On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

A matter of quality and size

Wanita MCA chief Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen, a trained family
doctor, disputes the findings of a recent survey which listed 16 reasons why
Chinese women did not want more children, including a fear of pain and loss of
beauty from giving birth.

The survey of 374 Chinese women nationwide was conducted by academician Dr Niew
Shong Thong.

The reasons spelt out in the survey findings are certainly trivial.

Talk to people in the Chinese community and they would have plenty to say why
couples are having fewer children.

More Chinese couples are marrying later in life and, in many cases, they opt
for a small family or not to have children at all.

For many young Chinese professionals, career has come first – with marriage and
raising a family taking a backseat.

And having a large family is costly, especially in the urban areas. Among other
cited reasons are the lack of child-care support, unwillingness to spare time
for a big family, increasing cost of living, and stressful urban life.

But one overriding factor curbing family size is rising education cost.

Besides buying education insurance policies, Chinese parents save hard to
prepare for their children's tertiary education, realising the difficulties in
getting into local universities.

Unless the Government becomes more liberal and flexible in some policies, the
community will continue to be cautious in wanting to increase its size.

Over the years, the burden on education is somewhat lesser with the setting up
of more private colleges but going private is still expensive.

Latest statistics show that the 5.59 million Chinese make up only 24.6% of the
national population of over 22.7 million.

It has been reported that of the 550,000 babies born in the first half of 1999,
only 111,000 were Chinese while Malays accounted for more than 365,000.

While figures are not available yet, more Chinese babies were probably born
last year as it was the auspicious Year of the Dragon.

In 1988, when the MCA organised a seminar on the “Future of the Malaysian
Chinese,'' Datuk Chua Jui Meng forewarned that out of four projections on the
declining ratio of population in the peninsula, the best forecast indicates
that by the year 2100 the community's ratio would have fallen from 34% in 1980
to 23%.

The MCA vice-president said the worst projection shows that by the year 2100,
the Chinese population ratio would fall to 13%.

According to the Health Minister, the Malay population ratio will increase
because of their higher fertility rate and younger age structure.

That was in 1988. For 2001, the Malays should also be concerned with the
increasing number of Indonesians giving birth in Malaysia.

Unless they are illegal immigrants, these Indonesians will remain here and have
an impact on the political landscape in years to come.

Unlike the Chinese, these immigrants are unpredictable and probably more
aggressive politically, bringing with them different values and political

On the other hand, Malaysian Chinese voters have always been moderate,
pragmatic and have played a crucial, even decisive, part in elections.

Chinese associations have talked about setting up funds to give incentives to
young couples to raise more children but it is difficult to sustain such
programmes in the long run. Such monetary considerations are not

Even carrying out campaigns to encourage the Chinese to have more children
isn't likely to make much of an impact.

The best example is Singapore, which faces the same problem. The most it will
do is to instil an awareness.

It is important that efforts go towards building a community that is educated,
skilful, competitive, multi-lingual, self-reliant and IT-literate.

Despite Singapore's small population, it has been able to produce the best
brains in the world because of its efficiency.

Malaysian Chinese need to sharpen their entrepreneurial skills and become
strong global players, using the Chinese network.

More importantly, the community needs to forge a consensus on political and
educational issues, taking into account our multi-racial, multi-religious and
multi-cultural context.

Malaysian Chinese groups must be conscious of the community's minority status
and be more tactful and realistic in its requests, lest they backfire. The
Suqiu memorandum controversy is one example.

Chinese politicians must be prepared to sacrifice self-interest for the good of
the community.

They shouldn't waste their energy on inconsequential matters such as bickering
over whether SRK (C) Damansara, located near a squatter site and along a
highway, should be relocated.

Such issues sap the energy of Chinese community leaders and one wonders why the
Chinese dailies give these stories so much prominence.

The Chinese should get their priorities right. There are more important issues
at stake than the relocation of a school.