Remove policy loopholesThe government spent 151 trillion won ($135 billion) over the last decade to encourage people to have more kids and address problems related to Korea’s aging society. Of the sum, 85 trillion won went to reversing the decline in the birthrate, but it has stayed low, actually slipping to 1.24 children per woman last year compared to 1.25 in 2007.
The reason why the government is losing the battle to boost the birthrate became clear after a joint study of its policy by the JoongAng Ilbo and Saenuri Party Rep. Na Kyung-won, who is heading the special legislative committee on the low birthrate and aging society. The government has been recycling a laundry list of policies in its so-called campaign on the birthrate.
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism spent 60 billion won in subsidies for family temple getaway programs from 2008 to 2010. How it concluded temple stay programs would raise the birthrate is a mystery. The Ministry of Interior spent 554.9 billion won to replace CCTVs around the country for local governments. The Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family spent 143.4 billion won to curb teenage drinking and smoking. Government offices dug into budgets earmarked to promote the birthrate, spending 5.12 trillion won on 20 projects unrelated to the purpose.
Combating the low birthrate is the country’s biggest challenge, and its future hinges on the outcome. To fight our low birthrate of less than 1.3 children per woman over the last 15 years, the government should fix its administrative loopholes first. It must reexamine the three-stage, four-year plan that begins this year. There seems to be no way of encouraging women to continue their career after marriage or combat the phenomenon of delaying marriage or opting for divorce. What use is the number of policies when few seem to be of any help?
The loopholes in policies must be removed to enhance their efficacy. More money should go to providing incentives for childcare leave and allowances. Instead of spending money to promote family leisure, money should go immediately to families in need.
Local governments must come up with creative and customized birth promotion policies and companies must allow flexible working hours like Toyota has done. To ensure efficiency, the government could create a ministry like Japan has to spearhead campaigns to get some real results.
JoongAng Ilbo, August 23, Page 30