Caixin
May 10, 2019 07:36 PM
SOCIETY & CULTURE

Government Unveils Plans to Make New Parents’ Lives Easier

Photo: IC Photo
Photo: IC Photo

Grappling with a declining birthrate and a string of controversies in day care centers, China on Thursday published new plans to improve early childhood services and alleviate pressure on parents.

The State Council document (link in Chinese) encourages employers to allow parents to be more flexible with both working hours and parental leave, and will lead to the creation of preferential policies for new private day care centers.

The plan, written last month but made public on May 9, follows on from the National Health Commission’s calls at March’s annual legislative meeting for the government to provide better early childhood care. The document lists three major tasks, which will be divided between over a dozen official bodies.

The first task listed for the authorities is to strengthen “support and guidance” for infant care. This includes ensuring the country’s maternity leave policies are implemented and encouraging employers to allow new parents to work flexible hours, as well as providing vocational training and employment support for new parents who are out of work.

The second task is to improve infant and child care services. Local governments should encourage the founding of public, private, and mixed-ownership child care services, the document says. It also says that new child care centers should be built in both residential and business areas according to guidelines that will be published in August by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. The renovation and construction of child care centers should be encouraged through subsidies and other support from local governments.

Finally, the State Council called for the standardization and regulation of child and infant care systems to ensure quality and safety. Non-profit centers must be registered with a local civil affairs department and for-profit centers must register with a market regulation bureau. All centers must also register with local health departments, the guiding opinions document says.

Recently, there have been a number of scandals at day care centers and kindergartens, including allegations of sexual and physical abuse.

In a bid to relieve pressure on new parents returning to work, the Guiding Opinions also call for all employers to “provide infant and child care services to employees.” These can be provided either through an internally-run initiative or in cooperation with a local provider and may be opened “to nearby residents if conditions permit.”

James Liang, chairman and co-founder of Chinese online travel giant Ctrip, is a population expert and has called for policies to encourage more births. In an opinion article for Caixin, he wrote that the government should expand public day care services and that companies should allow for more flexible working hours for new parents.

The guidelines also propose two timelines. First, by 2020, regulatory and standardization systems for nursery and day care services should be in place, and infant care service organizations with demonstrable effectiveness should be established. Policies and regulations for infant care services should be established by 2025, including standardization and diversified urban and rural infant care service systems.

The State Council’s policy plan aims to alleviate the burden on new parents, presumably in the hope that the greater availability of well-regulated care for children under the age of 3 — along with better access to leave, subsidies for care, and parenting classes — will encourage couples to have more kids. China is facing a demographic crisis as its population rapidly ages.

Contact reporter Ren Qiuyu (qiuyuren@caixin.com)

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