Two is Enough: Salleh Sariman

Posted by on Jul 25, 2014 in From the Archives | No Comments

Mr Salleh Sariman recalls the dilemma of wanting a third child despite the social stigma caused by the “Two is Enough” campaign. 

Two Is Enough

The trademark poster for the campaign. Image credit: Salleh Sariman

The family planning campaign of the 1970s, launched to reduce the population, was necessary. People were poor and had big families. The campaign was so successful that it has now created another problem – low birth rates. Well, that’s a different story.

This campaign peaked in 1972 when the slogan was “Boy or Girl – Two is Enough”. TV media was at the forefront of spreading the message and as one of the cameramen I got a front-row view of the aggressive campaign. We did interviews for the news, produced video clips, and shot documentaries to inform the public of the advantages of having a small family.

Whenever we took our three children for an outing at public places, we noticed the disapproving look on people’s faces. Such was the effectiveness of this campaign in slowing down the growth of our population. It was a roaring success.

Kandang Kerbau Hospital was a hive of activity and I noticed the staff were under tremendous pressure to show declining birth-rate figures to their big bosses. During filming, whatever was said and done in front of the camera was carefully crafted — but what was being said behind the camera to mothers who were delivering their third child was totally unpleasant to hear.

SallehSariman-TwoisEnough

The iconic posters that accompanied the campaign. Image credit: Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh

Those mothers who were considered ‘uncooperative’ were chided by doctors, nurses and hospital attendants. The stigma of having more than two children was so strong that many of my office colleagues and friends did stop at two.

In that year, the reality of it all hit me. My second boy was born. My wife and I wanted a girl very much. We were in a dilemma. After giving it a deep thought we decided to follow our heart. As was fated, we were blessed with a girl. My wife did not experience any verbal abuse for delivering the third child because she delivered all our children at Youngberg Memorial Hospital. The hospital was near our home and were managed by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church who were not in favour of birth control.

wife and kids

Mr Salleh Sariman’s wife and their 3 children. Image credit: Salleh Sariman

But we did not totally escape the guilt of going against the establishment. Our family doctor showed his displeasure when he knew my wife was conceiving our third child. So we stopped seeing him. Whenever we took our three children for an outing at public places, we did notice the disapproving look on people’s faces. Such was the effectiveness of this campaign in slowing down the growth of our population. It was a roaring success.

Our consolation was the joy of having both boys and girls in the family. And our daughter made our life much happier. We would have regretted if we did stop at two.

Mr Salleh Sariman’s story first appeared on Singapore Memory Project portal. Read more memories of past Singapore campaigns here and here, and comment to let us know your own! 

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