Yoon declares 'demographic national emergency,' vows all-out efforts to tackle low birth rate

S Korean President
Photo credit: Yonhap

President Yoon Suk Yeol declared Wednesday that South Korea is in a "demographic national emergency" due to its declining population, vowing to make all-out efforts to tackle the country's ultralow birth rate, Yonhap reports. 

Yoon made the remark during a meeting of the presidential committee on the low birth rate and aging population amid grim prospects and warnings that South Korea's population could ultimately become extinct unless the trend is reversed.

"Today, I officially declare a demographic national emergency. We will activate a pan-government comprehensive response system until the low birth rate issue is overcome," Yoon said during the meeting held at a child care center in HD Hyundai's R&D Center in Seongnam, south of Seoul.

South Korea's total fertility rate -- the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime -- fell to a fresh low of 0.72 in 2023, well below the replacement level of 2.1 needed to maintain the country's population at 51 million.

The government has tried various incentives to help entice families to have children over the past decade, but a number of factors, including expensive housing prices, education costs and long working hours, have made young people reluctant to start families and have babies.

Yoon outlined three main areas focused on balancing work and life, improving child care and providing better housing to address the complex issues.

The measures include increasing parental leave allowances and extending leave for fathers, aiming to raise the usage rate of paternity leave from the current 6.8 percent to 50 percent during Yoon's term.

They also include implementing flexible work hours, extending the age limit for reduced working hours for parents of young children and providing subsidies for employers who hire temporary replacements for employees on parental leave.

Yoon also vowed to increase support for child care and expand after-school programs at elementary schools to ease the educational burden on parents.

Households with newborns will be given priority in housing allocations and low-interest loans for home purchases to encourage more newlywed couples to have babies. Additionally, tax benefits for households with children will be expanded.

To ensure the implementation of the measures, Yoon said a new ministry, tentatively named the Ministry of Population Strategy Planning, will be established, and the minister will serve as the deputy prime minister for social affairs.

The ministry will be in charge of crafting strategies concerning population issues, including the low birth rate, the aging society and immigration policies, with the authority to review budgets and consult with provincial governments on related projects.

Yoon asked for the National Assembly's cooperation to establish the envisioned ministry as soon as possible.

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