If there is one message Josephine Teo, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Home Affairs, wants spread around among Singaporeans on the cusp of parenthood, it is this: "Start early."
Teo, who oversees population matters, was laying out new policy initiatives for Singaporeans to start conceiving during a joint ministerial media conference on Aug. 28, 2019.
Also in attendance were Desmond Lee, Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development, and Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Health.
The main message of the conference was clear: Singaporeans need to start having more babies.
Accompanying this message were several announcements to encourage the populace to embark on acts of procreation.
According to Teo, the common theme is that Singaporeans should "start early".
She said: "To have the best possible shot in life, start early, as early as preschool. To have the best possible shot at conceiving, start early. Either way, you have to start early."
She also said government support is already present, but the onus is on Singaporeans.
Reach out your hands
Teo acknowledged that government help in the form of funding and freebies constitute practical help for parents, but that alone is not enough to raise the fertility rate.
She said that social norms have to be more supportive of families, and that workplace culture should not make it difficult for employees to take time off to take care of children.
"I am still very hopeful, you know. But I need young people to be part of the solution. Meaning, please do your part also," Teo said.
She encouraged Singaporeans to make family their choice.
"Reach out your hands", she declared, to the laughter of the room.
The higher, the better
In response to a question about the government's target for the Total Fertility Rate (TFR), Teo replied "the higher, the better".
When asked whether there was a specific timeline in mind, Teo also had a ready answer.
"That depends on you! I've done my part, I think you have to too," said Teo, addressing the reporters within the room.
She also pointed out that between Lee, Khor and herself, they have nine children between the three of them.
Clock is ticking for fertility
Teo noted that the measures the government is implementing to promote parenthood are "as far as the government can go", without actively interfering in people's personal lives.
She also said she hopes that young people can channel some of the strong drive they possess in pursuit of their careers into starting a family as well.
"There are certain things you can do later in life. There is really not much of a clock that is ticking away," Teo said.
"But with fertility, so far mankind has not found a way to defy nature. And therefore, that is something we have to keep in mind," said Teo.
"You've always been part of the solution," Teo concluded.
Top image by Jason Fan.