Thai­land bets on ‘magic pills’ to boost de­clin­ing birth rate

Kuwait Times - - International -

BANGKOK: Thai­land has tried cash bonuses and tax in­cen­tives to boost the coun­try’s birth rate, but on Valen­tine’s Day yes­ter­day it adopted a new ap­proach hand­ing out vi­ta­min pills. Like sev­eral other Asian coun­tries, Thai­land is age­ing rapidly. Birth rates have dropped sharply from more than 6 chil­dren per woman in 1960 to 1.5 in 2015, ac­cord­ing to World Bank fig­ures. In Bangkok, health of­fi­cials handed out folic acid and iron pills in pink boxes at six lo­ca­tions to en­tice cou­ples to pre­pare for preg­nancy. The pills came with leaflets ex­plain­ing how to be healthy in or­der to con­ceive.

Re­la­tion­ships and sex were pre­vi­ously a taboo sub­ject but at­ti­tudes have changed and they are now dis­cussed more pub­licly. Still, health ex­perts say Thai­land will have to talk even more about con­cep­tion and birth if it wants to boost its pop­u­la­tion. To­gether with China, the coun­try has the high­est pro­por­tion of el­derly peo­ple of any de­vel­op­ing coun­try in East Asia, World Bank fig­ures show. The pop­u­la­tion has peaked and will be­gin to de­crease in 2030, point­ing to po­ten­tial eco­nomic prob­lems, such as labour short­ages and a smaller base of in­come tax pay­ers as the workingage pop­u­la­tion shrinks.

Suc­ces­sive Thai gov­ern­ments have in­tro­duced var­i­ous schemes to en­cour­age baby-mak­ing but, like in neigh­bour­ing Sin­ga­pore, whose birth rate is amongst the low­est in the world, they haven’t seen much suc­cess. Thai­land’s cash bonuses and tax in­cen­tives for peo­ple with chil­dren have done lit­tle to boost births but an­a­lysts said they weren’t gen­er­ous enough to prompt Thais to have more chil­dren. They didn’t cover the real cost of rais­ing a child, they said. Thai­land’s 2015 birth rate of 1.5 per woman is be­low 2.6 births in neigh­bour­ing Cam­bo­dia and 2.1 in Malaysia. Health ex­perts say the birth rate needs to be 2.1 to keep a pop­u­la­tion grow­ing.

‘Magic pills’

Var­i­ous rea­sons have been put for­ward to ex­plain the fall­ing birth rate in Thai­land, from higher liv­ing costs and work com­mit­ments to the shift of the pop­u­la­tion away from farms, where big fam­i­lies are needed, to ur­ban cen­tres. Some blame a hugely suc­cess­ful freecon­dom cam­paign in Thai­land in the early 1990s aimed at com­bat­ting HIV/AIDS and which was widely copied around the world - as a fac­tor that has re­duced the birth rate.

“From 1970 to 1983 there were an av­er­age of 1 mil­lion Thais born each year. After that the birth rate be­gan to de­cline. Now there are just over 700,000 peo­ple born each year,” Kasem Wet­sut­thanon, di­rec­tor of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Health and Well­ness In­sti­tu­tion, told Reuters. “At the mo­ment Thai cou­ples are hav­ing an av­er­age of 1.5 chil­dren. Ide­ally, it should be 2.1 if we are to main­tain the pop­u­la­tion growth,” he said. Kasem blamed chang­ing at­ti­tudes to­wards the tra­di­tional fam­ily unit for the de­clin­ing birth rate. “Now, many are think­ing that it is a bur­den to have chil­dren, un­like in the past when chil­dren were im­por­tant for the fam­ily.”

Nalin Som­boony­ing, 27, who has a four-year-old child, said some peo­ple feel they need ma­te­rial pos­ses­sions first be­fore start­ing a fam­ily. “I think nowa­days peo­ple want to be ready first. They feel they must have a house, a car, first be­fore hav­ing a child,” she told Reuters. Satta Wong­dara, 31, who with his wife picked up some of the pills at a booth in Bangkok’s Lak Si area, blamed long work hours. “Peo­ple nowa­days work more so they have less chil­dren,” Satta said. Still, Kasem said he hopes the pills, which he called ‘magic pills’ will get Thais think­ing twice about preg­nancy. “We want to get peo­ple to have more chil­dren.”

BANGKOK: A new­ly­wed cou­ple poses for pho­tos on Valen­tine’s Day at the cen­tral post of­fice in the Bang Rak, or ‘Love Vil­lage’, dis­trict in Bangkok yes­ter­day.

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