Singapore’s first family planning campaign


Recognising the importance of family planning to the national development of Singapore, the government organised the first national family planning campaign in 1960. The campaign aimed to raise awareness of family planning and the disadvantages of having large unplanned families, and to direct the populace to providers of family planning advice.

From 1949, family planning efforts in Singapore had been led by the Singapore Family Planning Association (SFPA), a voluntary organisation. However, with the urgent need to curb population growth in the 1950s, family planning, an issue that had until then been considered a private family matter, became an issue of national concern. Therefore, in 1960, the government launched the first-ever national family planning campaign as part of the Mass Health Education Programme.

The first family planning campaign
Beginning in October 1960, the three-month campaign aimed to raise awareness of the disadvantages of large, unplanned families and the need for family planning, and to direct those in need of family planning advice to sources available at clinics, hospitals and private dispensaries.

Islandwide publicity
Just a month before the campaign was launched, the Ministry of Health organised a contest to design a suitable emblem to symbolise family planning. The winning design, chosen from among 23 entries, was a circular emblem bearing the fertility sign and flanked by the universal biological symbols for male and female. Designed by Winston Tan, the emblem was used on all family planning publicity materials during the campaign.

Significant efforts were made to bring the family planning message to the populace. Family planning posters were put up in public places of high visibility. Free pamphlets, publicity booklets on various aspects of family planning, and cartoon picture storybooks in four languages (English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil) were also distributed. Family planning slogans were franked on local mail, and all local cinemas screened a specially produced ten-minute film and coloured slides in four languages. Media coverage was intensive, with special programmes broadcast on the different networks of Radio Singapore and Rediffusion.

Establishing a pool of family planning volunteers
Part of the campaign involved training over 1,000 volunteers in a three-day course (conducted in Mandarin and English) in November that equipped participants with family planning knowledge and the skills to explain it competently to members of the public as the latter had fears and misconceptions without scientific basis. The course consisted of talks, films, discussions and question-answer sessions. Volunteers were given handbooks, and upon completing the course were deployed to community centres to organise family planning programmes.

In dealing with the public, volunteers were to be tolerant and sympathetic rather than forceful and hence antagonistic as family planning was, ultimately, a personal matter. The role of volunteers was solely to educate members of the public on family planning, leaving the latter to decide on the next course of action based on their sense of familial and civic responsibility.

Talks and forums
Public talks and forums in various languages were organised at community centres and clubs.

In December, Mandarin and English programmes were organised for secondary school-leaving boys and girls, with separate sessions for each, as part of their biology class. Speakers of both sexes who were competent in the four languages were engaged for these programmes. The population control and health aspects of family planning were emphasised and two films were shown - Biography of Birth, and an Indian film titled In Your Hands. To avoid offending any sensibilities, there was no mention of birth control techniques.

Family Planning Exhibition
The campaign ended with a family planning exhibition at the Victoria Memorial Hall from 27 November to 6 December 1960. Opened by the then first lady of Singapore, Toh Puan Noor Aishah, the exhibition opened daily from 12:30 pm to  9:00 pm and admission was free.

The exhibition theme focused on the need for family planning both for the family and the country. On exhibit were displays of normal pregnancies and the hazards of too-frequent births and illegal abortions. The Social Welfare Department put up displays stating that many social evils, including juvenile delinquency and prostitution, could be traced to overly large families among the poorer sections of the community. There were charts showing the annual statistics for school leavers, and how family planning could serve as a check on rising unemployment. At the two booths managed by the SFPA, there were illustrations explaining birth control methods, as well as photographs of the happy homes that resulted from proper family planning. Contraceptives were sold to thousands of eager buyers of both sexes and all races.

A large barometer was set up outside the exhibition hall indicating the number of births occurring daily. This number was mentioned on the radio after the evening news to exhort parents to plan for their children’s arrival so as to provide the best for them. Thus, media coverage of the campaign kept it visible and raised interest in the topic.

The response to the exhibition was overwhelming, with visitorship totalling nearly 100,000 (over 10,000 daily and 12,000 over the weekends). Due to public requests, the exhibition was extended by two days. Many visitors felt that the exhibition was long overdue as most were unaware of the facts of childbirth. Visitors were predominantly men who had found the displays informative and had apparently told their wives to visit the exhibition, subsequently making a second visit themselves to complete viewing the exhibits.

Impact of the campaign
The campaign was successful in raising awareness of family planning. More significantly, it created a platform for an open discussion on family planning, removing constraints on a subject that had previously been kept private. Members of the public had previously been too embarrassed or shy to ask for contraceptive supplies but, presented with the opportunity, visitors to the exhibition were keen to purchase these supplies.

In 1961, efforts were made to sustain public interest in family planning. The exhibition display materials were taken to various rural community centres and the SFPA set up another exhibit at the Macpherson Housing Estate Exhibition. A course of lectures on family planning was held at the Teacher’s Training College, and Radio Singapore broadcast two forum discussions. Members of the SFPA also wrote articles on family planning for magazines and newspapers.

The campaign gave impetus to the activities of the SFPA, and the number of new patients attending its clinics increased dramatically in the following years. The increased demand for family planning services taxed the limited resources of the SFPA. Subsequently, in 1966, the Singapore Family Planning and Population Board was formed to take over the responsibilities of the SFPA and to launch concerted national campaigns for family planning.

Irene Lim

Butcher, M. (1963). The past as a guide to the future. In Singapore Family Planning Association 13th annual report (pp. 34-37). Singapore: Family Planning Association of Singapore.
(Call no.: RCLOS 301.426FPASAR-[AR] year 1962)

Family planning exhibition [Microfilm: NL12119]. (1961, March 21). The Straits Times, p. 4.

Lim, M. (1961). Government sponsored Family Planning Campaign. In Singapore Family Planning Association 11th annual report (pp. 24-29). Singapore: Family Planning Association of Singapore.
(Call no.: RCLOS 301.426FPASAR-[AR] year 1960)

Ministry contest for designers [Microfilm: NL4148]. (1960, September 29). The Straits Times, p. 4.

7-Day family control show [Microfilm: NL4149]. (1960, November 26). The Straits Times, p. 4.

Talk on family control [Microfilm: NL4149]. (1960, November 14). The Straits Times, p. 14.

Tan wins family emblem contest [Microfilm: NL4148]. (1960, October 22). The Straits Times, p. 4.

Threat to standard of living [Microfilm: NL3881]. (1960, November 27). The Straits Times, p. 1.

The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.

Health and medicine>>Healthy living>>Birth control
Family planning--Singapore
Geography>>Population>>Demographic Trends
Family planning services--Singapore
Politics and Government
Family Planning Campaign, Singapore, 1960-1986

All Rights Reserved. National Library Board Singapore 2010.