Thailand is scrambling to encourage its people to have more babies to arrest a slumping birth rate, offering parents child care and fertility centres, while also tapping social media influencers to showcase the joys of family life.
Last year Thailand recorded the lowest number of births in at least 60 years
Demographic experts say the falling birth rate will have significant impacts on the country’s already sluggish economy
The government is looking at implementing policies to encourage younger people to have children
The campaign comes as the number of births has dropped by nearly a third since 2013.
Last year saw 544,000 births, the lowest in at least six decades and below the 563,000 deaths, which were also swollen by coronavirus-related fatalities.
As an emerging market relying on cheap labour and a growing middle class, the implications for South-East Asia’s second-biggest economy are far more profound.
“The data reflects a population crisis … where the mindset towards having children has changed,” said Teera Sindecharak, an expert on demography at Thammasat University.
Senior health official Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai said the government recognised a need to intervene.
“We are trying to slow down the decline in births and reverse the trend by getting families that are ready to have children faster,” he said, describing plans to introduce policies so that newborns get the full support of the state.
The plans include opening fertility centres, currently limited to Bangkok and other major cities, in 76 provinces and also using social media influencers to back up the message, officials said.
A country becoming a ‘super-aged society’
Experts said it was hard to reverse a situation where social conditions have changed and attitudes towards having children are now coloured by concerns over rising debt and elderly care.
Thailand is heading towards becoming a “super-aged society” where the number of people over 60 will account for more than a fifth of the population, academic Teera Sindecharak said. About 18 per cent of Thailand’s population is aged over 60.
“The manufacturing sector will face productivity slumps … so we have to develop skilled labour and adopt the use of automated technologies,” the head of the state-planning agency, Danucha Pichayanan, told a recent business forum.
Mr Sindecharak noted in the last decade the economy had been sluggish, while living costs increased and income growth slowed.
Political division, rising debt and education costs were also major factors determining attitudes towards having children, and short-term remedies may not be enough, experts said.
Household debt has grown to nearly 90 per cent of gross domestic product, from 59 per cent in 2010, Bank of Thailand data showed.
Thailand has also been rocked by political instability over most of the past two decades, with two military coups and large anti-government protests.