10 March 2022
Thailand is encouraging its people to have more babies to stop a decrease in the national birth rate.
The Southeast Asian country plans to open more fertility centers and offer childcare services to parents. It also plans to use social media influencers to spread the message about the joys of family life.
The number of births in Thailand has dropped nearly one third since 2013. Last year there were 544,000 births. That represents the lowest birth rate in at least 60 years. Coronavirus-related deaths added to the total of 563,000 deaths.
Thailand's decreasing population is similar to other Asian countries like Japan or Singapore. But the nation is still developing. That means the effects of a falling birth rate are an even bigger problem.
Teera Sindecharak is an expert on demography, or changes in population numbers, at Thammasat University in Bangkok. He said the numbers show "a population crisis...where the mindset towards having children has changed."
Senior health official Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai told Reuters the government recognized a need to intervene.
He commented on the government's plans to introduce policies so that newborns get the full support of the state. He said it is trying to slow down the reduction in births by getting families that are ready to have children faster.
Officials said the plans include opening fertility centers all over the country and also using social media influencers to support bigger families.
Such policies came too late for some. Chinthathip Nantavong, 44, decided with her partner of 14 years not to have children.
"Raising one child costs a lot," she said. She added that several months of care for a young child "is already 50,000 to 60,000 baht ($1,520 to $1,850) and then it reaches millions later." She said that other countries have better care centers and social support policies.
Sindecharak said Thailand is heading towards becoming a "super-aged society" where the number of people over 60 is more than one fifth of the population. About 18 percent of Thailand's population is now over 60.
Last year, there were 3.4 working-aged people for every retired person. But officials predict that number could fall to 1.7 by 2040.
Danucha Pichayanan is the head of the state-planning agency. He said the productivity of manufacturing will decrease.
He also said a decreasing growth rate could weaken government finances. Experts have said government retirement payments already are not considered enough.
"We have a cat"
"It's become more difficult in deciding to have children," said Sindecharak. He said, in the last 10 years, the economy has slowed. At the same time, living costs increased but income growth slowed.
Political division, rising debt and education costs were also major influences in people's opinions about having children. Experts say short-term fixes may not be enough.
Information from the Bank of Thailand shows that household debt has grown to nearly 90 percent of the country's GDP. That is a measure used for the size of a country's economy. Debt was 59 percent of GDP in 2010.
But for many like Nantavong, who has chosen to not have children, costs are the biggest problem.
"The middle class, office workers or people that are trying make ends meet think the same way," she said.
"Right now we have a cat and it's not as costly as a child," she said.
I'm Gregory Stachel.
Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat reported this story for Reuters. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
encourage – v. to make (someone) more determined, hopeful, or confident
province – n. any one of the large parts that some countries are divided into
society – n. the people of a particular country, area, or time thought of especially as an organized community
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