[EDITORIALS]Perils of falling birth rate

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[EDITORIALS]Perils of falling birth rate

The declining birth rate is alarming. Just two years after falling to 1.4 children for every woman of childbearing age, the birth rate was down again to 1.3 last year. The decline, which began in 1970, has put the rate lower than those of France, England and Sweden. If the trend continues, Korea's population growth would stop by 2020, an alarming prospect in view of the nation's human resources.

A declining birth rate becomes a cause for concern when it leads to or exacerbates a labor shortage or increases the burden of supporting an older population. The problem of a labor shortage must be tackled through the increased use of the talents of the female population and encouraging child bearing. Society must take on some of the burden of childbirth and rearing.

Younger women today choose not to stay at home. Equipped with the same level of education as men, they wish to make use of their abilities. And the financial crisis of five years ago awakened families to the fact that a single income cannot be depended on as the only source of income. An increasing number of men also prefer working women as their spouses.

But there are still difficulties confronting women who lead an active career. The laws on gender equality and maternity protection are not enough to overcome all barriers. The custom of women leaving their jobs when they get married is history, but they are still discriminated against on promotions. Not many working women would feel free to take all three months off they are entitled to for maternity leave.

Fewer than 8 percent of our infants under the age of two attend daycare, and the rate is less than 50 percent for children aged three to five. The Korea situation contrasts with 30 percent of infants and 80 percent of older preschool children on average who are in daycare programs in other advanced countries. We know the benefits of breast-feeding, but not many places, let alone work places, are equipped with facilities where a woman can nurse her child.

As long as marriage, childbirth and child rearing stand as barriers for women's wish to be active in society, the birth rate will not recover. The government should at least promote female employment and establish more daycare facilities.
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