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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 August, 2004, 08:48 GMT 09:48 UK
Singapore appoints 'baby tsar'
By Andrew Wood
BBC correspondent in Singapore

Two young girls tease each other as they make their way down a slide at the Alexandra Child Care Center in Singapore Thursday, Aug. 19, 2004
Each Singaporean woman averages 1.26 children in her lifetime
Singapore has appointed a government minister to oversee new policies aimed at boosting its population.

The republic, which has just over three million citizens, has one of the world's lowest birth rates.

Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng has been given the brief of encouraging Singaporeans to have more babies.

He is also tasked with ensuring citizens feel valued, and easing the integration of foreigners in a bid to swell the population.

Singaporeans are not an endangered species just yet, but the trends are not encouraging.

On average each woman here has 1.26 babies - well below the 2.1 children needed to keep the population stable.

If that continues, the number of Singapore citizens will peak in a few decades, and then start declining.

Ageing residents

By the middle of the century, some United Nations estimates suggest more than a third of the resident population will be over 60.

The Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng has a difficult job.

His brief on population issues ranges from broadening immigration to encouraging Singaporeans to have bigger families.

Abortion is common - around one-quarter of pregnancies are terminated. Divorce rates are rising and family values are strained.

Singapore seems to be following a path many other industrialised nations have taken.

The birth rate has been falling since the 1970s, when overpopulation was the main worry. The prime minister then, Lee Kuan Yew, told parents that two children were enough.

Now Mr Lee's son, Lee Hsien Loong, is prime minister. One of the first policies he announced on taking office this month was generous welfare payments to parents who do not stop at two.

They will now get $10,000 for their third or fourth child.

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