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Thailand bids to avert ‘population crisis’ as birth rate crashes -Breaking

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© Reuters. FILEPHOTO: Newborns in costumes for the New Year of the Dog celebrate at the Paolo Chokchai4 Hospital in Bangkok (Thailand), December 28, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Panarat Thepgumpanat and Chayut Setboonsarng

BANGKOK (Reuters – Thailand is trying to increase the number of babies it has. It offers parents care and fertility centers, as well tapping into social media for stories about family joy.

As the birth rate has declined by more than a third in 2013 since they began to decline, this campaign will be aimed at changing that. The 544,000 births last year was the lowest number in over six decades. It also fell below 563,000 deaths that were caused by the coronavirus.

Thailand is similar in its demographic trajectory to those of other Asian countries like Japan or Singapore. However, Thailand as an emerging market that relies on low-cost labour and a growing middle classes has far greater implications for Southeast Asia’s 2nd largest economy.

Teera Sindecharak from Thammasat University, who is an expert in demography said that the data “reflects a populace crisis…where the mindset toward having children has changed.”

Senior health official Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai told Reuters the government recognised a need to intervene.

He said that his goal was to reduce the rate of births, and to get families more ready for children.

Officials stated that plans to open fertility centres in 76 provincials are being considered. They also plan to use social media influencers as a way to support the message.

For Chinthathip Nantavong (44) who decided to not have children after 14 years of marriage, such policies might be too late.

It is expensive to raise one child. An entire semester of kindergarten costs between 50,000 and 60,000 baht (1,520 to $11,850) but it can rise to millions later,” she stated, explaining that welfare programs and better care options are available in countries other than Thailand.

“SUPER-AGED SOCIETY”

Thailand isn’t the only country in this region with low fertility rates. However, it is also less rich than other countries who have had to rely heavily on migrants to sustain their economies.

Experts believe it would be difficult to reverse the changes in social circumstances and attitudes about having children.

Academic Teera stated that Thailand is moving towards “super-aged society”, where people older than 60 are more than half of its population. Around 18% are older than 60 in Thailand.

It was 3.4 for the working-age population last year. But, officials predict it to rise to 1.7 in 2040.

Danucha Pihayanan, head of the state planning agency said that “the manufacturing sector will experience productivity slumps… so it is necessary to develop skilled labour as well as adopt automated technologies”. He spoke at a recent forum for business. Thailand is an important regional manufacturer for electronics and automotive parts.

Danucha noted that the population trend may also put pressure on government finances. Experts have also said welfare for elderly people is inadequate today with allowances ranging from 600 to 1,000 Baht per month.

“WE HAVE A CAPTAIN”

Teera said that “it’s becoming more difficult to decide to have children.” She pointed out that in the past decade, the economy was slow, and living costs increased, but income growth has slowed.

Experts say that attitudes to having children are influenced by political division, education costs, and increasing levels of debt.

From 59% in 2010, Bank of Thailand data revealed that household debt had risen to almost 90% of the gross domestic product.

Thailand’s political turmoil has continued for most of the 20th century, with two major military coups followed by large protests against the government.

However, for Chinthathip and many others who have chosen to not have children, cost remains a major concern.

Chinthathip said, “The middle-class, office workers, and those trying to make ends work think the same thing.”

“Right now, we have a cat. It’s less expensive than a child.”

($1 = 32.4700 baht)

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