Latest figures rekindle concerns over Taiwan’s low birth rate

Taipei--The number of children born in Taiwan in the first five months of this year was down from the same period last year and could fall below 200,000 for the year if the trend continues, a Taiwan Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology official warned Tuesday.

Huang Ming-chao, secretary-general of the association, urged the government to come up with a policy to address the issue after confirming what he was hearing from many Obs/Gyn physicians -- that the number of babies being delivered had declined recently.

Aside from March, when nearly 19,000 babies were born, births in the other months averaged about 15,000 per month, down between 1,000 and 2,000 from the same period last year, highlighting a problem Huang described as "serious."

Births in a single year in the past decade have fallen as low as 166,000 in 2010 in the wake of the 2008 and 2009 financial crisis. It was the lowest number of babies born in any year in Taiwan since 1947, when Ministry of the Interior records are first available.

But that turned out be an aberration as the number of births have ranged between 196,627 and 229,481 a year since then, yet even those figures are low from a historical perspective.

Roughly 300,000 babies a year were born in Taiwan in the 1980s and 1990s, but the number fell to 260,354 in 2001 and to 227,070 in 2003, and has never recovered, leaving Taiwan with one of the world's lowest birth rates at below 10 per 1,000 people.

The low birth rate means Taiwan's population will gradually decrease, putting major stress on the country's social fabric and economic development. Each worker, for example, will have to support more retirees as Taiwan ages quickly.

Lin Tzou-yien, a former health minister who serves as the convener of an office dealing with the low birth issue under the ministry, said the latest figures on newborns show that the problem is really serious.

"The problem of a declining birth rate could be an even higher priority than pension reform or long-term care programs," he said.

His office met Monday to discuss the issue and is preparing to solicit more government funds to deal with the problem.

Lin said any solution will require the integration of all government resources to improve public child care facilities, raise the salaries of young adults, and provide more social housing so that young people are more willing to get married and have children.

National Taiwan University professor Hsueh Cherng-tay, a former minister without portfolio, said the declining number of marriages in 2016 could be directly linked to the lower number of newborns this year.

Hsueh said Taiwan's birth rate is closely linked to the number of married couples, as out-of-wedlock births account for only about 4 percent of all births, and fewer marriages along with foreign spouses giving birth to fewer children and uncertain policies have all contributed to the problem.

Source: Overseas Community Affairs Council