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Gov't announces measures to tackle low birthrate

All Headlines 15:08 August 25, 2016

SEOUL, Aug. 25 (Yonhap) -- The government on Thursday rolled out a set of measures to tackle the nation's chronic low birthrate, aiming to increase the number of newborns by additional 20,000 next year.

Under the measures finalized in a meeting presided over by Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and announced by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the government will provide subsidies for infertility treatments to couples from all income brackets starting next October.

Also, the government will provide up to 2 million won (US$1,800) per month to men on paternity leave for three months, the ministry said.

The measures came after the number of newborns in the January-May period decreased by 10,000 from a year ago despite the government's measures announced earlier this year.

The number of newborns in the country came to 34,400 in May, down 5.8 percent from a year earlier. It marked the lowest monthly level since Statistics Korea began compiling such data in 2000. Again, the number of childbirths here dropped to a six-month low of 32,900 in June.

Medical costs for infertility treatment had so far been covered by national health insurance only to couples with low income.

In order to qualify for the subsidy, a couple had to earn less than 150 percent of the national average monthly income, which is about 5.3 million won.

The ministry said medical costs for infertility treatments, including three sets of artificial insemination and a maximum of four sets of external fertilization, will be covered by national health insurance.

For artificial insemination, a couple can receive up to 500,000 won for each procedure, which is about half of the total cost, while a maximum of 2.4 million won is given to each round of an external fertilization.

The ministry said the number of couples forecast to receive the subsidy will increase from the current 50,000 to 96,000.

In order to help families with children, the government said it will increase the subsidy to households with a father taking parental leave from the current 1.5 million to 2 million per month.

The government has been encouraging paternity leave, including turning unpaid leave into paid leave in 2001 and extending the age limit for children in 2008.

Also, families, where both the husband and wife work with more than three children will have priority access to daycare centers, the ministry said.

Under the measure, households with dual income and more than three children will be guaranteed priority in enrolling their children to both state and private daycare centers as well as kindergartens.

Families with three children and a single income will also be given priority, the ministry said, noting that dual income families with two children will soon have more benefits as well.

A total of some 60,000 infants from dual income families with more than three children are currently waiting to be admitted to daycare centers across the country.

Also, the government will support small-and-medium sized firms to construct a system that allows more workers to stay at home while working.

Under the measures, public officials or those working at state-run companies with more than three children will be given priority in choosing a place of work, the ministry said.

The ministry said it expects the number of newborns next year to increase by additional 20,000 thanks due to the measures.

Health and Welfare Minister Chung Chin-youb announced a statement, urging business entities to actively participate in tackling the low birth rate problem.

"The problem of low birth rate is a grave task that will greatly influence the national future. Unless it is solved, we cannot pursue sound and sustained development," said Chung.

South Korea has one of the lowest birth rates among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development members, stoking concern that it could cripple the country's growth potential and possibly result in more welfare expenses.

According to data by Statistics Korea, some 435,400 babies were born last year, down around 1,000, or 0.2 percent, from a year earlier. It marked the second straight year of on-year decline and was the lowest since 2005, when around 435,000 babies were born.

khj@yna.co.kr
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