BEIJING－Many Chinese couples face a pressing concern before having a child: How to take care of the baby while pursuing their careers, and without putting too much strain on their wallets.
“China now has more than 47 million children under the age of 3, with over 15 million babies born every year, but its infant care services are still at an early stage (of infrastructure development),” says 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 3 are in need of child care services, but only 5 percent of infants have been enrolled in child care institutions, figures from the China Population and Development Research Center and the National Health Commission show.
Most existing infant care institutions are privately run, with public and inclusive nurseries accounting for less than 20 percent of the total, says He Dan, director of the CPDRC. “Less than one-third of the families surveyed could afford private nurseries.”
To address the problem, in 2019 the General Office of the State Council issued a guideline on the care of infants under 3, 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, says 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 2 or 3, 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.
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 says 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 child care 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 child care services in impoverished areas is also an urgent task,” says Li Wei, president of the China Development Research Foundation, adding that such services should be incorporated into the basic public services system.