More babies, by hook or by crook!

November 01, 2023 14:14
Photo: RTHK

Is Hong Kong doing enough to encourage people to have more babies?

That would possibly be Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu’s next report card to President Xi Jinping who wants more babies.

This week President Xi made clear that women have a critical role to play in the “new trend of family”, urging the nation should "actively cultivate a new culture of marriage and childbearing and strengthen guidance on young people's view on marriage, childbirth and family”.

He said the role of women was discussed in the Communist Party’s All China Women’s Federation, which he now said it is crucial in "family harmony, social harmony, national development and national progress".

China lost the title of the world’s most populated country after it reported the first population drop in six decades in January. China had one of the world’s lowest fertility rates at 1.2 births per woman, compared with 2 births per woman in India, according to United Nations.

As such, different provinces across China unveiled financial incentives and children-friendly policies such as enhancing childcare facilities in a bid to recover the lost ground.

That must be the reason why babies are among the top agenda of Hong Kong policy address last week when John Lee offered baby perks that stirred up quite a discussion.

Other than the one-off $20,000 cash bonus, families with new babies would get priority in balloting and selection under the Home Ownership Scheme and subsidized public housing in the first three years starting next year.

It is hard to quantify the value of the home gift options, given housing has been the most thorny social issue in decades.

Unfortunately, many Hong Kong people may not take the bait given the high cost of raising a child.

Last year Hang Seng Bank estimated it would take a parent some HK$6.24 million to raise a kid in Hong Kong, or an annual expenditure of HK$284,000 until the kid becomes financially independent at age 22.

Although the Hong Kong baby package is more generous than that of Shenzhen, where it offered a 3,000 yuan one-off bonus and 1,500 yuan annual subsidy for the first three years, it’s far less generous that incentives offered by some Asian countries, especially rival Singapore, where it offered US$8,036 for the first two children and US$9,497 for the third kid.

That was on top of a 16-week maternity, unpaid infant care leave and tax relief for working mothers along with four-week paternity.

Now, how to deliver more babies will be a headache at Tamar headquarters. With a mission almost impossible, do not be surprised some smart minds might come up with the suggestion of banning the use of condoms one day.

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EJ Insight writer