We rounded off the Dragon Year with the Parliamentary Debate on the Population White Paper. It was a difficult but valuable Debate, which I hope helped Singaporeans better appreciate our demographic challenges and choices. MPs aired Singaporeans’ concerns over our population trends, and discussed our choices. We now have a roadmap to safeguard Singaporeans’ wellbeing and livelihoods, which will be reviewed nearer 2020. The government will also give priority to resolving the current strains on infrastructure, particularly in transport.
The best way to strengthen our Singapore core is to encourage more Singaporeans to marry, and have more children. This remains our top priority. We gladly welcomed more babies during the Dragon Year, and hope that this continues into the Year of the Snake. But we must go beyond the Chinese zodiac, and reaffirm the fundamental reasons for Singaporeans to have more children and grow their families.
Families are the basic building blocks of our society. They shape our identity and sense of self, transmit values and anchor us in a rapidly changing world. Our families comfort us when we are down, and encourage us to reach for the stars. They inspire us to be better people, not just for ourselves but for others.
Chinese New Year is an important occasion to celebrate with our families. It is a time to thank our elders for their sacrifices bringing us up. It is when we shower love on our own children, and teach them to respect their elders and stay together as one family. It is an opportunity to catch up with relatives and friends, especially those we have not seen for a long time, at reunion dinners and home visits. These traditions are part of our heritage and remind us of the truly important things in life.
should do our best to keep such traditions alive. This is especially
important as social norms change, and other interests apparently take
precedence over these traditions. Even in China, where millions travel
from the cities to their rural hometowns to see their families during
the Chinese New Year, more second-generation migrants are choosing to
stay in cities to enjoy the holiday instead. Family structures are also
evolving. There are many more nuclear families, and extended family ties
have grown weaker. Some families prefer to go overseas over the long
weekend, instead of staying in Singapore for the traditional Chinese New
In a more globalised world, many more Singaporeans are working or living overseas, including in far-flung places like Afghanistan, Ghana or Azerbaijan. They may be away for extended periods, and not always able to return home for Chinese New Year. These separations can be hard on them and their family members. I am therefore happy that Singaporeans overseas are making the effort to connect with their families here during this festive season. Some video-conference into reunion dinners, while others send e-hongbaos to their friends online. ME5 Daryl Cheong, who is currently in Afghanistan as a member of the SAF’s Forward Support Team, uses Skype and Whatsapp to keep in touch with his family here. But nothing cheers him more than receiving a hamper of traditional Chinese New Year goodies from his family. As he says, “chicken ‘bak kwa’, almond biscuits and other goodies have brought me comfort, warmth and joy”.
The Government will continue promoting strong and healthy families. The Marriage & Parenthood package this year was a big step forward. We enhanced the Baby Bonus, gave first-timer parents priority in booking BTO flats (Parenthood Priority Scheme), and gave each newborn a Medisave grant. These hongbaos will help parents cope with the practical issues of raising children. But more important than financial incentives is fostering a pro-family social environment, and reaffirming Singaporeans’ mindsets towards having children. That is why we also introduced paternity leave and shared parental leave, and strengthened maternity protection for pregnant employees.
I hope Singaporeans take advantage of these measures and have more babies. I also hope that over time, young people, couples, employers and society at large will become more supportive of marriage and parenting.
As we celebrate Chinese New Year, let us spare a thought for those who are going through difficult times, such as the less fortunate or families who have recently lost loved ones. If you can, reach out to them and invite them to your celebrations. They are all part of our larger Singapore family. They deserve our support; we too may one day look to others for comfort. We should also welcome our friends from the Malay, Indian and other ethnic groups to join our Chinese New Year celebrations, for this is one of the joys of living in our multi-ethnic community.
All these are possible only if Singapore continues to do well. Seniors want to enjoy their golden years without worrying about healthcare costs or whether there will be caregivers to look after them. Parents want a safe and nurturing environment to raise their children. Young Singaporeans seek opportunities to fulfil their dreams and change the world. We all hope Singapore will always remain the best home for ourselves, our families and our children.
The Year of the Snake is said to bring peace and prosperity. Even so, we cannot leave Singapore’s fate to traditional beliefs. We must all work hard to create a brighter future for us all, and I am confident that we will succeed. Let us enjoy ourselves this Chinese New Year – give thanks for our families, appreciate what Singapore has achieved together, and resolve to keep Singapore harmonious and prospering.