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Singapore

Have Baby Bonuses been helpful?

Close to S$2 billion in Baby Bonuses have been given out since the scheme started 10 years ago, said the National Population and Talent Division.

SINGAPORE: Close to S$2 billion in Baby Bonuses have been given out since the scheme started 10 years ago, said the National Population and Talent Division.

While Singapore's fertility rate went up slightly last year, from a historic low of 1.15 in 2010, to 1.20 in 2011, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said he wants to build a more "supportive social climate" for child bearing.

Social worker Francesca Seah and lawyer Davyd Chong tied the knot in 2011.

They said they want to have children but not just yet.

"In my childhood, I always thought I'd marry at 25," Mrs Chong said.

"But in the end I did marry at, what age? I married at 28. If I had married at 25, I'd probably have one or two kids by now."

The couple said cost is another reason.

Mr Chong said: "I want to be financially stable before I have a child."

Under the Baby Bonus scheme, parents are given a cash gift of S$4,000 each for the first and second child, and S$6,000 each for the third and fourth child.

The government also matches, dollar-for-dollar, the savings parents deposit in a special account for the child.

Savings will be matched up to a cap of S$6,000 each for the first and second child, S$12,000 each for the third and fourth child, and S$18,000 each for the fifth and subsequent child.

Parents can tap on the scheme when they register for their child's birth at hospitals and the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA)

They say the Baby Bonus helps, but it's not a deciding factor.

The demands and expectations of raising a child today are also higher than before.

"We don't just want to talk about having more children, but having more intact, closer, nurturing families," Mrs Chong said.

A survey of parents who've benefited from the Baby Bonus was done last year, and results can be expected in the upcoming Budget debates in Parliament.

But moving away from cash incentives, some say more can be done on the other end of the care spectrum, to help young Singaporeans cope with the burden of taking care of elderly parents.

Longer life expectancy means married couples often have to support two sets of older parents.

National University of Singapore sociologist Angelique Chan said: "So they'll either not have or maybe just have one or two, realising that they have care-giving needs at both ends of the life course.

"It's a financial cost, emotional cost, time cost. And they have their careers to worry about as well."

"We need to think of different models of care for older people, that allow them to be independent and allow family members to provide as much support as they can but to also live their own lives."

Raising Singapore's fertility rate will be a long-term effort.

But in the shorter term, there are calls for paternity leave, and also, more help for couples seeking fertility treatments.

Mrs Chong said: "Expensive no doubt, but these are people who want to have children. Is there any way we can make it easier, make it less expensive for people who want kids to have kids?"

In-vitro fertilisation or IVF costs about S$10,000 per treatment on average.

Currently, the government subsidises half the cost of IVF in public hospitals, for a maximum of three treatments.

The woman must be 40 years old or below and the couple must have at most one child.

Source: CNA/wk

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