Hong Kong rules out ‘baby bonus’ to encourage bigger families

April 30th, 2008 - 2:23 pm ICT by admin  

Hong Kong, April 30 (DPA) The Hong Kong government said Wednesday it had ruled out awarding a “baby bonus” to encourage bigger families, even though the city’s birth rate is one of the world’s lowest. Women in the wealthy city have an average of only 0.9 babies each compared to nearly three each in the early 1980s, despite the fact that China’s one-child policy does not apply in Hong Kong.

A steering committee was set up last year to look at how to offset the falling birth rate and tackle the problem of an ageing population but it appears to have decided against radical measures.

Hong Kong’s chief secretary Henry Tang said Wednesday in a statement to legislators that measures such as a one-off “baby bonus” payment used in some European countries had been considered.

However, he said, the steering committee had concluded it would “not be appropriate” for the government to influence couples’ decisions on whether or not to have babies through policy means.

“The committee considered that childbearing is very much a personal choice of individual couples,” Tang said. “They consider various factors and the economic factor is just one consideration.

“A number of countries with low fertility rates have introduced measures to promote fertility but the effect of these measures on increasing the fertility rate is uncertain.”

Hong Kong last year introduced limited tax relief for couples who have more than one child as well as cheaper kindergarten care for parents of young children.

The crowded city of 6.9 million faces an acute labour shortage and a rapidly ageing population, as couples worried about the high cost of raising children opt to marry late and have one or no children.

Hong Kong’s Beijing-appointed chief executive Donald Tsang in 2005 appealed to young couples to have three children each to boost the population.

Birth rates are believed to have slumped because of the lack of living space in the densely-populated city, high education costs and a trend to marry late.

Government officials predict that if the trend continues, the number of people aged 64 and over will account for a third of the city’s population by 2033.

Hong Kong’s birth rate of 0.9 per woman is one of the lowest in the world, comparing to 1.6 in Britain and 1.3 in Germany, and its rate of decline is believed to be the world’s fastest.

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