OSLO: "Norway needs more children! I don't think I need to tell anyone how this is done," Norway's prime minister said cheekily, but she was raising a real concern.
Too few babies are being born in the Nordic region.
The Nordic countries were long a bastion of strong fertility rates on an Old Continent that is rapidly getting older.
But they are now experiencing a decline that threatens their cherished welfare model, which is funded by taxpayers.
"In the coming decades, we will encounter problems with this model," Prime Minister Erna Solberg warned Norwegians in her New Year's speech.
"There will be fewer young people to bear the increasingly heavy burden of the welfare state."
In Norway, Finland and Iceland, birth rates dropped to historic lows in 2017, with 1.49 to 1.71 children born per woman. Just a few years earlier, their birth rates hovered close to the 2.1 level required for their populations to remain stable.
"In all of the Nordic countries, birth rates started dropping in the years after the 2008 financial crisis," University of Oslo sociologist Trude Lappegard told reporters.
"The crisis is over now but it's still falling."
From Copenhagen to the North Cape, from Helsinki to Reykjavik, demographics across the Nordics reveal two things: there are fewer large families, and women are waiting longer before having their first child.
There's no single explanation, but financial uncertainty and a sharp rise in housing costs are seen as likely factors.
In the long term, this means there will be fewer people of working age to pay taxes that fund the generous state welfare systems.
These systems pay for, among other things, lengthy parental leaves, which in Sweden can last up to 480 days.
PAYING FOR PREGNANCIES
Experts present differing diagnoses and prescriptions to remedy the situation.
In Norway, one economist concerned about the effect the slowing demographics will have on economic growth has suggested giving women 500,000 kroner (US$58,550) in pension savings for each child born.
Another has suggested that, on the contrary, women in Norway who reach the age of 50 without having had a child should be paid one million kroner, since children also cost society a lot.
Finnish municipalities have already decided to loosen their purse strings to encourage locals to get busy under the covers.
The town of Miehikkala, home to 2,000 people, is offering 10,000 euros for each baby born and raised in the municipality.
"The number of childless individuals is growing rapidly, and the number of women having three or more children is going down. This kind of fall is unheard of in modern times in Finland," said Anna Rotkirch, a family sociologist at the umbrella organisation Finnish Family Federation.
In Denmark, Copenhagen has meanwhile turned its attention to men, who are in less of a hurry to become parents than women, with a campaign aimed at raising awareness about how sperm quality declines with age.
The Nordic region already boasts a wealth of family-friendly initiatives, such as flexible working hours, a vast network of affordable daycares and generous parental leave systems.
But when all that is still not enough to encourage people to have more children, immigration can be a lifeline - or a threat, depending on the point of view.
Sweden may have a falling birth rate, but it still comes in second in the EU behind France with 1.85 children born per woman in 2016.
That is largely due to Sweden's decades-long history of immigration: immigrant women tend to have more children than the average Swede.
With 2.6 children per woman in recent years, the town of Aneby in southern Sweden has one of the highest rates in the country, a phenomenon attributed to the fact that it opened its doors to immigrants two decades ago.
"Aneby welcomed around 225 Eritreans in the early 1990s and just after that (it took in) refugees from the Balkans. 1994 was a demographic record for the town," local official Ola Gustafsson told reporters.
But population growth among minorities has also fuelled fears.
A former justice minister in Norway, Per-Willy Amundsen of the populist far-right, made headlines when he called for family allowances to be reduced after a third child.
His stated goal was to stop Somalis who, he said, had a higher "birth production" rate than "ethnic Norwegians".
New provisions aimed at set-top box retailers, service providers among proposed changes to Copyright Act
SINGAPORE: New enforcement measures aimed at tackling the use of set-top boxes to stream content from unauthorised sources are among the proposed changes to the Copyright Act, the Ministry of Law announced on Thursday (Jan 17).
The law ministry is amending the Copyright Act in view of technological developments in the past decades.
