Ahad, 24 November 2013

The Star Online: Metro: South & East

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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Orchard Road lights up for Christmas - in 'safer' colours


GREEN, red and gold may be traditional Christmas colours, but they are also similar to the ones on traffic lights.

Given that this could lead to motorists confusing yuletide decorations with traffic signals, the Orchard Road Business Association (Orba) has decided, from this year, to avoid the use of these colours for the shopping belt's annual light-up that it organises.

"While we want to create the festive mood, we have to ensure that motorists will not be distracted by the displays," Orba's executive director Steven Goh said.

He explained that initial plans to use silver and gold - which is similar to the amber signal of traffic lights – for this year's display were altered.

Instead, the panel of senior Orba and STB representatives which plans and chooses the decorations decided to turn Orchard into a winter wonderland with giant diamonds and snowflakes – all blue and white.

Called Christmas on A Great Street, the lights for the 2.2km stretch from Tanglin Mall to Plaza Singapura will be turned on by President Tony Tan Keng Yam tonight in a ceremony at Shaw House Urban Plaza. The light-up will run till Jan 5.

The move follows consultations with government agencies, including the Land Transport Authority and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

STB's director of lifestyle precincts development Tan Yen Nee said event organisers putting up outdoor displays have to consider various guidelines, including those meant to protect road users.

The board will continue to facilitate talks between stakeholders and government agencies on the feasibility of decorations for future events, she said. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

New family policy a beginning


A relaxed population policy will contribute to a rise in the fertility rate by a limited degree – it is unlikely to lead to a population explosion.

China's family planning policy is to be eased at long last.

The Third Plenum resolution, released on Friday reveals that China is to allow families in which either of the parents is a single child to have a second child, together with other reform.

The adjustment is considered to be a breakthrough in relaxing China's family planning policy. However, this step should be a beginning, rather than the end, of family planning policy reform.

Compared with the past overriding policy that required most families to have only one child, a relaxed population policy and allowing people to exercise their reproductive rights is a manifestation of greater respect and autonomy for people.

Although more families are choosing to have one child or none for a variety of reasons, such as the rising cost of raising a child, there is no need for China to impose the mandatory one-child policy any longer.

From a broader view, the central authorities' decision to allow more families to have a second child is meant to reverse the already low fertility rate and maintain the country's young labour resources.

A relaxed population policy will contribute to a rise in the fertility rate by a limited degree – it is unlikely to lead to a population explosion.

Based on the trial experience of allowing a second child among four cities – Enshi in Hubei province, Yicheng in Shanxi province, Chengde in Hebei province, and Jiuquan in Gansu province – allowing couples to have a second child only raises the fertility rate to a limited extent.

Even after granting people in the trial cities more chances to have a second child, the fertility rate remained low.

According to the fifth national population census in 2000, the total fertility rate of these four cities was 1.31, a bit higher than the country's overall total fertility rate of 1.22. In 2010, the total fertility rate of the four cities was 1.52 compared with the country's overall rate of 1.18.

China has experienced imbalanced demographic development since the strict family planning policy was introduced in the late 1970s.

The policy, which should have "advocated" one child for most families, has turned out to be a strict birth control policy under which most families are allowed to have only one child.

Since 1992, China's total fertility rate has dropped to under 1.6, well below the replacement level which is widely believed to be 2.1.

Since 2000, the fast development of the market economy has shifted the relationship between the costs and benefits of childrearing, which has discouraged more people from having children.

The fifth national population census in 2000 showed China's fertility rate was 1.22, but the sixth national population census conducted in 2010 showed the figure was only 1.18.

And analysis of data from the National Bureau of Statistics shows China's fertility rate was only 1.05 in 2011.

As a result, China's demographic problem is becoming grave. The ratio of the population aged from 0 to 14 years old in the total Chinese population dropped from 33.6% in 1982 to 16.6% in 2010.

In 2012 for the first time, China saw a drop in the country's working age population, as the number of people between 15 and 59 years old fell by 3.45 million.

