Women bore brunt of Lee’s draconian population policy

Chee Siok Chin

Former prime minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew must take responsibility for the current population issues that Singapore is now facing. The current PAP Government has not acknowledged that it was Mr Lee’s miscalculated policy of Stop-At-Two” that has resulted in today’s population and immigration woes.

What is more tragic is how this policy had affected women in Singapore. The Stop-At-Two campaign launched in 1972 was aimed at the “less educated and lower income groups” to control Singapore’s fast-increasing population then.

What is deplorable were the measures that the Government resorted to in order to discourage Singaporean families from having more than two children. It was women who bore the brunt of Mr Lee’s notions and practices.

Women who had given birth to their second child were encouraged to undergo ligation, that is, to tie up fallopian tubes. Women with low-incomes and deemed lowly-educated, were offered seven days’ paid leave and $10,000 in cash incentives to voluntarily undergo the procedure.

Mothers who gave birth to a third child were confronted with disincentives such as: civil servants were no longer given maternity leave; maternity hospitals charged progressively higher fees for each additional birth; income tax deductions were eliminated after the second child; third and subsequent children were given a lower priority in the choice of and admission to schools.

In 1984, the Graduate Mothers’ Scheme was announced. Mothers who were university graduates were given preferential school admission to children over non-graduate mother. The Government also established a Social Development Unit (SDU) to act as matchmaker for unmarried university graduates. And Social Development Service (SDS) for non-graduates.

The decision to legalise abortion in 1970 was not born out of ethical considerations but to facilitate the Stop-At-Two policy. Singaporeans, especially women, were disempowered and silenced by these draconian practices.

Singapore has come some way from such warped practices against women even if they were not explicitly targets. Despite the patriarchal society that Singapore still is, women here will not be silent about such oppressive conventions.

Many of the problems Singaporeans are experiencing today are a result of the ill-conceived population policies of yesteryear. As a result, the SDP has creatively addressed
working solutions that re-empower Singaporeans and make the country less reliant on foreign labour and able to stand on our own.

The Women Democrats has come a long way since its inception in 2001 and we continue to grow and play an integral part in our Party. We will continue to speak up and stand up for Singaporeans – women and men alike.

On this International Women’s Day celebrated on 8 March every year, I would like to wish women in Singapore and all over the world empowering and meaningful lives. Happy Women’s Day!

Ms Chee Siok Chin is a member of the SDP’s Central Executive Committee and Head of Women Democrats, SDP’s women wing.