Half-baked prescriptionsThe Moon Jae-in administration has come up with new measures to address our depressingly low birthrates for the first time since the liberal president won election in May 2017 after former President Park Geun-hye was ousted for an unprecedented abuse of power and bribery scandal. The progressive administration’s prescriptions seem to cover a wide range of government support for giving birth, housing and others.
First of all, the government has decided to offer allowances for maternity leave for some cases, nearly eliminate medical costs for all children under two and expand the scope of day care, which is increasingly popular with mothers these days. Also, the plan further shortened working hours for working mothers and raised bonuses for fathers on paternity leave to 500,000 won ($447). That’s not all. If a single parent raises children aged between 14 and 18, he or she is eligible to receive a subsidy from the government.
Nevertheless, outstanding features can hardly be found in the new plan probably due to the government’s original goal of supplementing the Park administration’s measures to tackle our rapidly ageing society. The Moon administration has repeatedly promised that it will achieve a drastic paradigm shift to raise the birthrate. It even said that if a couple can strike a balance between work and life before their parents or the government pressures them to give birth, the problem will be solved naturally.
The government says it changed its policy direction to improve the quality of life of parents and children without presenting desired birthrates in numbers as the previous administration did. But the government seems to have given an overly generous score to itself because its remedy is almost a replica of the Park administration’s policies. How can the liberal administration criticize its predecessor after copying nearly all of its measures to raise birthrates?
South Korea faces a stark reality on the demographic front. The number of babies born from January to April shrank by 9.1 percent compared to the same period last year. This year’s birthrate is expected to fall below one child per couple. No other country has such a low birthrate. If the trend continues, our newborn babies will decrease to 320,000 this year and to fewer than 200,000 before 2022.
Moon also serves as the chairman of a committee dealing with the birthrate. But he did not preside over a meeting Thursday. He vowed to put an end to the low birthrate once and for all. The government promised to devise a great plan in October. We hope it keeps its promise.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 6, Page 30