In conjunction with the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, the ministry on Thursday released a report outlining proposed changes to the Act - the culmination of an extensive three-year review and consultations with members of the public.
The proposed changes include better recognising creators for their work, allowing easier access to copyrighted materials for educational purposes and supporting creators and users in the collective licensing of copyrighted works, said the ministry.
Among these changes, the report proposed that new enforcement measures be made available to copyright owners to deter retailers and service providers from "profiting off providing access to content from unauthorised sources" - such as through the sale of set-top boxes that enable such access.
"The measures, which are absent today, will make clear that acts such as the import and sale of such devices are prohibited," said the ministry.
During the 2016 public consultation period, respondents including content providers and cablecasters had highlighted the prevalence of such set-top boxes, said its report.
These boxes can be pre-configured to provide unauthorised access to content. In some cases, the box might not be pre-configured, but retailers will configure the box as part of the sale or provide instructions or website links to do so.
As part of proposed changes, new legislative provisions will be introduced to impose civil and criminal liability on those who "wilfully make, import for sale, commercially distribute or sell a product" that can be used to access audio-visual content from an unauthorised source, said the report.
In addition, the product must be:
- Designed or made primarily for providing access to such content,
- Advertised as providing access to such content, or
- Sold as providing access to such content, where the retailer sells a generic device with the understanding that “add-on” services such as the provision of website links, instructions or installation of subscription services will subsequently be provided
This covers both hardware devices and software applications.
There will also be measures to tackle those who provide a service to enable devices to access content from unauthorised sources (such as by providing website links, instructions or installation of subscription services), added the report.
The use of these boxes has been in the spotlight in recent years.
Last January, two Android TV box sellers, An-Nahl and Synnex Trading, were charged with "wilfully infringing" the copyright of four companies - telcos StarHub and Singtel, entertainment giant Fox Networks Group and football’s Premier League.
The case, which will be heard in April, is a chance for the Courts to clarify its legal position on the use of such boxes.
Meanwhile, the High Court last November ordered Internet service providers to block access to TV box applications that allow users to stream and download content like movies, TV shows and live sports channels, following the hearing of a motion filed by Singnet, Fox Networks Group Singapore, NGC Network Asia, Fox International Channels (US) and The Football Association Premier League.
The amendments to the Copyright Act will "complement" this existing mechanism for blocking "flagrantly infringing online locations", said the report.
SINGAPORE: All food products containing alcohol – except beverages – will be exempted from the Liquor Control Act from Friday (Jan 18), the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced.
With the change, food products such as rum and raisin ice-cream can be sold and consumed after 10.30pm in public places.
“MHA and the police will monitor the ground situation, and periodically review and update the legislation as required,” the ministry said in the press release on Thursday.
The move comes following feedback from the public and industry that certain products containing alcohol need not be regulated under the Liquor Control Act, as consumers were unlikely to abuse them, MHA said.
The Act, which came into force in April 2015, prohibits the sale of liquor at retail outlets and consumption of liquor in public places between 10.30pm and 7am daily.
The Act defines liquor as products containing more than 0.5 per cent alcohol.
Liquor can still be consumed within licensed premises such as restaurants, coffee shops or bars, in accordance with the hours stipulated in their licences.
The control of the sale and consumption of alcohol followed an incident in December 2013, which saw hundreds of foreign workers confront anti-riot forces after a worker was run over by a bus.
There are stricter rules for Geylang and Little India, which are designated Liquor Control Zones. Retailers there cannot sell alcohol from 7pm on Saturday to 7am on Monday.
TORONTO: Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun plans to pursue an education, get a job and "live a normal life" in Canada - things she said she could not do in her home of Saudi Arabia, which she fled fearing for her life, she told Canadian media on Monday (Jan 14).
Being in Canada is "a very good feeling," she told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation two days after arriving in Toronto from Bangkok.
"It's something that is worth the risk I took."
