[EDITORIALS]Planning our population

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[EDITORIALS]Planning our population

A joint panel to address Korea’s low birth rate and aging society has been launched, including members of economic, labor, civic, religious and women’s groups. Considering the gravity of the declining birth rate, the launch seems belated, but it is better late than never.
The panel defined its goal as “substantially sharing the roles of each social body and achieving a pan-national agreement.” In fact, it may be hard to feel the influence of the declining birth rate and aging society for a general citizen. We still vividly remember the past slogan, “Let’s have just one child,” and have been suffering from excessive education fever, housing and employment problems. In France, noted for successfully raising its birth rate, the number one factor for success was the universal consensus of the public regarding the active policy of the government to maintain the population size.
Recently, the government announced a plan to invest a total of 1.93 trillion won ($1.93 billion) for reversing the declining birth rate. Of course, investment is necessary, but money is not the only thing that can solve the issue. It needs to be settled by changing the tide of society, based on culture, awareness and ethics.
The government said it would increase financial support for raising children and also the number of day care centers. Plus, it would form a working environment where work and home are compatible for parents, so as to enforce social responsibility for healthy pregnancies and childbirth. The government also said it would create a family-friendly social culture. All are ambitious plans, yet we can still find fault with many parts.
First, it is not guaranteed that a government subsidy for private nursery schools and kindergartens will be used to heighten the quality of raising children. If the government makes no move other than giving out money, it is highly likely to go into the private pockets of nursery school management.
The government also said it would invest 660 billion won in funding of vitro fertilization treatments for infertile parents. However, considering that only 25 percent of such operations are successful, that can be viewed as a waste of government finances. The government instead needs to present a broader set of alternatives for infertile parents, such as adoption.
However, the government took the right line in wanting to create an environment where work and home are compatible. Women nowadays choose not to get married or not to bear children, rather than being torn between work and children. Enforced protection of maternity, childcare breaks and flexible working conditions must be introduced, so as to make it easier to work and to have children at the same time. That only women bare the double responsibilities of work and childraising must also be stopped. Systems where fathers have paternity leave and childcare breaks must be adopted as in France and Sweden, which succeeded in raising gender equality both at work and at home.
At the same time, the government alone cannot take all the responsibility for the low birth rate. As the birth rate issue is related to the continuation of a labor force, business circles also need to join forces. The ratio of day care centers at work is still less than 2 percent at the moment. Just as companies support their employees’ physical check-ups, support must be sharply increased for childbirth and childcare. Also, a business culture where women are freed from discrimination about childbirth and childcare must be achieved.
Another problem is abortion. Every year, about 200,000 abortions take place. A social code that respects life needs to be spread.
The social crisis that will be provoked by the declining birthrate and aging society can no longer be ignored. The joint panel needs to hold broad discussions regarding such issues.
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