Govt aims to reduce costs associated with raising families

(China Daily)

China will improve policies to boost birth rates by refining parental leave policies and increasing the supply of childcare services, according to the Government Work Report released during the two sessions that concluded last month.

These steps will reduce the costs associated with giving birth and raising and educating children, it said.

Many national legislators and political advisers made suggestions and proposals to build a fertility-friendly society during the sessions.

Tan Lin, a deputy to the National People's Congress, said encouraging both men and women to share responsibility for childcare and other family duties will contribute to increasing women's willingness to bear children.

The current incentive measures to guide enterprises into building a friendly environment for fertility and gender equality in employment are insufficient, said Tan, who is also the former vice-chairwoman of the All-China Women's Federation.

A survey conducted by the federation in 2022 covering 1,043 enterprises nationwide revealed that since the implementation of the three-child policy, 25.4 percent of the surveyed enterprises acknowledged situations where only men were recruited or given priority under equal conditions.

Among the 930 surveyed enterprises with female employees who had given birth, 63.4 percent did not implement the policy of extending maternity leave.

In addition, 82.4 percent of the enterprises hoped for subsidies on social insurance premiums during maternity leave, while 74.4 percent expected that the allowance for extended maternity leave would be paid from the basic medical insurance for employees.

"Traditional views regarding women as the primary caregivers in the family need to be changed," Tan said.

The fourth Chinese Women's Social Status Survey, conducted in 2020, indicated that employed women spend an average of 154 minutes per day on household chores, approximately twice as many as men.

Meanwhile, 76.1 percent of the daily care for children under age 17 was shouldered by mothers. Research shows that childbirth and childcare are the primary reasons for women's career interruptions, she said.

Tan suggested improving the mechanism for the reasonable sharing of childbirth costs. "We need to clarify that maternity leave awards and paternity leave allowances are funded by insurance funds or local finances," Tan said.

Moreover, enterprises can be provided with a certain proportion of subsidies for the social insurance premiums of female employees during maternity leave, she said.

Tan also suggested giving appropriate bonus points or preferential consideration to companies with better gender equality in government procurement and bidding projects.

She recommended strengthening the advocacy of men's parenting responsibilities through the media, urging couples to share family burdens and truly increase women's willingness to bear children.

Political adviser Wu Ruijun said childcare services play a crucial role in promoting gender equality in employment and reducing the burden of childcare on families.

Wu, a professor from East China Normal University's School of Social Development, said the general cost of childcare services in China is high.

According to a 2020 survey from the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the average monthly cost for childcare institutions is around 2,700 yuan ($375), accounting for 36 percent of the disposable income of Chinese families that year.

Some private childcare institutions have reduced their admission fees after converting to inclusive childcare institutions, but high operating costs such as rent and salaries make it difficult to achieve a revenue balance, Wu said.