By making workplaces child-friendly, China hopes to encourage baby boom
Central departments are implementing additional measures to improve public nursery services and protect the rights of women workers to encourage people to have more children, with the aim of creating a healthily growing population.
On Tuesday, seventeen central departments, including the National Health Commission, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, released a guideline that seeks to boost population growth. Comprehensive measures on marriage, fertility, nurseries and education are stressed in the guideline.
"Some domestic surveys show that the willingness to have children is hampered by insufficient nursery services. These surveys revealed that one-third of urban families need nursery services, a demand the government hasn't been able to meet," Hao Fuqing, an official from the National Development and Reform Commission, told a news conference on Wednesday in Beijing.
Liu Minmin, a 29-year-old from Qingdao, Shandong province, complained that now is not a good time to have a child for either her or her husband, although they are the right age to have a child.
"We are still concerned with who would help nurse the baby when I finish my three-month maternity leave and whether I would be able to return to my previous position at the company after delivery. I often worry about such things," she said. "I won't be able to have a good work-life balance if I have a child."
Allowing for these concerns, Hao said that developing and perfecting nursery services is vital to increasing the public's willingness to have children.
"The guideline offers some solutions. China will improve nursery infrastructure and build more public nursery stations with investment from companies and social organizations. Kindergartens are being encouraged to open up to 2 and 3-year-olds to help," he said.
Hao said that the central government will also regulate fees charged by nurseries－for example, the price of public nurseries will be set by local authorities to ensure costs are reasonable and affordable for average people.
Creating a more welcoming working environment for women is also key to boosting their willingness to have children.
Liu Juan, deputy director of payment security at the National Healthcare Security Administration, said at the news conference that lengthy maternity leave may cause working women to worry about career development after giving birth, and might also increase prejudice against women in the job market and affect their desire to have children.
Hong Sha, deputy director of the female workers' department at the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, added that to help relieve anxieties and create a more healthy work-life balance, the guideline encourages employers to introduce more flexible ways of working and to make workplaces more family-friendly.
"We will continue to push forward legislation to protect women workers and build more nursing rooms for those who are pregnant or lactating," she said.
Since 2019, the State Council, China's Cabinet, has released several guidelines on nursery services for children under the age of 3.Since 2020, the National Development and Reform Commission and the National Health Commission have also carried out State-level campaigns to channel 2 billion yuan ($295 million) into the development of public nursery services.