SINGAPORE, Feb 9 — This being the Year of the Dragon for the Chinese celebrating the new year or spring festival this weekend, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is persuading young couples to have babies and welcome “a little dragon” into their homes.

In what is expected to be his last Chinese New Year message as prime minister, he said that the Government will “continue supporting your marriage and parenthood aspirations” and there are measures such as the doubling of government-paid paternity leave for those who are granted it.

However, these are “merely enablers”. “Ultimately, couples will decide whether to have children for their own reasons,” he added.

“I hope more will decide to go ahead, and I am confident they will find parenthood a deeply rewarding and fulfilling journey.”

Lee had announced plans to hand over the leadership reins to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong before the next General Election, which is likely to be held before the end of the year and has to be called latest by November 2025.

In his past Chinese New Year messages, he had spoken about childbearing, highlighting Singapore’s dropping total fertility rate.

Noting that the Chinese New Year, which begins on Saturday this year, is always a festive occasion spent with loved ones, he said that an important element of family life is child-rearing, which brings great joy to parents.

“Grandparents, like me, share this joy, too.

“We dote and fuss over our grandchildren, helping the parents to bring them up and contributing our part in this journey filled with happiness, purpose and love.”

Some Chinese believe that a child born in the Year of the Dragon is considered especially auspicious for the family. This is because dragons are seen as a symbol of power, strength and good fortune, Lee said.

“So now is as good a time as any for young couples to add a ‘little dragon’ to your family,” he coaxed.

“I hope my encouragement prompts more couples to try for a baby, although I know that the decision is a very personal one.”

He pointed out several reasons why young people in developed societies are choosing to not have children — they may be prioritising their careers, wanting to spend quality time with their partners, and pursuing other interests.

“Even couples who want kids may put off starting families, not realising how quickly it gets harder with each passing year.”

Although “all this is quite understandable”, it is his hope that more Singaporean couples will have more children and have them earlier.

To help ease the burden on parents and motivate aspiring ones, the Government has introduced several measures.

These include strengthening support for infant caregiving and work-life harmony, and the doubling of government-paid paternity leave, where the extra two weeks is not mandatory for employers to provide.

Ending his speech, Lee said he hopes that more couples would find parenthood “deeply rewarding and fulfilling”.

“Entering the Dragon Year, let us press forward with optimism and determination.

“I wish all Singaporeans good health and a very happy Chinese New Year.” — TODAY