Several civic groups yesterday launched an online petition urging the government and candidates for the Nov. 29 nine-in-one elections to establish not-for-profit kindergartens in communities nationwide to address the dwindling birth rate, which they said have become a “matter of national security” that could jeopardize economic development.
The signature drive was jointly initiated by the Childcare Policy Alliance, the Taiwan Labor Front, the Taiwan Women’s Link, the National Alliance of Parents Organization, the Alliance of Educare Trade Unions, the Awakening Foundation and the Peng Wan-ru Foundation.
“Last year, the government touted the success of its fertility promotion policies, citing the relatively high number of 229,481 baby births in 2012, which was equivalent to 1.265 births per woman,” Childcare Policy Alliance convener Liu Yu-hsiu (劉毓秀) told a press conference in Taipei.
“However, it turned out that [the increase] was only due to people’s preference to have sons or daughters born in the year of the dragon, as the fertility rate declined to 1.07 births per woman in the first quarter of this year, lower than Japan’s 1.4 births,” Liu said.
Liu said two of the primary causes of the low birth rate were the insufficient number of public kindergartens and the high prices charged by private, for-profit preschools, which could amount to more than NT$20,000 (US$670) per month.
Statistics from the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics showed that last year, the average monthly income of workers aged 25 to 29 was NT$31,046, with about 51 percent of them earning less than NT$30,000, Liu said.
“That means most young couples can neither afford private kindergartens, nor get their children into public institutions, where students are chosen by drawing lots because of the high demand and limited enrollment quotas,” Liu said.
The child care conundrum has and will continue to deter young adults from having children, which could lead to a series of “national security” problems, including a reduced workforce, slower consumer spending and falling tax revenues, which in turn could push the labor insurance system and the National Health Insurance program further to the edge of bankruptcy, she said.
Shih Yi-hsiang (施逸翔), a non-governmental organization worker and a father of a two-year-old boy, said whenever he and his wife thought about having a second child, they always gave up the idea immediately after considering how much it would add to the family’s already-heavy financial burden.
Chen Hsin-tsung (陳信聰), a media worker with two children, said childcare was not the problem, but money was.
“The soaring cost of childcare has placed a huge financial burden on families, since the odds of our children getting into public kindergartens is on a par with winning the lottery. Hopefully, the establishment of more not-for-profit kindergartens can ease the burden and encourage more couples to have children,” Chen said.
The signature drive has three demands: that a non-profit kindergarten be set up in each community nationwide; that city and county councilors step up efforts to look for unused space in public schools that can be turned into such teaching institutions; and that city mayors and county commissioners work to extensively establish not-for-profit kindergartens around the country.