Taiwan’s birth rate is dropping like a stone, and is now the lowest in the world. If nothing is done, the population will age and the long-term consequences would cause drastic national problems. The Ministry of the Interior has announced a competition to come up with a slogan that will encourage people to have children. It has caused quite a stir, but most people are joking about it rather than making serious suggestions.
Many of the slogans suggested by Internet users are ridiculing the idea of slogan-induced birth rates. Anyone who believes a NT$1 million (US$31,500) reward will produce a slogan that will make people want to have children just by hearing it, and that a single slogan can reverse a major social trend, is being a bit too simplistic.
Government agencies have already come up with innumerable policies — birth subsidies, educational allowances and pregnancy and maternity leave — to encourage people to have children, but Taiwanese birth rates still remain the world’s lowest. These policies have been ineffective because the government has not always implemented them, while industry has not given its full support and the general public has not fully accepted them.
If we look at the government’s implementation of the maternity leave policy as an example, business has not cooperated even though the government issued a legal order. Pregnant workers do not trust that they can return to their jobs after going on maternity leave. The result is that the law looked good, but is rarely applied. When even policy and legal decisions are useless, what good will a slogan do?
The population issue is a serious problem, but the ministry’s slogan concept will remain a quaint news report. The focus should instead be on the fact that low birth rates are a general trend in the post-industrial world. European countries, for example, have many policies to promote childbirth, but birth rates remain low. The results of Taiwan’s family planning may have surpassed those of other countries in the past, but given that the problem of low birthrates has been developing for years, it should have been easy to foresee that subsidies would be necessary to promote population growth.
The problem is not one of slogans, and the results of preferential policies have been limited. Falling population numbers have already become an unstoppable trend, and so it becomes necessary to find the real causes behind it. This is more important than any slogan.
In modern society both husband and wife must work, bringing in two salaries to pay the cost of bringing up children, educating them and paying for the family’s medical bills, often across at least three generations. The childcare system is insufficient at best and nonexistent or unrealistically expensive at worst. Many companies do not accept maternity leave. The economy is sluggish. Unemployment figures, housing prices and divorce rates are high. The natural environment is deteriorating at an alarming rate with no indication that anything will be done about it. The public has no enthusiasm for the country’s future. With so many problems in need of a solution, it is only natural that people think twice before having children.
The ministry’s approach to the low birth rate issue is a direct copy of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) rule by propaganda and slogan.