Qunun grabbed international attention last week after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to resist being sent home to her family, which denies abusing her. Qunun refused to meet her father and brother, who arrived in Bangkok to try to take her back to Saudi Arabia.
The United Nations High Commission on Refugees granted her refugee status, and Canada agreed to take her in.
Canada's decision to grant Qunun asylum comes at a delicate time. Relations between Ottawa and Riyadh have been tense after Canada demanded the immediate release of jailed rights activists last year. Saudi Arabia retaliated by freezing new trade with Ottawa and forcing many of its students to return to the kingdom.
Qunun's case has drawn global attention to Saudi Arabia's strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male "guardian" in order to travel, something rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.
In her CBC interview, Qunun said: "I felt that I could not achieve my dreams that I wanted as long as I was still living in Saudi Arabia."
Having come to Canada, "I felt that I was reborn, especially when I felt the love and the welcome," she said.
In her new home, "I will try things I haven't tried. I will learn things I didn't learn. I will explore life ... I will have a job and live a normal life."
SINGAPORE: The Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) has slapped a fine of S$750,000 on IHiS and S$250,000 on SingHealth for breaching their data protection obligations under the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), it said in a statement on Tuesday (15 Jan).
"PDPC’s investigations into the data breach arising from a cyberattack on SingHealth’s patient database system, found that IHiS had failed to take adequate security measures to protect the personal data in its possession," said the statement.
"PDPC found that the SingHealth personnel handling security incidents was unfamiliar with the incident response process, overly dependent on IHiS, and failed to understand and take further steps to understand the significance of the information provided by IHiS after it was surfaced.
"Even if organisations delegate work to vendors, organisations as data controllers must ultimately take responsibility for the personal data that they have collected from their customers."
These financial penalties are the highest ever imposed by PDPC to date, the commission said.
The PDPC's decision took into account the fact that the data breach was the largest breach that Singapore had ever experienced, as well as the sensitive and confidential nature of the patients’ data.
It also factored in that IHiS and SingHealth were "cooperative" throughout the investigations and took immediate remedial actions.
The cyberattack was Singapore’s most serious breach of public data. It saw the records of 1.5 million patients, including their names, NRIC numbers and addresses, along with other information accessed from Jun 28 to Jul 4 last year.
Among the data taken were the medication records of close to 160,000 patients.
Among those affected was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, with the attackers repeatedly targeting his personal particulars and information about his outpatient medications.
SINGAPORE: A 30-year-old man was hauled to court on Tuesday (Jan 15) for allegedly trepassing into a women's toilet on Christmas Day last year and taking 14 videos of women inside the cubicles.
Bryan Fang Zhongquan was charged with two counts of criminal trespass and 14 counts of insulting a woman's modesty.
He is accused of entering a women's toilet at Tampines Junction on Christmas night, extending his iPhone X under the cubicle wall and taking videos of multiple women.
He allegedly did this into the wee hours of the next day.
The police received a report at 1.05am on Dec 26, 2018, saying that a man taking videos of women at 300 Tampines Avenue 5 had been detained.
Bedok Police Division officers went down to the scene and arrested the man. Fang is believed to be involved in other similar cases, preliminary investigations showed.
One of the alleged victims posted an account of what purportedly happened on Facebook, which went viral.
The woman claimed that she and her friends caught a man hiding in a cubicle. According to her, he had been trying to take videos of them urinating.
They managed to detain him with some friends and passers-by and called the police.
If found guilty of criminal trespass, Fang can be jailed for up to three months, fined a maximum of S$1,500, or both.
For intruding upon the privacy of the women with the intent to insult their modesty, Fang faces a maximum one-year jail term, a fine, or both.
He is out on bail of S$15,000 and will be back in court next month.
A winter snowstorm blamed for the deaths of at least seven people in road accidents across the US Midwest rolled into the mid-Atlantic states on Sunday, forcing a ground stop at Dulles International Airport and the cancellation of hundreds of flights.
Millions of Americans in 10 states and Washington, DC, were under winter storm warnings as the weather system, which started as rain in Mexico was forecast to hit an 2,900-km swath of the United States from Colorado to the East Coast.
