On improving child careThere are divided opinions on the “Seven pledges to solve the low birthrate” presented by the Grand National Party. The solution to cover child care expenses for all families except for those in the top 30 percent income level by 2012 is the main focus of debate. The opposition party is attacking the governing party, saying that since public opinion seems to be for free school meals, the GNP is emphasizing free child care to try to enhance its image before the regional elections.
We recognize the GNP cannot completely be free from such criticism. However, we think it is appropriate that it has placed the focus on the problem of the low birthrate, one of the biggest crises facing Korea. The total birthrate last year, or number of children per woman, was 1.15, a drop from 1.19 the year before and the lowest rate in the world.
Considering that the financial burden is the biggest reason claimed by married couples for avoiding children, expanding child care support will help. The current annual budget used to fully support 50 percent of low-income families and partially support 50 to 70 percent of families is 1.63 trillion won ($1.43 billion). An additional 560 billion won will be needed to fully support 70 percent of families, as the part pledges. This is not a small amount, but it is still less than the guidelines of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that say the child care budget should be 1 percent of GDP.
However, as complicated as the reason behind a low birthrate is, the point must be made again that the solution should be pursued in multiple directions. It is difficult to reap great results just by expanding the budget. We must face the reality of surging complaints that “there is no place to leave our children with complete trust.” In reality, 41 percent of 2.74 million infants and young children do not use child care facilities. This is not because of their poor conditions, not because of a lack of facilities. Even if the government increases financial child care support, those who use such facilities are the only ones who can benefit.
To realistically help working mothers raising children, the number of customized child care facilities that take care of infants from birth to 2 years old and keep their doors open even at night and on weekends should be increased. The number of national and public child care facilities must also be greatly increased.
How much longer will we neglect the situation of mothers already lining up for national and public facilities that offer lower prices and better quality than private facilities? While upgrading public child care facilities, the government should provide an innovative policy to raise their standard.