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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Times on Aug. 26)

All Headlines 07:16 August 26, 2016

Haenam's baby boom
Reversing birthrate descent takes extra efforts from local gov'ts

Korea's birthrate of 1.24 per woman is one of the lowest among OECD members, ranking 33 out of 34 countries. But not all parts of Korea are stuck in the declining trend. The baby boom in Haenam County, South Jeolla Province, has lessons for other local governments.

Haenam's birthrate is 2.46, which is the highest in the country, followed by 2.16 in Gangwon Province's Inje County and 2.11 in Yeongam County, South Jeolla Province. Haenam's rate is well above the government's target of 1.5 per woman by 2020.

The reason for Haenam's baby boom is that the local administration has been implementing support programs for women that actually encourage them to have children.

The central government's pro-birthrate policies have failed, as shown in the fact that they have not pulled up the rate which has remained stuck in the range of 1.2 per woman since 2005. Haenam's unique success in boosting the birthrate shows the important of a local government's tailor-made policies.

All local administrations should benchmark Haenam's success resulting primarily from administrative efficiency and budgetary attention. In 2008, the Haenam County administration was the first among regional governments to establish a department for boosting the birthrate. A woman residing in Haenam receives 3,000,000 won for having her first child, 3,500,000 won for a second child, 6 million won for a third and 7.2 million won for a fourth.

The county also provides various incentives, such as public postpartum care centers that offer cheaper rates than those in bigger cities and assistance with medical fees for couples who have difficulty conceiving. After birth registration, new moms and babies receive gift baskets from the county containing nutritious food products for women after birth and baby clothes.

These bold initiatives have led to Haenam's current status as the nation's birthrate leader, which the county has held consistently for the past four years. Last year, 839 babies were born in the county of 75,600. An average of two babies is born daily in Haenam. This is amazing when considering that just 10 years ago, Haenam's birthrate was 1.42.

The government announced a five-year plan late last year to raise the birthrate to 1.5 per woman by 2020 that will cost more than 100 trillion won. But the national goal of boosting the rate takes more than just the central government, which has already lost credibility among most Korean women. A recent report by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs showed that only 2.5 percent of respondents believed that the government's birthrate policies were effective.

To turn around the demographic descent, Korea's corporate sector also needs to step up. They need to expand work-at-home programs, in-house daycare facilities and paid parental leave.
(END)

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