A total of 1,624 flights were canceled in and out of US airports on Sunday, the bulk of them at Washington's Ronald Reagan National Airport and Dulles, according to the Flightaware flight tracking website. A further 3,113 departures were delayed.
"The FAA has implemented a ground stop at Dulles due to the weather, which is impacting both inbound and outbound flights," Dulles airport said on Twitter. "Your airline will have the most up to date information on any flight impacts. Thank you for your patience!"
Several major airlines waived fees for changing or rebooking flights.
On Saturday, four people were killed in Missouri and three in Kansas died in roadway accidents, according to authorities in both states.
SINGAPORE: The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) will launch a new S$75 million grant to help enterprises seeking to raise capital through Singapore's equity market.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced this at the UBS Wealth Insights conference on Monday (Jan 14).
The Grant for Equity Market Singapore (GEMS) - a three-year initiative - will be launched on Feb 14 as the country aims to enhance its role as an enterprise financing hub.
It will have three components - a Listing Grant to defray part of initial public offering costs, a Research Talent Development Grant to groom equity research talent, and a Research Initiatives Grant to support crowd-sourced initiatives to propel Singapore's equity research system.
The Listing Grant with different funding tiers will encourage eligible enterprises across a range of sectors to list on the Singapore Exchange (SGX).
Tech companies seeking to list stand to receive the highest level of funding of 70 per cent of listing expenses with a cap of $1 million. Companies in high growth sectors may receive 20 per cent funding of its listing expenses, capped at $500,000. High growth sectors, identified by the Committee on the Future Economy report, are digital cluster, advanced manufacturing, hub services, logistics, urban solutions & infrastructure and healthcare.
Tech and high growth companies must have a minimum market capitalisation of $300 million to be eligible.
Companies from other sectors will also receive help, and can get 20 per cent of listing expenses, capped at $200,000. These companies do not need to meet a minimum market capitalisation to be eligible for the grant.
To help enhance research coverage and groom equity research talent the Research Talent Development Grant will co-fund 70 per cent of the salaries for fresh graduates hired as equity research analysts for a two-year period. Re-employed experienced equity research analysts with at least 5 years experience will get help too, with 50 per cent of salaries co-funded for a one-year period.
MAS aims to propel the development of Singapore's equity research ecosystem, and will earmark funds to crowd-source initiatives that will broaden and deepen the industry. Examples of such initiatives include publication of industry sector primers and new ways to distribute research as well as disseminate company information to investors.
GEMS is funded under the Financial Sector Development Fund and the MAS said it will release more details next month.
"Singapore has played a key role as a gateway to investment opportunities in Asia ... besides providing a conducive environment to support Asian enterprises Singapore plays an integral role in crowding in global investments by offering asset managers and institutional investors an attractive platform to to access pan-Asian investment," said Finance Minister Heng.
The grant scheme is Singapore's latest move to enhance the country's role as an enterprise financing hub. Last November the MAS announced a US$5 billion private markets programme (PMP) to fund locally based fund managers who invest in private enterprises and infrastructure projects.
SINGAPORE: Food and beverage company GD Group has been fined S$94,500 for making false salary declarations in applying for Employment Passes (EPs), the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Monday (Jan 14).
The company has also been barred from hiring foreign employees.
Between February 2013 and July 2015, the company falsely declared salary amounts of between S$4,000 and S$4,800 for 20 foreign employees to meet the salary requirement for EPs, while actually paying them between S$1,500 and S$2,200, investigations revealed.
This was done to circumvent foreign worker quota rules by hiring foreigners on EPs but paying them less than the declared salaries in the work pass applications, said MOM.
EP candidates need to earn at least S$3,600 a month while S Pass candidates need to earn at least S$2,300 a month, according to MOM's website.
There is no explicit quota on how many EP holders a company can employ, but the employment of S Pass holders and Work Permit holders is restricted to 15 per cent and 40 per cent of a company's total workforce respectively for the services sector.
