Quality childcare

©Korean Government

One of the most serious challenges facing Korea today is the plummeting birth rate. The total fertility rate of our country reached its population replacement level of 2.1 in 1983 and then fell to 1.7, the OECD average, in the late 1990s. This downward trend became even more evident during the 1997-1998 financial crisis. In 2002, fertility in Korea hit a record low of 1.17.

This demographic challenge will be catastrophic for our country unless we take appropriate action in good time. If low fertility continues, it will seriously undermine our economic vitality and increase the burden of supporting the elderly population. In response, specific plans of action are carefully being devised.

In this respect, the proposed Fertility and Ageing Society Act signals a meaningful step forward in tackling this challenge. The new law will provide for a presidential committee where major population policies will be shaped and enforced. It will also cover a broad range of issues, from marriage, pregnancy, childbearing and childcare to education, housing and tax schemes.

Greater financial resources will be invested to provide quality childcare. It is expected to raise the share of the public sector in national childcare spending to 60% and to provide more services to fully satisfy the needs of parents. Employees benefit from a 90-day maternity leave, with a guarantee of full wages, along with parental leave of up to twelve months. During parental leave, workers can receive fixed allowances from the employment insurance fund, so that they can take care of their children without worrying about a loss of income. The Korean Labour Standards Act specifies measures to develop a family-friendly work environment. These measures, however, are not mandatory, so we largely rely upon the voluntary participation of employers. The government takes the lead by introducing a flexible working-time system and by allowing part-time work for those who take parental leave. Moreover, the recently introduced five-day working week is expected to create a more family-friendly work environment and promote female employment.

Mothers who go out to work can reduce child poverty. The prospect of a labour shortage makes raising female participation all the more important for sustainable growth.

©OECD Observer, No 248, March 2005

See also replies by five other OECD ministers: Netherlands’ minister for social affairs and employment and chair of the 2005 OECD social affairs meeting, Aart Jan de Geus, Australia’s minister for family and community services, Kay Patterson, Germany’s federal minister for health and social security, Ulla Schmidt, Sweden’s minister for social affairs, Berit Andnor, who is also co-chairing, and from the US, Wade F. Horn, who is assistant secretary for children and families at the DHHS.

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