Some of the island republic's children are wanted more than others
A Singapore physician, John Hui Keem Peng, recently wrote a letter to the Straits Times in which he reminded us all of the existence of the Home Ownership Plus Education (HOPE) Scheme. This ironically named scheme provides support to low-income families, but only if they don't have more than two children. Cash incentives are given out to couples to fund ligation or vasectomy procedures.
In his letter, Hui wrote that he had come across a patient whom he had seen for problems arising from complications of an abortion she underwent a week earlier. Here is an excerpt from the letter:
"During the consultation process, it became clear to me that she was hurting not just physically, but also emotionally. She told me that this was not her first abortion, but her third. As she fought back tears, she explained that she "had to" go through with the procedure as she was on the Home Ownership Plus Education (Hope) Scheme.
"The scheme provides financial and material benefits to young, low-income families that choose not to have more than two children. Once they have more than two children, they are no longer eligible for the benefits. I am sure my patient is not the only young parent in anguish, and there are probably many others like her.
While the Hope scheme was conceived to help lower-income parents cope with the high cost of living, we might have inadvertently lost a number of Singapore citizens through abortions because of the conditions attached to it. Should we discriminate against lower-income couples by penalizing them for having more than two children?
Shouldn't we complement the scheme instead by putting in place programs that help them build stronger marriages and become better parents? If they decide they are unable to raise their children, why not provide them with services to facilitate adoption? After all, there are many childless couples in the long queue to adopt children. I am sure the scheme was initiated with good intentions. The question we must now ask is: Can we do better?
John Hui Keem Peng (Dr)
The Straits Times has also highlighted Singapore's policies on abortion in a feature published on March 17 ('Experts feel the law could be changed to make those seeking abortion think harder and longer'). The article states:
There is mandatory pre-abortion counseling if the women are Singapore citizens or permanent residents; have passed the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE); have at least some secondary education, and have fewer than three children.
There is no counseling for foreigners, rape victims or Singaporeans with three or more children, and those who have not passed the PSLE. If they seek an abortion, they get it right away.
Although one may understand why there is no mandatory counseling for rape victims, what is the rationale behind not counseling those who have not passed the PSLE? (A reading of The Straits Times' article suggests that "mandatory counseling" should be interpreted as "trying to persuade you not to have an abortion.")
In the absence of justification from the relevant body who came up with this policy, one can only conclude that while Singapore is very eager to persuade more highly-educated mothers not to have abortions, they don't really care about the poorly-educated. There is a strong suggestion that the policymakers have ascribed different values to the offspring of different Singaporeans even before birth.
This level of social engineering is hypocritical at best - especially at a time when the government is desperately finding different ways to cajole Singaporeans into having babies - and despicable eugenics at worst. It is equally hypocritical at a time when the government has agreed to expand the country's population by 30 percent to 6.9 million by 2030, with immigrants making up nearly half of that figure.
Why are policymakers discouraging low-income, poorly-educated Singaporeans from having children at a time when they are encouraging the arrival of tens of thousands of foreign immigrants? Is Singapore's Total Fertility Rate (TFR) not dismal? Are we not plowing money into more and more "pro-family initiatives"?
Is this just the ugly laziness of a nation that does not want to be responsible for children that may need more help and support from the state? Do we really believe that every child is precious, or are some children more precious than others?
(Kirsten Han blogs for Asian Correspondent)