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[Op-Ed] Saint Jae-hee

Posted March. 09, 2009 08:33,   


German parents call their Family Affairs Minister Ursula von der Leyen “Saint Ursula” for her drive to promote the birth rate. Von der Leyen, herself the mother of seven children, has increased Germany’s birth rate. “Parents’ Fund,” one of the measures to boost childbearing, provides a parent on paternity or maternity leave with 67 percent of his or her salary for a year. If a man takes paternity leave, he receives state support for 14 months. These measures have raised Germany’s total fertility rate, or the average number of babies a woman is expected to bear over her lifetime, to 1.37 in 2007 from 1.33 in 2003. The figure grew further last year.

Public officials at Korea’s Health, Welfare and Family Affairs Ministry are given 2,000 points, equivalent to two million won (1,290 U.S. dollars) when they give birth to a second child and 3,000 points for a third. Those who have three children or more get an extra point for promotion. This is in stark contrast to the situation facing ordinary employees, who are reluctant to take time off for their children for fear of being laid off. A report says the average number of children that a ministry employee has is 1.91, higher than Korea’s total fertility rate of 1.09. The ministry’s policy favors only its employees and alienates the majority of the public, however, having no effect on boosting the nation’s overall birth rate.

To be fair, Health Minister Jeon Jae-hee is doing her best to raise Korea’s low birth rate, saying, “Korea’s fate depends on the birth rate.” Jeon said she prefers the French model that relies on state support to Germany’s, which includes a policy to support immigrants. Jeon should take note, however, that Germany’s pro-procreation policy has incorporated elements of the French model. When drafting her ministry’s budget, Von der Leyen said, “The rising number of babies will create 417,000 jobs and benefit the government through 70 billion euros in tax revenues.” She has used an economic approach to family planning policy.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has advised its member governments to remove a cap for service fees at childcare facilities if they want to boost female participation in economic activities. This is also expected to raise fertility rates. Given that Korea lacks quality and reliable childcare facilities, deregulation on the childcare service industry will help produce better private facilities for childcare and create jobs. Pleading to mothers to deliver more babies is an antiquated and ineffective measure. If the benefits that the ministry’s employees get are expanded to include the people, the national birth rate will drastically rise and Minister Jeon will be hailed as “Saint Jae-hee.”

Editorial Writer Kim Soon-deok (yuri@donga.com)