Thursday, March 11, 2004

good grief

It's your 'duty' to procreate

Carrots alone won't work; it's time for the stick, say several MPs, who want pressure put on married couples who don't want babies

By Tee Hun Ching

HAVING babies is a duty. Make that a duty to self, society and country.

Alarmed? You should be, if you are married and have no desire to procreate. MPs like Dr Ong Seh Hong (Aljunied GRC) want to pump up the social pressure on such people whom he described as 'irresponsible'. Yesterday, even as their counterparts continued pushing for carrots such as a five-day work week and cash incentives, Dr Ong and several MPs suggested it was also time to use the stick. Indeed, the MPs argued passionately that procreation was a responsibility that people should fulfil regardless of sweeteners.

Adopting the most hardline stance among them all, Dr Ong emphasised traditional Asian values as he dismissed the common refrain that family planning is a personal decision. Declared the father of three: 'Procreation is not only the duty of everyone, but also the responsibility of every citizen towards his family, parents, society and country.' Those 'irresponsible' people who shun the stork, he said, should realise they would become a liability to the society in future. To prevent this, he suggested making this group bear the costs of their old age by having them contribute to an account he called the 'Preventive Eldercare Account'. The money in this account would then provide for their needs when they are old.

He said he believed that Chinese philosopher Mencius' words on filial piety - 'bu xiao you san, wu hou wei da' - still has relevance today. Translated, it means that 'of the three instances of unfilial behaviour, not having descendants is the worst'.

Mr Gan Kim Yong (Holland-Bukit Panjang GRC) also held out a Chinese phrase for those naysayers against children to ponder over - ai qing the jie jing. It means a baby is the product of love. Marriage and having children came naturally to people of his generation without too much cost-benefit analysis, noted the 45-year-old father of two. 'Sure, there were problems and difficulties, but they add colour and richness to life. If you ask parents today, few of them would regret having babies despite all the difficulties,' he said. He suggested an annual Love Campaign to add spark to the lives of young couples and help them appreciate the joy and fulfilment of having a family. 'It is like driving a car. We have the best engine, the lubricant is new and the tank is full. But when we turn the key, the engine does not come on because there is no spark in the chamber,' he said.

Dr Ong went a step further and proposed an all-out media blitz to promote family values. Such messages, he said, could be transmitted through TV dramas 'highlighting the sorry plight of a childless old couple and the great problems faced by an ageing society'.

Joining in the chorus of MPs who lamented the erosion of values that led to having children being viewed less as a duty than a personal choice was Ms Penny Low (Pasir Ris-Punggol), who is single. She said while children were a status symbol of sorts in the past, the reverse is true today. The MP, who admitted she faced pressures to get married especially during Chinese New Year from well-meaning relatives, said: 'In the not-so-distant past, we had less to eat and wear, but we had more children to show. Today, we analyse and analyse the cost until we become paralysed by it.'

the more often i read the local newspaper the more disgusted i am by the quality of the reporting/writing; the kinds of things they deem news, and unfortunately, the kind of things that come out of our politicians's mouths. (i've seen local papers from small towns in the middle of nowhere Podunk, USA that sound almost exactly like our venerable Straits Times, but with better writing. sheesh.) i'm almost ready to say that if they are going to apply 'social pressure' to me to have kids the moment i get married (or what about before, that should make them happy...that i get a 'headstart' on my 'national service'), then screw them. not only am i not going to have any kids for the sake of the government, i'm not even going to stay in that damn country. it's beyond infuriating. (i am going to die early of an anger-induced heart attack thanks to these clowns. geeeez.)

