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SPEECH BY MR S ISWARAN, MINISTER IN THE PRIME MINISTER’S OFFICE AND SECOND MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS AND TRADE & INDUSTRY, AT THE 3RD CONSORTIUM OF INSTITUTES ON FAMILES IN THE ASIAN REGION (CIFA) SYMPOSIUM ON TUESDAY, 11 DECEMBER 2012, 1000HRS AT THE NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE
Mrs Patricia Chu, Chairperson of CIFA
Mr Lee Kim Siang, Chairman of Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society
Dr Lee Ngak Siang, CEO of Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society
CIFA council members, Speakers
Ladies and Gentlemen
1 I am pleased to join you this morning for the 3rd Consortium of Institutes on Families in the Asian Region (CIFA) Symposium 2012. First, let me extend a warm welcome to all delegates, especially those of you who have joined us from oversas. It is timely for Singapore to host the symposium this year. We are in the midst of a National Conversation which is focused on the hopes, aspirations and concerns of Singaporeans for the future, including the new and varied challenges faced by our families. The CIFA Regional Symposium is an ideal opportunity to exchange views from a regional perspective on the fundamental trends that affect our families, and to share our experience in promoting the resilience of families. I therefore commend Mrs Patricia Chu and CIFA for choosing Singapore as the venue for CIFA 2012, and Mr Lee Kim Siang, Chairman of the Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society, and Mrs Ang Bee Lian, CEO of NCSS, for supporting this event.
2 Strong families are the bedrock of society. It is therefore pertinent to the wellbeing of our society that the region comes together to contemplate how we can address the challenges posed to family development. Families are being re-shaped by globalisation, demographic shifts, income disparity, evolving attitudes towards marriage & parenthood, and the greater complexity of childcare. Such factors have an inevitable and profound impact on the structure of a family.
3 These developments call for innovative and effective strategies and interventions. But this is not the province of Government alone. We need a collaborative and mutually reinforcing effort between the Government, academia, professionals, NGOs and families in order to create an optimal environment within which families can grow.
Regional Demographic Situation
Singlehood, Marriage and Parenthood trends
4 Regionally, our population is ageing at an unprecedented rate. The UN estimates that those aged 65 and above in Asia will increase threefold from 420 million in 2010 to almost 1.3 billion by 2050, representing 25% of the total regional population. In Singapore, our citizen old-age support ratio is declining in tandem with the increasing elderly population. There are currently 5.9 working citizens for every citizen aged 65 and above – this is a significant change from 13.5 in 1970.
5 Declining total fertility rates (TRF) reinforce this trend. East Asian societies such as Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, have registered TFRs of between 0.90 and 1.39 in 2010. The TFR for Singapore fell from over 2.1 in 1976 to 1.2 in 2011. The decline in TFR can be attributed to the rising rate of singlehood, later marriages, and the tendency for married couples to have fewer children. Over the years, a growing proportion of the population in developed East Asian societies is remaining single. Meanwhile the median age of marriage in Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea, has also risen. Later marriages are likely to delay family plans and result in families having lesser children.
6 This has important social and economic ramifications.
Social and Economic Challenges
7 As an increasing number of women gain better education and join the workforce, we see the emergence of more dual-income families. Heavier responsibilities and longer hours at work also mean that compared to previous generations, parents now have less time to dedicate to their children. Less parental attention and guidance will also mean our young are more vulnerable and falling prey to social ills. Families and the community play an important role in educating and shaping the character of a child.
8 Economically, an ageing population will also pose challenges and constraints for our workforce, economic resilience and overall growth.
9 In Singapore, we adopt a multi-prong approach to address trends and needs among families. We prioritise marriage and parenthood, while acknowledging and meeting the needs of an ageing population.
Creating a conducive environment for families
10 The Government has put in place a broad range of measures to create a supportive environment for Singaporeans to marry, start families and age gracefully.
11 For couples entering marriage, housing schemes are in place to facilitate the purchase of their first home. Young couples can apply for housing grants to help them finance their first public housing purchase and first-time applicants are given priority in purchasing their flats. The Housing and Development Board has also increased the supply of flats in response to greater demand, especially newly married or young couples.
12 Meanwhile, to meet the needs of the growing elderly population, we have started to build more studio apartments, as well as hospitals and other integrated care facilities which reside within neighbourhood hubs for ease of access. We also have plans to enhance eldercare facilities such as integrated day facilities and senior citizens activity centres.
13 The Government also introduced the Marriage & Parenthood package in 2001. It provides couples with financial support to defray the cost of raising children. A Baby Bonus scheme, and a Child Development Account with matching co-savings from the Government, are among the measures to help couples meet the financial cost of having children.
14 In addition, with the increasing number of dual-income families, we have sought to address work-life support and subsidised child care. For example, maternity leave for working mothers was increased from 8 weeks in 2001 to 16 weeks in 2008. To encourage shared parental responsibilities, each parent has up to 6 days of paid child care leave. In addition, organisations can tap on the Work-Life Works! (WoW!) fund to help defray the costs of implementing work-life measures.
15 However, it is essential that the community and other partners complement the Government’s efforts in supporting a pro-family environment by encouraging better employment practices and a pro-family culture in the work place. In addition, Singapore has created a workfare scheme for low wage workers, and various Comcare (Community Care) schemes under the Community Development Council of Singapore (CDC) to help needy families. In the multi-racial and multi-cultural setting of Singapore, we also have community-based self-help groups like the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), the Eurasian Association (EA), the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) and Yayasan MENDAKI, which play an important role in reaching out to, and helping, disadvantaged families in their respective communities.
16 This symposium will allow our social service champions and organisations to share ideas on how we can achieve better community involvement.
17 Later today, excellent and innovative practices from many parts of Asia will be highlighted in the papers presented by distinguished. We will be hearing presentations from Japan on marital cohesiveness in three generations; from India on the rehabilitation of abandoned children, restoration and family preservation through their Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS); and Nepal and Malaysia will provide us with insights on adoption practices in the two countries.
18 I am also heartened to see the active participation of the region at this symposium. I understand that the “3A project – Asian Award for Advancing Family Well-being”, which was launched in 2010 to honour outstanding innovations to promote family life in the region, has garnered much success. This year, 8 out of the 31 projects received were shortlisted for the competition and I look forward to your presentations.
19 To conclude, families face increasing challenges arising from trends such as declining total fertility rates and an ageing population. These are shifts faced by all societies and call for a collective response from governments and their partners in academia, the NGOs and the larger community. Platforms like the CIFA regional symposium provide an excellent opportunity for constructive discussion and exchanges on this important issue which has profound social and economic ramifications. I wish all of you a fruitful symposium. Thank you.