Singapore’s first family planning campaign

Singapore Infopedia


Recognising the importance of family planning to national development, the government organised Singapore’s first national family planning campaign in 1960.The campaign aimed to raise public awareness on the need for family planning and the disadvantages of having large unplanned families. It also helped to direct the local populace to reliable sources for advice on family planning.

From 1949 to mid-1960s, family planning efforts in Singapore were led by a voluntary organisation known as the Singapore Family Planning Association (SFPA).With the urgent need to curb population growth, family planning subsequently became an issue of national concern.3

Hence in 1960, the government launched Singapore’s first national family planning campaign, which formed part of the Mass Health Education Programme.4

The three-month long family planning campaign began in November 1960.5 It aimed to educate the public on the importance of family planning and disadvantages of having large unplanned families.6 It also helped to direct those in need of family planning advice to sources available at clinics, hospitals and private dispensaries.7

Island-wide publicity
In September 1960, the Ministry of Health organised a design contest for an emblem to be used for the campaign.Selected from 23 entries, the winning design by Winson Tan was a circle emblem bearing the fertility sign in the centre and flanked by the international biological symbols for male and female. The emblem was featured on all publicity materials for the family planning campaign.9

Significant efforts were made during the campaign to bring the family planning message to the populace. Family planning posters were put up at prominent locations in public areas. Pamphlets, publicity booklets on various aspects of family planning and cartoon picture storybooks were also distributed free-of-charge to the public. Family planning slogans were franked on local mail, and a specially produced 10-minute film was screened at all local cinemas. Media coverage was intensive, with special programmes aired on Radio Singapore and Rediffusion.10

The campaign involved training more than 1,000 volunteers over a three-day course held in November 1960 and conducted in Mandarin or English. The course equipped volunteers with family planning knowledge and the skills to competently share vital information with members of the public who might have fears and misconceptions about family planning.11 The course comprised talks, films, discussions and question-and-answer sessions.12 Volunteers were also given handbooks to refer to.13 After the course, the volunteers were deployed to community centres to organise programmes and lead discussion groups on family planning.14

As family planning is ultimately a personal matter, volunteers were advised to be tolerant and sympathetic, rather than forceful and antagonistic, when dealing with the public. 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.15

Talks and forums
During the campaign, public talks and forums were organised at community centres and factory clubs.16 Mandarin and English talks were also organised for students in Form V and above as part of their biology lessons. Separate sessions were held for male and female students.17 The talks focused on population trends, their impact on the country’s resources, and the health aspects of family planning. Two films were also screened at the talks: Biography of Birth and In Your Hands. Birth control techniques were not mentioned, so that no sensibilities were offended.18

The inaugural family planning campaign included an exhibition at Victoria Memorial Hall from 27 November to 6 December 1960.19 The exhibition was officially opened by Puan Noor Aishah, wife of then Yang di-Pertuan Negara Yusof Ishak.20

The exhibition focused on the need for family planning, both for the family and for Singapore. The exhibits included displays featuring normal pregnancies and the perils of too-frequent births and illegal abortions.21 Exhibits put up by the Social Welfare Department showed that many social ills – including juvenile delinquency and prostitution – could be traced to overly large families among the poorer segments of the community. Diagrams and charts showed annual statistics of school leavers, and the role of family planning as a check on rising unemployment.22 At the two booths put up by SFPA, illustrations explained birth control methods and photographs showed happy homes that had resulted from proper family planning.23 Contraceptives were sold to thousands of buyers of both sexes and all races.24

A large barometer-like device was set up outside the exhibition hall, indicating the number of births occurring daily. The number was also reported on the radio after the evening news so as to urge parents to plan for their children’s arrival in order to provide the best for them.25

The response to the exhibition was overwhelming, with visitorship totalling nearly 100,000 (about 10,000 daily during weekdays and 12,000 on weekends).26 The exhibition was extended by two days due to public requests. Many visitors felt that the exhibition was long overdue as most were unaware of the facts of childbirth. The visitors were predominantly men, and some had apparently encouraged their wives to visit the exhibition as well.27

The campaign was successful in creating awareness of family planning.28 It also provided a platform for an open discussion on family planning, which was a subject that had been kept largely private till then. In addition, members of the public who had previously been too embarrassed or shy to ask for contraceptive supplies were keen to purchase them when presented with the opportunity at the exhibition.29

In 1961, display materials of the exhibition held during the campaign were taken to various rural community centres.30 The SFPA also set up another exhibition at Macpherson housing estate that year. In addition, lectures on family planning were held at the Teachers’ Training College, and two forum discussions on the subject were aired on Radio Singapore.31

