Recently, it hit me. I must take personal responsibility for the rising tide of xenophobia in Singapore. My life choices have led to the massive influx of foreigners here, which has in turn, resulted in growing anger from locals fearful that they are being squeezed out of their own country. I need to wo-man up and take the blame. Selfish, self-absorbed me. How on earth could I have not realised this? I am nearly 40. And yet I’ve not bothered to get married, let alone reproduce. I’m not doing anything to help boost Singapore’s birthrate. What a waste of an educated, Chinese womb. Women like me have given my government no choice but to resort to desperate measures to salvage what is clearly a dire situation.
“If we go on like this,” warned former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, “this place will fold up, because there’ll be no original citizens left to form the majority, and we cannot have new citizens, new PRs to settle our social ethos, our social spirit, our social norms.”
Oh, the pressure. Oh, the shame. What’s a girl to do? I’ve always believed my ovaries belonged to me and only me. Never thought they’d ever be expected to perform any sort of national service. Never ever imagined that decisions on procreation would ever be anything other than private. After all, LKY himself has an unmarried daughter. Surely he would understand that some of us don’t want to have it all?
We don’t believe we can build a successful career, lead an interesting life, and mother a brood of kids all at the same time. And even if it were doable, we don’t want to try. What’s there to prove? And so we choose. And some of us choose to put off having children, or to not have them at all. The government can dangle ever-bigger baby bonuses at us, cajole, beg and nag and still, we’d only reproduce if our own priorities change.
But what about our dwindling population? Well, what about it? Developed countries have had to deal with the same problem since long before the government’s drastic u-turn from its ill-conceived “Stop at Two” campaign. An ageing population is usually a sign of a better-educated, much savvier people. They’ve learnt that big families mean fewer resources for each child. They’ve realised that there’s nothing wrong with never being a parent. Countries cope. I’m sure our highly paid government will too, without blaming existing Singaporeans for failing to contribute to the birthrate.
According to LKY, if we’re not making babies, the only other solution is to import more people. There is, on the surface, nothing wrong with this. Our country was after all, built by migrants. Smart, accomplished foreign talent have much to contribute by raising standards and transferring knowledge and skills. And on the other end of the spectrum, we need labourers to build our roads and swanky condos, maintain our port and empty our rubbish bins.
But problems arise when the government focuses solely on the big picture – GDP growth! Wealth! An amazing skyline! – while ignoring the suffering caused by their policies.
We’ve opened the floodgates to way too many migrants, and allowed property prices to skyrocket, making it increasingly difficult for young Singaporeans to own homes and start families. We’ve emphasized academic excellence over personal growth, so much so that some couples decide it is too stressful raising children in this environment. We’ve let companies bring in hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, cheat them, exploit them and in the process, we’ve squeezed hardworking lower-middleclass Singaporeans out of the job market. Those affected are told they have to learn to compete, suck it up, or risk being irrelevant. The truth is, no amount of “skills upgrading” will make them better hires when thousands of Bangladeshi, Burmese, Indian and Chinese workers are willing to pay exorbitant fees to their employers in exchange for the privilege of being treated like shit here.
You see, it’s clear. Singapore isn’t very interested in poor or poor-ish people, whether they be local-born citizens or villagers from some third world nation. We don’t care very much if migrant workers are abused and we don’t care very much that by allowing this abuse, our Singaporean workers suffer too.
Above all, we don’t care for babies from less than ideal backgrounds. “HOPE” is a scary government programme that rewards the poor for keeping their families small. Single mothers have for a long time, suffered official discrimination. Oh yes, and who can forget the Graduate Mothers’ Scheme?
See, we even discriminate against those not-yet conceived. We want babies. But only babies from clever, morally upright, married people.
Since when did Singapore only belong to a certain type of Singaporeans? Who gave the powers-that-be the right to choose what kind of people they want in our country? Don’t all babies add to our total population? Given the hand wringing over our falling birthrate, shouldn’t every child be embraced?
Course not. The government works on a different sort of logic. Let’s scare the right kind of Singaporeans into procreating! Scold them, micro-manage them, make them feel bad! Then tell them to get with the programme and get it on already.
Newsflash: No one decides to have children because some politician says so.
So what’s a government to do?
How about starting with a lot less social engineering? A little bit more equality? A more compassionate society where human beings are treated as people, rather than cogs in some massive state machine? And while we’re at it, let’s have a society that respects anyone who wants to have children… as well as those who don’t.