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China moves to ease parents' concerns by bettering infant care services

(Xinhua)    10:05, December 28, 2020

BEIJING, Dec. 28 (Xinhua) -- Many Chinese couples face a pressing concern before having a child: How the baby is taken care of if they want to pursue their careers, without putting too much strain on their wallets.

"China now has more than 47 million children under the age of three, with over 15 million babies born every year, but its infant care services are still at an early stage," said Ou Xiaoli, an official with the National Development and Reform Commission.

Demand has grown for infant care services in China since the removal of the one-child policy.

Almost one-third of families with infants under three are in need of childcare services, but only 5 percent of infants have been enrolled in childcare institutions, figures from the China Population and Development Research Center (CPDRC) and the National Health Commission (NHC) show.

SHAPING A CARE SYSTEM

Most existing infant care institutions are run by private funds, with public and inclusive nurseries accounting for less than 20 percent of the total, said He Dan, director of the CPDRC. "Less than one-third of the families surveyed could afford private nurseries."

To address the problem, the General Office of the State Council issued a guideline in 2019 on the care of infants under three, in part to pool social contributions for infant care services, vowing to establish a set of exemplary infant care institutions by 2020.

As a result, the government has introduced policies, regulations and standards to support infant care services, said Yu Xuejun, deputy head of the NHC.

Special support has been given to promote infant care facilities in communities, help qualified kindergartens enroll children aged two or three, and encourage employers to offer infant care services in the workplace.

The NHC figures show that infant care enterprises have boomed in the past year and a half, with newly registered businesses tripling their number from the last 10 years.

WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY

Births in China are projected to decrease by 2 million each year in the next five years, compared with figures from the past five years, according to data from the CPDRC.

CPDRC Director He Dan believes this may provide a window of opportunity for China to speed up the development of its infant care service system.

China will develop an inclusive childcare service system and reduce the cost of childbirth, parenting and education in the coming five years, according to the Communist Party of China Central Committee's proposals for formulating the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), which were made public in early November.

Experts suggested efforts should be put into improving family welfare policies, such as making spending on infant care services tax-deductible; granting employees, especially fathers, more leave to care for infants; and encouraging employees with infants to work flexible hours.

"Bringing in a public policy to offer childcare services in impoverished areas is also an urgent task," said Li Wei, president of the China Development Research Foundation, suggesting that such services should be incorporated into the basic public services system.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Wen Ying, Liang Jun)

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