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Be open to infusions to the core
Publication Date : 01-08-2013
Singapore's global recognition as a cosmopolitan city is one of its strengths. It is a culturo-economic attribute, drawing on the energies and creative verve of a range of nationalities. The image is not only skin-deep in the look of the multinational workforce, however. Of significance, and barely touched upon in the public discourse, is the diverse parentage of births which has been trending higher in the past decade. Only half of the 42,663 babies born last year were to citizen parents. The other half had one foreign parent, or both were.
Between the Dragon years of 2000 and 2012, babies born to parents who were both citizens fell from 66.6 per cent to 53.1 per cent. A decline of 20 per cent over the 12-year zodiac cycle is a rapid descent, by any statistical reckoning. As a criss-cross hub city, Singapore will see more citizen-foreigner unions in the future, not fewer. This will be reflected in the birth profile. Such a trend will have implications for the shaping of a Singaporean core, characterised in some quarters as a defence of the ramparts.
Singapore would be better off taking a pragmatic view of the changing demographic profile and make policy adjustments with an eye on the future. Children born here with one parent a Singaporean are automatically citizens, but the non-citizen parent could still be denied residency or even a long-term visit pass. This should be reviewed to mitigate the hardship of families split up or forced to live abroad, especially if an official decision is guided by cost-benefit considerations alone. Some citizen children will also carry the citizenship of the foreign half of their parentage until they come of age, when they must make a choice.
Rather than lose such young citizens because of rigid thinking, strengthening the core should be seen more as an endeavour to fortify in them cultural values and national ideals, an abiding affection for Singapore, and kinship with fellow citizens. With Singapore as their "best home", any link to another place for familial reasons could be leveraged by the nation for a variety of purposes, as more outward initiatives are demanded by globalisation and international mobility in work, business and leisure.
Evolving societies might suffer pangs if their "born-and-bred" lineage cannot be preserved intact. But as a young immigrant society, it would be foolhardy to adopt too purist a notion of a Singaporean "core". Even family businesses come around to accept the infusion of non-family members for the larger good of stakeholders. Adjusting to the new reality may not be easy but accepting a less dogmatic, and more inclusive, concept of a Singaporean core would be a start.