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A third child

Posted March. 13, 2012 06:33,   


When Korean women had little knowledge of contraception, they had as many babies as possible until no longer able to do so. When the official fertility rate exceeded six per woman in the 1960s, the Korean government started a birth control campaign, with one slogan saying, “You can’t get out of poverty if you give birth to babies endlessly.” In the 1970s, men who underwent a sterilization operation and had two children or less were granted preferential treatment in buying public housing. That gave birth to the slogan, "Let’s have two children regardless of sex and rear them well.” As a result, the national birth rate fell to 1.08 in 2005.

People got married later and had fewer babies in the 2000s, so Korea`s central and provincial governments encouraged childbirth through subsidies. Certain provincial bodies granted a couple 30 million won (26,690 U.S. dollars) if they had a sixth child. A district in Daejeon that received a presidential award in the competition to create a better environment for childbirth last year provides a layette worth 300,000 won (266.90 dollars) for a third child, 400,000 won (355.87 dollars) for a fourth, and 500,000 won (444.80 dollars) for a fifth or more. Busan topped the nation in the increase of the number of third children last year by offering tuition to their families. These programs prove that good financial support can help alleviate the country`s low birth rate.

Third children or beyond account for 10.95 percent of babies who were born last year. Among those who were born in 1982, the ratio was 22.67 percent but fell to 6.86 percent among those born in 1991, when having just one child was a fad. The number began to increase again from 2010. A sample census survey found that the number of married fertile women who wanted more babies increased 13 percent from five years ago. The average number of children that women in Seoul want is 1.96 but they gave birth to 1.02 because Seoul pays less attention and support to women due to the strong inflow of population unlike in the provinces, where the population is on the decline.

The government can go only so far with subsidies to boost the fertility rate. If Koreans can take parental leave like in Scandinavian countries, the rate will go up a little more. Though 56,700 women applied for maternity leave last year, up 39 percent year-on-year, certain companies still ask women to quit if they want maternity leave. Flexible working hours is one alternative. Just 1,400 men were on paternity leave, though this increased by 71 percent year-on-year. The low birth rate can be raised only if people believe that a child is raised not just by his or her mother alone but also by family and society.

Editorial Writer Hong Kwon-hee (konihong@donga.com)