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Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong Wednesday urged couples to have more babies in the upcoming Chinese lunar year of the rabbit after the city-state’s fertility rate hit an all-time low last year.
In 2010, a tiger year, Singapore’s fertility rate dropped to 1.16 children per woman, with the rate for the dominant ethnic Chinese population even lower at 1.02, according to official statistics.
In the Chinese horoscope, the tiger heralds uncertainties and risk. The Chinese New Year starts in 2011 on February 4.
‘It could have been because of the Year of the Tiger, or perhaps the economic uncertainties the year before,’ Lee said in his new year message carried Wednesday by local media.
‘Whatever the reasons, I hope more couples will start or add to their families in the Year of the Rabbit,’ he said.
With a population of 5 million, Singapore has struggled to boost low birth rates for years, but has so far not exceeded the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman.
Producing enough babies to replenish Singapore’s population ‘has proved extremely challenging,’ said Lee.
Addressing growing concerns over a sharpening competition for housing and jobs between Singaporeans and foreigners, Lee said ‘we must maintain a clear majority of local-born Singaporeans who set the tone of our society.’
‘Many (foreigners) want to become permanent residents and new citizens, but we will select only those who can add value,’ he said.