“Noting that human rights is “now a religion among some people”, he said: “You have, like in some religions, the fanatics. And it’s all hypocrisy and fanaticism (for these people) to set the views, as the leading spokesmen, of what is acceptable and what’s not.”The second topic was about how to get Singaporeans to have more babies. MM Lee Kuan Yew started that discussion when he revealed that (1) the government is planning to introduce new procreation incentives, and (2) we would seek to use countries like Sweden and Norway as our models.
At first glance, these two topics – human rights and childbirth – seem quite separate. After all, aren’t human rights just all that silly nonsense spouted by Chee Soon Juan and other clowns? As for babies, well, that’s a serious matter, for babies are our economic defence against the perils of a rapidly aging population. Right?
Here’s a curious point which the Singapore government has missed (or has chosen to be silent about). On the procreation issue, we now seek to use the Nordic countries as our model. But we haven’t realized that their parenthood policies are actually quite significantly influenced by human rights considerations. And this is quite true of European countries in general.
How so? Well, for example, let’s look at a rather well-known human rights treaty - the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, for short). The treaty tackles a range of issues relating to women, including pregnancy, motherhood, maternity leave, childcare support, and the involvement of fathers in raising children. Article 11 says:
2. In order to prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of marriage or maternity and to ensure their effective right to work, States Parties shall take appropriate measures:Now if you are a country which takes human rights seriously, the fact that you are also a party to CEDAW will inevitably influence your national policies. CEDAW will lead you, as a state, to focus on the welfare of the mother, and the welfare of the child, and even the welfare of the father. And you will incline towards the view that just by the fact that a family is a family, there are certain rights its members ought to have. After all, they’re human.
(a) To prohibit, subject to the imposition of sanctions, dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy or of maternity leave and discrimination in dismissals on the basis of marital status;
(b) To introduce maternity leave with pay or with comparable social benefits without loss of former employment, seniority or social allowances;
(c) To encourage the provision of the necessary supporting social services to enable parents to combine family obligations with work responsibilities and participation in public life, in particular through promoting the establishment and development of a network of child-care facilities ....
However, if you are a country which likes to say “Oh, human rights are just an invention of the West; me, I’m Asian, and I’ll have nothing to do with those hypocritical human rights fanatics," then the fact that you’re a party to CEDAW doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
You may still want to support procreation, but the motivations are different. For example, the Singapore government seeks to promote higher baby production, but its motivations are purely economic; the aim is to generate a steady stream of future workers for Singapore Inc..
Then the conundrum becomes this. Babies are economically useless. This is undeniable. They can’t type; they don’t wash dishes; and for a long, long time, they definitely won’t be doing any life sciences research in a R&D laboratory. In fact, babies are very much like Temasek’s investment in Shin Corp or Merrill Lynch. One day, they might generate good returns, but that will have to be in the very, very distant future. Meanwhile, they are just a huge, constant and bleeding economic loss.
This is not an obstacle, if you view babies and parents as humans, and by virtue of being human, automatically having human rights (like those under CEDAW). But what happens if you view babies merely as future economic units, and women merely as economic-unit-producing machines? The question then becomes – do you, as a government, really dare to bite the bullet? And put your money and political will into this very long-term, risky investment?
So far, the government has failed. From the time that "Two is Enough" gave way to "Have Three If You Can Afford it", the government has never succeeded.
[To Be Continued]