born to parents who are both foreigners has nearly doubled - 9,425 (22.1 per cent) last year, from 5,380 (11.4 per cent).

Sociologists and demographers say the shift comes as fewer Singaporeans are marrying and having babies and more marry foreigners.

Meanwhile, the number of permanent residents (PRs) and non-residents such as foreign workers doubled from one million in 2000 to two million last year and this explains the sharp rise in the number of babies born to foreigners here.

Demographer Gavin Jones noted that the ICA statistics shed some light on immigration patterns, giving a rare breakdown of data by nationality. For instance, the statistics suggest a significant presence of newcomers from Asean countries, China and India.

Babies born to couples from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, for example, formed 4.5 per cent of babies born last year - more than triple the 1.3 per cent in 2000.

According to the Census 2010, the Indian and Others minorities in the resident population grew over the previous decade, while the proportion of Chinese and Malays shrank.

Sociologists say the changes also mean the country is looking at a shrinking "Singaporean core" or may have to redefine what it means to be Singaporean.

How many of the babies with a foreign parent will stay for the long haul is a question to ponder, said sociologist Paulin Straughan. This can affect population size, especially given the baby shortage and ageing population here.

"This is a wake-up call that policies must evolve with the demographic shift," she said.

Singapore should offer dual citizenship to children of Singaporean-foreigner unions, she added, to attract these children to choose Singapore as their home when they grow up.

Children of foreign parents may find the national school system a good way to integrate into the Singapore way of life, said sociologist Tan Ern Ser, but there is a need to determine if there are sufficient places in schools for these children, while still giving priority to Singaporeans.

Singaporean couples interviewed were surprised to learn of the large number of babies born to foreigners.

But Singaporean teacher Yvonne Neo, 30, felt racial and national boundaries are blurring as more Singaporeans marry foreigners or Singaporeans of a different race.

She is married to a Malay Singaporean, teacher Mohamed Shahrom Taha, 34, and they have a seven-month-old son, Mohamed Mikail.

She said: "Everyone is worried that we are living in a less Singaporean society, but we have been an immigrant society all along. We must learn to be more inclusive while raising our kids."

This story was first published in The Sunday Times on July 21, 2013

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