Mon, Jan 10, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Ma orders ‘national security-level’ steps to increase birthrate

AFP, TAIPEI, with staff writer and CNA

With the nation’s birthrate hitting a record low last year, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday ordered “national security-level” countermeasures to address the matter.

The crude birthrate, based on the number of childbirths per 1,000 people each year, came in at 0.721 percent last year, compared with 0.829 percent the previous year, data provided by the Ministry of the Interior showed.

The number of newborn babies also struck a record low of 166,886 last year, down from 191,310 in 2009, it said.

The new numbers alarmed Ma when Minister of the Interior Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) gave a preview of the report’s findings last week, media said.

“President Ma said the government must not be idle and demanded that ‘national security-level’ measures be taken,” Jiang said.

Authorities have offered incentives to try to boost the birthrate, amid growing concern that a severe manpower shortage will trigger serious social and economic problems.

The Council for Economic Planning and Development has proposed an annual budget of NT$38 billion (US$1.3 billion) for birth incentives and childcare support from next year, reports said.

Under the plan, parents would be entitled to a minimum monthly subsidy of NT$3,000 for each newborn up until two years old and an annual schooling stipend of NT$30,000 for children aged two to six.

The government hopes to encourage people to have more children during the Year of the Dragon next year, which is considered the most auspicious year in the Lunar zodiac and a favorite birth sign for children, media said.

Ministry officials said some parents were anxious to avoid having children last year — the Year of the Tiger — which, according to traditional belief, is one of the fiercest astrological signs.

Meanwhile, the number of people aged 65 and over accounted for 10.74 percent of the nation’s more than 23 million population, above the 7 percent level at which a society is defined as “ageing” by the WHO, the ministry said.

Childcare and education policies have mostly focused on providing assistance to disadvantaged or low-income families, but have done little to ease the financial strain on the wider public, said the report, which was jointly submitted by five members of the Control Yuan.

The report said Taiwan should emulate Singapore to make childcare and preschool education affordable for the majority of young parents in the country, particularly working parents.

The government watchdog spent a year researching the reasons behind Taiwan’s falling birthrate, which is among the lowest in the world.

Citing figures from the -Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, the report said that in 2009 the average monthly income of employees under the age of 30 was NT$25,028, while for those in the 30-to-34 age group was NT$30,465.

However, for workers in those age groups who were married and living in Taipei City, the cost of daycare for their young children was NT$15,000 to NT$18,000 per month, the 2009 statistics showed.

When spending for milk formula, diapers and other childcare necessities were added, the monthly costs to young parents exceeded NT$20,000, the report said.

Although the monthly cost of public kindergartens averaged NT$5,000 per child, most of these parents could not find a place for their children because there were not enough of them, it said.

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