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Thailand is attempting to avoid a population crisis as its birth rate falls

FILE PHOTO: Newborn babies wearing dog costumes to celebrate the New Year of the Dog are pictured at the nursery room of Paolo Chokchai 4 Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, December 28, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Thailand is attempting to boost its birth rate by providing day-care and fertility centres to parents, as well as enlisting the help of social media celebrities to promote the benefits of family life.

The news: The ad comes at a time when the number of births has fallen by nearly a third since 2013, when they first began to decline. Last year, there were 544,000 births, the lowest number in at least six decades, and 563,000 deaths, which were boosted by coronavirus-related mortality.

  • While Thailand’s demographic trajectory is comparable to that of other Asian nations such as Japan or Singapore, the consequences for Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy are far more serious as an emerging market reliant on cheap labour and a burgeoning middle class.
  • Officials claimed the plans include establishing fertility centres in 76 provinces, which are now limited to Bangkok and other large cities, as well as enlisting social media influencers to support the message.
FILE PHOTO: A baby is seen in a shopping cart after the government eased some protective measures following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bangkok, Thailand June 19, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo

What’s going on: Thailand is not the only country in the area with low fertility rates, but it is less wealthy than other more industrialised countries that have had to rely on foreign workers to keep their economies afloat.

  • Experts say it’s difficult to alter a scenario in which societal circumstances have changed and views toward having children are now influenced by concerns about mounting debt and senior care.
  • Thailand is on its way to becoming a super-aged society, with those over 60 accounting for more than a fifth of the population. Around 18 per cent of Thailand’s population is over 60 years old.
  • Last year, the ratio of working-age to old persons was 3.4, but officials predict that by 2040, it will be 1.7.
  • Deciding to have children has gotten more difficult as the economy has been sluggish in recent years, with rising living costs and slowing income growth.
FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a mask carries a baby at a bus station after many workers crowded the terminal station to return to their cities after many activities have been closed due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bangkok, Thailand March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Challinee Thirasupa/File Photo

What are they saying: The industrial sector will confront productivity slumps… so we need to train skilled labour and implement automated technology, said head of the state planning agency Danucha Pichayanan, at a recent business roundtable. Thailand is a key regional automobile and electronics manufacturing hub.

  • Danucha also mentioned that the demographic trend could put pressure on government budgets, and experts have indicated that even now, with monthly allowances of 600 to 1,000 baht, support for the elderly is not considered adequate.
  • Experts say that political divide, rising debt, and rising education prices are all key variables influencing views about having children, and that short-term solutions may not be enough.
  • Such policies may be too late for people like Chinthathip Nantavong, 44, who elected not to have children with her partner of 14 years.
  • “Raising one child costs a lot. A semester for kindergarten is already 50,000 to 60,000 baht ($1,520 to $1,850) and then it reaches millions later,” she said, adding that other countries have better care facilities and welfare policies.
  • However, for many people, such as Chinthathip, who has opted not to have children, cost is still a major concern.
  • “Individuals in the middle class, office employees, and people trying to make ends meet think the same way,” Chinthathip said.
  • “Right now, we have a cat, which is less expensive than a child.”

Facts and figures: According to Bank of Thailand data, household debt has increased to about 90 per cent of GDP, up from 59 per cent in 2010.

  • Thailand has also seen political unrest for the majority of the last two decades, with two military coups and huge anti-government demonstrations.

 ($1 = 32.4700 baht)

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