[EDITORIALS]Balancing family and workA Blue House special task force on population policy has announced 20 measures to resolve the urgent issues of our rapidly aging society and the declining birth rate. A fertility rate of 2.1 is the replacement rate needed for a society to maintain its population. Korea’s fertility rate, however, is 1.17 now, and raising the rate has become an urgent task.
The government’s measures, however, were nothing more than a shortsighted and superficial policy, and we are skeptical about their effectiveness. The government promised 200,000 won ($169) of congratulatory money for a household that produces a new baby. Who would want to have a child to receive such a small amount?
The measure also includes allowing paid maternity leaves before and after childbirth and providing child-birth allowances to families receiving minimum standard of living alllowances. Considering the enormous financial burden on a family to raise a child, the government subsidy is a trifle.
South Korea has laws to support working women, such as those regarding sexual equality in employment, employment insurance, labor standards, infant care and childhood education. But our reality falls far short of the ideals set out in those laws. Under the law, a company with more than 300 female employees is required to build a company childcare facility, but only 95 out of 209 firms have done so as of late June 2003.
The Federation of Korean Trade Unions said the number of workers who applied for parental leave for childcare was only 20 percent of the number who took maternity leave as of last July. According to a poll it sponsored, many people did not apply for parental leave because they were afraid of disapproval of bosses and co-workers, not because the parental leave subsidy was too small.
Today, our society’s fertility rate is falling at an unprecedented speed because of growing enthusiasm for a better life. One of the reasons is the financial burden of raising children and the other is wives’ careers.
The government must enforce existing laws first. Educational costs must be gotten under control. The administration should come up with a comprehensive social and cultural policy that would allow working mothers to balance family and work.