News review

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 12:00am

In this era of globalisation, we need to look beyond Hong Kong. This News Review, a story from Malaysia, will give you a glimpse of what is happening outside the territory.

Falling Chinese birth rate blamed on fear of labour

(SCMP, January 10, 2001)

Ian Stewart in Kuala Lumpur

A survey has caused controversy by concluding that the falling birth rate of Chinese Malaysians is linked to women's worries about losing their looks and their fear of labour pains.

Demographer Niew Shong Tong, who interviewed 374 women across the country, also found that people were increasingly concerned about the cost of raising children.

Couples tended to have smaller families when they wanted to raise their social and economic status, Mr Niew said.

There had been a steady erosion over the years of the traditional Chinese value of having a big family, he explained.

But Ng Yen Yen, head of the women's wing of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) - the second largest party in the ruling National Front coalition - questioned the validity of the findings.

She said the real reasons for the declining birth rate, which has caused concern in the Chinese community, were social and economic.

The physical pain involved in childbirth and a preoccupation with preserving beauty were 'very trivial reasons' not to have children, Ms Ng said.

'Many women who have given birth to several children have maintained their looks, and the memory of labour pains vanishes when the mother first holds the baby,' she said. The targeting only of women showed the survey's 'bigotry'; having children was a process involving both parents, she argued.

Among the reasons Ms Ng adduced for the low birth rate were a breakdown in the extended family support system and the greater numbers of women pursuing careers.

Earlier this week, Chor Chee Heung, chairman of the MCA international affairs bureau, said the party might make another effort to encourage Chinese couples to have more children. Previous attempts have failed.

Community leaders fear Chinese political influence will decline as Malays, who account for more than 50 per cent of the population, maintain their high birth rate. Two community organisations last year announced plans to pay bonuses to couples who have more than three children.


demographer (n) someone who studies population statistics, such as birth and death rates

erosion (n) a gradual lessening or reduction

decline (v) to become smaller, weaker or less important

preoccupation (n) the filling of the thoughts or mind of (someone) to the exclusion of other things

bigotry (n) intolerance especially regarding religion, politics or race

encourage (v) to give someone support and confidence to do something

Discussion points

Do you think the Chinese community in Malaysia should be encouraged to have more children? Why?

Do you believe that women should pursue careers?

Edited by Catherine Chisholm