Hiring S Pass and Work Permit holders is also subject to levies which are tiered such that companies that hire closer to the maximum quota will pay higher levies.
“The errant employer in this case has gained an unfair advantage in hiring foreigners at the expense of other firms," said MOM.
"MOM has a duty to protect the interest of law-abiding employers. We will continue to take errant employers to task by ensuring a level-playing field for businesses."
GD Group was convicted on Dec 27 of seven charges under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, with 13 other charges being considered for sentencing.
It added that making false declarations to the work pass controller is a serious offence, and convicted offenders can be fined up to S$20,000 per charge and/or jailed for up to two years.
OYE-PLAGE, France: A helicopter swoops over the northern French coast, its spotlight racing across the deserted beach on a freezing January night, looking for migrants who might put out to sea trying to reach nearby England.
On the ground, a three-man gendarmerie patrol - part of the French police force - tramps through sand dunes, searching an 11-kilometre stretch of beach near Oye-Plage, between the ports of Calais and Dunkirk.
Carrying electric torches and thermal-detecting binoculars to pick up any sign of life, the gendarmes inspect the dunes where people-smugglers sometimes hide rubber dinghies and other equipment prior to launching migrants on their way across the Channel.
The number of those attempting to sail the treacherous waters, braving strong tides in the world's busiest shipping route, rose to over 500 last year, up from a mere 13 in 2017.
The phenomenon has sparked concern in Britain, where the conservative government, eager to be seen as tough on immigration, has appealed to France to prevent the attempted crossings.
"The objective is to stop them putting out to sea," said Marie-Laure Pezant, who commands the gendarmerie unit in nearby Saint-Omer, adding that many of those who manage to slip past the authorities "get into trouble and call on us for help".
The migrants, many of them Iranian, are helped by people-smuggling gangs who organise the crossings, but who do not themselves board the boats.
They either attempt to steal boats, including fishing vessels moored in ports such as Boulogne-sur-Mer, or launch rubber dinghies from beaches at night.
Pezant's team inspect a metre-deep hole in the sand, likely used by smugglers to stock equipment.
The patrol then heads inland, along a path where rubbish got caught in the brambles. One gendarme picks up a discarded notice on how to use a jerrican.
"Obviously it was dropped here during transportation. That shows it was new equipment," says chief warrant officer Sebastien Hotin.
Further up a dune, in a wartime German-built bunker, the patrol recently found a sleeping bag, broken razor blades, and empty condom packets believed to be used by migrants to keep their valuables waterproof.
But it's rare they make any arrests.
"Given how big the area is we have to control, it's a lot easier for them to hide than for us to find them," said Didier, another gendarme who declined to give his surname.
The people traffickers are believed to regularly switch points of embarcation between Wimereux, south of Oye-Plage and the Belgian border, 80km away.
France earlier this month announced it would step up police patrols around ports and beaches following consultations with Britain.
London for its part has ordered a navy ship to join coastguard boats in patrolling the Channel, especially the 33km of sea that separate France and Britain at its narrowest point.
Explanations for the sudden spurt in sea crossings vary.
Some experts believe that Britain's impending exit from the European Union in late March could be playing a role, prompting a rush by migrants to enter the country before immigration controls are tightened.
The weather in recent months has also been unusually calm, coastguard and security officials say.
But Fabien Sudry, a top security official in the northern Pas-de-Calais region, has linked the increase to the arrival in the Calais area of large numbers of Iranians.
They have attracted, or led to the creation of, a new people-smuggling network which packs migrants into boats rather than trying to hide them on trucks.
Stowing away on lorries remains however the preferred route for migrants attempting to cross the Channel, especially for those with little money to pay smugglers.
On Monday night, a trucker in Calais drove his vehicle through a roadblock of burning pallets built by migrants hoping to hitch a ride to Britain.
The Bulgarian driver was slightly injured, officials said.