Sex and the city-state: Size isn't everything in Singapore

October 12, 2016 6:36 AM EDT

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By Fathin Ungku

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore's efforts to boost its fertility rate have just entered a new dimension - a much tinier one.

"You need a very small space to have sex," Singapore senior minister of state Josephine Teo was quoted by the Straits Times newspaper as saying in a bid to challenge old habits and encourage young couples to have babies even if they have not settled into their own flat yet.

The wealthy Asian financial hub has the fifth lowest fertility rate in the world, at 1.3 births per woman, World Bank data shows. The population of the city-state, which faces labor shortages and aims to curb immigration, grew 1.2 percent last year, the slowest in more than a decade.

The government has been at pains to boost fertility. Last year, it enhanced its incentives scheme, giving out as much as S$10,000 ($7,400) in cash to Singaporeans who have a baby. The public housing policy prioritizes married couples.

Companies have made use of the government's birth rate policies. In 2012, a National Day video advertisement by Mentos, titled "National Night", urged Singaporeans to "raise that flag" and get their "patriotism explode".

"It's time to do our civic duty", the video said. "I'm not talking about speeches, fireworks or parades. I'm talking about stuff after that stuff. I'm talking about making a baby, baby."

Teo's comments caused a stir on social media. Some blogs came up with lists of the smallest places in Singapore which could fit the bill.

"Singaporeans are like birds, don't expect to have eggs when there is no nest to lay them," Facebook user Shawn Yang said.

Women rights activists said such comments did little to tackle the cause of a low birth rate.

"It's clearly meant as a joke, (but it's) fallen a bit flat," Jolene Tan, head of advocacy and research at the Association of Women for Action and Research told Reuters.

"There's still many barriers... Many women still face discrimination at work. Working hours in Singapore are still (much) longer than many other civil advanced economies."

(Reporting by Fathin Ungku; Editing by Marius Zaharia and Nick Macfie)

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