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Last Updated: Monday, 23 August, 2004, 05:46 GMT 06:46 UK
Singapore aims to lift birth rate
Singapore's new Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Mr Lee: "Have a couple of children, three if you can".
Singapore will give families financial incentives to boost record-low birth rates, new Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his national address.

Mr Lee also unveiled plans to increase maternity leave and cut working hours so single people can meet more easily.

Singapore's economy is booming, with growth forecast at about 9% this year. It does have problems, however, with divorce and unemployment on the rise.

Analysts have warned that future growth may be hampered by an aging workforce.

Money injection

To help encourage bigger families, the government now plans to reimburse companies for the cost of an employee's first four children.


Maternity leave will be lifted to 12 weeks from eight weeks.

Singapore's birth rate dropped last year to 1.26 babies per woman of childbearing age, a record low. That compares with a rate of 5.8 in the 1960s.

The number of childless couples, meanwhile, has tripled during the past 24 years to 6%.

To help single people get together, government workers will now be required to work five days a week, half a day less than at present.

Mr Lee's comments were part of his three-hour National Day Rally speech, given in Malay, Mandarin Chinese and English.

Singapore also said it will invite bids to build a casino resort on the island.

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