'procreation was a responsibility that people should fulfil regardless of sweeteners' indeed. bah. i certainly don't see it as a responsibility to have kids. (even if i do, i shouldn't.) having kids is a choice that every couple should make on their own, weighing their own costs and benefits, weighing their own ability to care for a child, not just financially but emotionally. having a child is a huge responsibility -not in the way dear Dr. Ong means it- but the responsbility is not to -society-, it's to the child you bring into the world. as if there weren't enough children in this world who are starved not just for food and water and a roof over their heads, but for the love and support that parents should (and all too often fail to) provide. as if there weren't already enough children who share a house with their parents, but have never had a conversation with their parents about something other than how well they are doing in school; have never felt that their parents love them as people and not as little extensions of themselves, a tabula rasa that their parents can make in the image of the person they always wanted to be but couldn't. does the government even care about that, or is all they want increasing birthrates so they can reach their all-too-often mentioned target of a 4mil population on our little rock in the middle of the sea?

to digress a little: someone needs to remind our MPs that 4mil is very crowded indeed. they should be banned from their fancy cars and pretty houses; and made to live in a three room HDB flat and have to take public transport to work every day. (ok, so i don't live in a three room HDB flat. but i don't drive to town/work/the country club either) once they've spent a week fighting rush-hour commuter traffic on the buses and MRT trains (and even the NEL is getting crowded on weekdays during rush hour), they'll understand a little better what it's like to have 4 mil people on this island. it's not a matter of having to sit in the back of your mercedes a little longer on the CTE. it's being unable to breathe, or move, or sneeze in the train on the way home; it's being forced to stand 45 min on a bus driven by a crazed maniac with a lead foot surrounded by strangers who are all trying very hard not to put their hands in sensitive places. try that for a change, mr MP. see if -you- want 4 million people on our little piece of rock then. (i understand that they are obsessed with the idea of a 'critical mass'. but i doubt not only the rationale behind it but also their ability to squeeze this many people on this little space. it's like squeezing one of those hand-exercise ball things filled with sand, you know? the harder you squeeze, the more bits of the sand-wrapped-in-elastic come squooshing out between your fingers. and then the ball explodes in your face.)

but to return: 'a baby is the product of love' -in the sense that sex results in babies, yes. that's all you can really say for it, if you put pressure on people to produce children they might or might not want. because of the exogenous carrot, and the all too familiar government-society stick. (as if our parents weren't enough 'social pressure' as it is. i don't know about MP Low, but -my- mother certainly wants lots of grandkids, and despairs of my brother ever giving her any's up to me. gah, i'm going to adopt.)

but most of all i resent the fact that the government thinks that it has the right to intrude beyond the front doors and grilles of our homes, and make what should be personal, carefully considered decisions on our behalf; that the government can use the media to 'blitz' us, can take over our privately-produced television shows/stations and demand that they serve the greater purpose of reproduction by showing us depressing images of abandoned old people with no children, and an aging population dying joyless and alone in their beds. i resent the fact that the government thinks it has control over the way we think. that the government always knows best what is good and right for us, not only as a political entity, but as individuals. that they try and coerce us into doing things they think is good for the country by making it sound like it's the best thing in the world for us, as people.

most of the time i can forget that i signed on with these people, this system. most of the time i think about the kids who are struggling through an education system that stifles their potential, and the people who live in three-room HDB flats who care passionately about their communities, and their country. About the people who stand in line for hours to watch the National Day Parade, and sing the national anthem with lots of pride and joy in their hearts, because they believe in this country. but try as i might, i can't forget -looking from the outside in- that our country is run by paternalistic or ineffectual men and women who pretend to know what's best for me. and it makes me wonder all over again whether i made the right choice three years ago when i signed that piece of paper. people assume that i'm a stayer, but who knows? in years to come, life on our tiny little rock may become all too stifling, and i may up stakes and 'quit', and move to more hospitable climes.

where the newspapers write in complete sentences, with commas in the right places, with more than one sentence per paragraph, about -real- news.

* the format of the article has been edited to make it more readable. damn straits times interactive thinks that every sentence should be a paragraph by itself. did no one take them to grammar school as children?

update: for a look on the funny side, go to Talking Cock's take on the government's new baby policy!


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