[VIEWPOINT]Prop up birth rate by easing burdens

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[VIEWPOINT]Prop up birth rate by easing burdens

The whole nation is greatly concerned about the low birthrate of 1.08 children during the lifetime of the average Korean woman. Experts predict that society will age more quickly, as is the case in other advanced countries.
In response, the government is coming up with various birth-encouragement policies. The maternity leave allowance will be raised from 400,000 won ($427) to 500,000 won in 2007 and a system that reduces the working hours of child-rearing parents will be adopted in 2008: Under the new system, workers with children under the age of 3 will be allowed to work only half of their original working hours for a year, according to an agreement between labor and management.
In addition, the equal employment law has been revised, allowing workers with infants and toddlers under the age of 3, instead of 1 under the current law, to take childcare leave starting in 2008.
I believe these are much-needed policies.
However, despite various birth promotional policies, there aren’t many couples that easily decide to have more children, even though they understand the need. The main reason is because it is not easy to raise a child.
Couples today avoid having many children because they have a stronger sense of responsibility to their children.
Looking deeper into the problem, however, as the number of working couples grows and women’s role in society as a whole gets bigger, childcare becomes a double burden for women.
It may be only natural that as the birthrate gets lower, more women participate in social activities.
One important problem should be pointed out. Women desire more individual challenges in the workplace, but it is partly due to financial needs, too.
Women need to work as much as men, not only for their families, but also for the country to increase the gross national product.
It is not reasonable for society to demand women bear and rear more children when society actually needs women to contribute in the workplace.
In the end, the solution lies in reducing the childcare burden. Yet this is not something that can be easily solved.
Raising children in their adolescent years is just as important as raising them in their infant and toddler years. I don’t think we have a sufficient number of good day-care centers for infants and toddlers, both in terms of how well they operate and their facilities.
Our school children and adolescents are in even worse condition. There is a serious shortage of facilities to take care of minors over the age of 10 after school.
There are expensive private education institutes, but putting aside the question of whether they can play the role of a guardian, working women of lower income classes cannot afford them.
I doubt whether one parent would gladly have more children when there is no social foundation on which the newly born children can grow up with sufficient protection.
I read a newspaper article a few days ago which said that a company was planning to provide a volunteer service to children of working parents between the fourth grade of primary school and the second grade of middle school, helping them with their schoolwork after school.
Along with various government policies in support of child care, such volunteer efforts by the private sector are desperately needed.
If such volunteer services expand to include the care of infants, toddlers and all children, and a system in which society helps take on the responsibility of childcare after birth, I believe the low birth rate problem will naturally be solved.

* The writer is a professor of law at Konkuk University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Choi Yoon-hee
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