What's more, the risks associated with single-child families are manifold: families are bereft of children, as families who observed the family planning policy but later lost their single children are often too old to have a second baby, society is rapidly aging, generation conflicts are becoming more acute and there is a growing gender imbalance and labour shortage.

The National Committee on Aging estimated that there will be more than 200 million people aged 60 or above by the end of 2013, and more than 400 million by 2033.

China's fast aging society will increase the burdens on households as well as society.

The sixth national census showed that in 2010, 118.06 boys were born for every 100 girls.

A normal gender ratio is between 103 to 107 boys for every 100 girls. It is widely reported that by 2020 there may be at least 20 million single men who will be unable to marry because of the gender imbalance, which will be a risk to social stability.

Confronted by these potential risks, China needs to be aware of the fact that the earlier the population policy is eased, the better it will be.

However, the experience of the four pilot cities showed permitting families to have a second child is far from enough, the authorities need to introduce incentives to encourage more qualified families to have a second child.

Changdao county in Shandong province has allowed families to have a second child for nearly 30 years, but it has still experienced negative population growth.

Simply easing the family planning restrictions to allow more families to have a second child is unlikely to increase the fertility rate to the replacement level at which population development is considered to be sustainable.

This is because with the advancement of social and economic development, child-rearing costs are on the rise, too.

Meanwhile, the increasing social and economic engagements also weaken the desire to have children.

The family planning directives have to be accompanied by supporting policy orientations.

To take the example of Changdao county again, even though a second child is permitted, local policy orientations remain the same as those in many other parts that observe the dominant one-child directive.

A benefit-oriented mechanism, such as incentives for those who give up having a second child, discourage people from having a second child.

Thus, many families, in fact only have a single child. Undoubtedly, China should push forward further family planning policy reform.

It is high time that the government grasped the strategic opportunities to promote pro-natalist policies, as well as grant people reproductive choice.

The Reform of the family planning policies should aim to build happy families, as well as social harmony based on respecting people's right to have children.

At the same time, the reform should be aimed at reducing or evading the risks brought by the country's low fertility rate.

Study: Spousal abuse most common


SPOUSAL abuse is the most common form of family violence in Singapore, according to a new study by Pave, the leading agency that deals with such cases.

Based on 3,600 cases it has handled over the last 10 years, Pave said the study found that victims who are physically or psychologically abused by their spouses made up 72% of new cases.

Pave executive director Sudha Nair said the high rate may not mean that other forms of violence are not prevalent.

"It is just that other forms of abuse, such as elder or child abuse, often go unreported; these are the victims who can't fend for themselves and do not come forward to seek help," said Dr Nair.

That is why the agency hopes more members of the public can come forward to help identify victims of family violence – whether they are married, children, or elderly.

The worsening problem of family violence can be seen by the rise in the number of such cases that went to court. In 1995, the Family Court heard 978 such cases. By last year, the figure had more than tripled to 3,200.

"I think it is a concern because families have come under increasing pressure and strain," said Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah who spoke yesterday at a family violence forum organised by Pave.

To tackle this problem, the newly-established Family Justice Committee has issued several recommendations that will be put up for public consultation early next year.

Among them, the committee hopes to strengthen community touch-points, such as schools, hospitals and family service centres, so that family violence victims can get help earlier, before cases escalate to the courts.

"If you want to save the family and try to make sure the family remains intact, you have to go further upstream," said Indranee, who co-chairs the committee.

This means teachers, doctors and lawyers may need to undergo relevant training so they have the skills and knowledge to refer victims for help. Victims could get help at specialist agencies that handle divorce cases or provide mediation services which the committee has suggested setting up.

There are currently three specialist family violence centres here. But they mainly provide counselling for victims and perpetrators and do not offer mediation or divorce-related services.

Pave welcomes the idea, as the proposed agencies could handle family violence cases that are often complex in nature.

For example, its study found that four in five victims have suffered both psychological abuse and physical violence. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

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