Attitudes toward child care
Health and Welfare Minister Jeon Jae-hee recently disclosed that the ministry is considering taking “French-style” measures to address the country’s chronically low birth rate.
These measures refer to considerable financial support by the government to parents until their children come of age. However, it was reportedly estimated that more than 19 trillion won - more than the ministry’s annual budget - would be needed. Apart from the efficacy of the plan, its feasibility comes into question.
Korea’s birth rate is one of the lowest in the world as an average Korean woman gives birth to 1.2 babies during her lifetime. To make matters worse, increasing numbers of women are deferring marriage and childbirth particularly due an environment in which it is difficult for women to balance work and home. This is why the birth rate has been at a standstill though central and local governments have paid large amounts in childbirth and child care subsidies.
In this regard, current trends in Japan’s business world are noteworthy. Canon recently started operating an early-leave system, allowing employees to leave work early twice a week to take care of their children. The Japan Business Federation is also encouraging member companies to implement an early-leave system.
In order to lighten the child care burden on working parents, what is as important as financial aid is allowing parents to have more time with their children. Korea has established the relevant laws permitting both parents full-time parental leave and shortened working hours.
However, what is more important than such laws is the correct attitude. The number of workers who took parental leave last year was 29,145, of which only 355 were men.
It is now time for Korea to benchmark Scandinavian countries, where the birth rate rose sharply after fathers were encouraged to take paternity leave and flexible working hours were adopted so that they could share the child care burden with mothers.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare took the initiative in initiating change in Korea’s unfavorable corporate culture in terms of childcare last year by highlighting 14 “family-friendly” companies and organizations, which encourage employees to spend more time with their family.
More companies and organizations should join in the drive because the negative effects of the low birth rate on national growth will eventually affect all constituents of society.