Go forth and multiply, we badly need more, a lot more, Singapore government tells its citizens. More tax breaks, cash payouts and parental leave form part of the Marriage and Parenthood Package, to be implemented effective next year.
Singapore was founded as a British trading colony in 1819. It joined the Malaysian Federation in 1963 but separated two years later and became independent. Singapore subsequently became one of the world's most prosperous countries with strong international trading links.
But population is a problem area. Though it is densely populated, at 4.6 million, the growth rate is just 1.14 per cent, one of the lowest among developed countries. A high-level task force, led by Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng, took 18 months to craft the enhanced Marriage and Parenthood Package.
The government is allocating S$600 million, the bulk of the S$1.6-billion enhanced Package, to improve existing tax benefits.
They include the Qualifying Child Relief or Handicapped Child Relief, the Working Mother's Child Relief and the Parenthood Tax Rebate.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday night that a baby brings much joy, but can also be a logistic and financial challenge, so a slew of measures will be implemented by the government to create more time and more funds to help parents cope with their children.
There will also be a larger baby bonus for first-time parents, more tax incentives to encourage mothers to work, more incentives for the fifth and subsequent children, and more financial support for couples who go for In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatment.
"I used to change nappies, in the days before Pampers. So you've actually got to fold the cloth, you've got to put it on, you've got to put the safety pin, I haven't pricked any baby yet. If I can do it, that means anybody can do it," he quipped.
Emphasising that parenting is a job for both parents has influenced some policy changes which he hopes will help to shift attitudes. Childcare leave, which can be claimed by either parent, will be extended from two to six days per year.
There will also be one week of unpaid infant-care leave per year, and mums or dads can claim it until their child turns two years old.
Lee acknowledged that professional women find the cost of not working the highest, and he cited his own mother's work-life choices.
A successful lawyer, Mrs Lee Kuan Yew chose to put her children first, took on fewer cases, avoided evening work functions and ate lunch at home every day with her children.
He said having children is a personal choice, and parents have to decide their own priorities.
The government will help by catering to demand and creating 20,000 places at 200 new childcare centres over the next five years. There will also be more financial support to help kindergartens upgrade their staff and curricula, as well as more financial help for parents.
Lee said: "These measures all add up to a very significant package. We are talking of about maybe S$700 million a year. If more babies are born, it will be more than S$700 million a year. But even that is about double of what we are spending today on child incentives and all together we will have about S$1.6 billion spent a year or 0.6 per cent of GDP."
"Kids at a younger age tend to fall sick easily, so having the extra paid care leave actually allows me to spend time to be with them rather than take my annual leave," said Tay Jin Li, a parent who approves of the enhanced package.
But what seems to have really struck a chord is the prime minister's call for men to be more hands on in taking care of their babies.
"This would be a good opportunity for my brothers-in-law to listen up to this speech by PM and get into action, because most of the baby-taking care work is done by my sisters and sisters-in-law," said another Singaporean.
For many people in Singapore, getting married is the first priority. Lee said the government would do what it could to help, but urged young Singaporeans not to leave it till it is too late and to make time to go out, meet new friends and if necessary, join a dating agency. The Prime Minister has also announced that the government will merge the Social Development Unit (SDU) which caters to graduates, and the Social Development Service (SDS) for non-graduates to increase matchmaking flexibility and activities.
SDU will also come up with an SDU Trust Mark to ensure that those who prefer using private dating agencies will get quality service.