In the following years, the number of new patients at SFPA’s clinics rose dramatically, and the increased demand for family planning services taxed the association’s limited resources.32 In 1966, the Singapore Family Planning and Population Board was formed.33 It took over SFPA’s responsibilities and also served as Singapore’s national agency for promoting and disseminating information on family planning.34


Irene Lim

1. David Tambyah, “Wanted: Helpers for Family Planning Drive in Kampongs,” Singapore Free Press, 26 October 1960, 6. (From NewspaperSG)

2. “Family Planning Assn. Formed,” Straits Times, 23 July 1949, 7; K Kanagaratnam, “Family Planning Activities Expand,” Straits Times, 16 January 1967, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “Threat to Standard of Living’,” Straits Times, 27 November 1960, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Family Planning in Singapore (Singapore: Govt. Printer, 1966), 3. (Call no. RSING 363.96095957 FAM)
5. Chan Swan Bee, “1,000 Volunteers to Back Big Family Planning Campaign,” Singapore Free Press, 1 November 1960, 7 (From NewspaperSG); Family Planning in Singapore, 3.
6. Family Planning Association of Singapore, Annual Report (Singapore: Family Planning Association of Singapore, 1961), 1. (Call no. RCLOS 301.426 FPASAR)
7. “1,000 Volunteer for Campaign,” Straits Times, 14 October 1960, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Ministry Contest for Designers,” Straits Times, 29 September 1960, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “23 Entries for Family Planning Design Contest,” Straits Times, 16 October 1960, 4; “Tan Wins Family Emblem Contest,” Straits Times, 22 October 1960, 4 (From NewspaperSG); “1,000 Volunteer for Campaign.”
10. Family Planning Association of Singapore, Annual Report 1961, 24–29; “1,000 Volunteer for Campaign.”
11. Chan Swan Bee, “1,000 to Aid Family Planning,” Singapore Free Press, 27 October 1960, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Family Planning Association of Singapore, Annual Report 1961, 24–29.
13. “Talk on Family Control,” Straits Times, 14 November 1960, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Chan, “1,000 to Aid Family Planning.”
15. “Talk on Family Control.”
16. Family Planning Association of Singapore, Annual Report 1961, 24–29.  
17. “Family Planning Talks to Children,” Straits Times, 8 December 1960, 4 (From NewspaperSG); “1,000 Volunteer for Campaign”; Family Planning Association of Singapore, Annual Report 1961, 24–29.  
18. Family Planning Association of Singapore, Annual Report 1961, 24–29; Chew Loy Khoon, “Birth: Pupils to Hear,” Singapore Free Press, 7 November 1960, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Family Planning Association of Singapore, Annual Report 1961, 24–29.
20. “7-day Family Control Show,” Straits Times, 26 November 1960, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Family Planning Association of Singapore, Annual Report 1961, 24–29.  
22. “7-day Family Control Show.”
23. Family Planning Association of Singapore, Annual Report 1961, 24–29; “7-day Family Control Show.”
24. Family Planning Association of Singapore, Annual Report 1961, 24–29.
25. Family Planning Association of Singapore, Annual Report 1961, 24–29.  
26. Family Planning in Singapore, 3; Family Planning Association of Singapore, Annual Report 1961, 24–29.  
27. Family Planning Association of Singapore, Annual Report 1961, 24–29.
28. Family Planning Association of Singapore, Annual Report (Singapore: Family Planning Association of Singapore, 1962), 7. (Call no. RCLOS 301.426 FPASAR)
29. Family Planning Association of Singapore, Annual Report 1961, 24–29.  
30. “Family Planning Exhibitions Will Be Held at Centres,” Singapore Free Press, 29 December 1960, 7 (From NewspaperSG); “Talk on Family Control”; Family Planning Association of Singapore, Annual Report 1962, 33.
31. Family Planning Association of Singapore, Annual Report 1962, 33.
32. Family Planning Association of Singapore, Annual Report 1962, 15, 34–37.
33. Family Planning in Singapore, 28.
34. Family Planning Association of Singapore, Annual Report (Singapore: Family Planning Association of Singapore, 1966), 4. (Call no. RCLOS 301.426 FPASAR); Family Planning in Singapore, 33.

Further resources
Andrea Kee, “The Early Days of Family Planning in Singapore,” BiblioAsia 18, no. 3 (October–December 2022).

The information in this article is valid as of July 2023 and correct as far as we are able to 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.


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