THE Government’s plan to
provide incentives to married couples to have more children to address the low fertility rate
has received mix views from the public.
While some are asking for sufficient funds to be given, some think that it is not a viable strategy in the long run.
Expectant father Benignus Cheah, 26, thinks that monetary incentives should be at least RM8,000 as childbirth and childcare costs are not cheap these days.
“Pre-pregnancy check-ups can easily be about RM200 per session and delivering the baby could go up to RM4,000 at hospitals.
“Aside from that, there is also the cost of daily necessities for the baby as well,” he told The Star.
Other than monetary incentives, he hoped for cheaper childcare products such as diapers and milk powder.
“Reducing the prices of breast-pumping equipment should also be taken into consideration as well.
“While manual breast pumps cost around RM300 to RM400, most women would resort to using electrical pumps these days which cost around RM1,000,” Cheah said, adding that even though it made the process easier, it was enough to burn a hole through the pocket.
It was recently reported that Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim said the country’s fertility rate had decreased from three children per woman in 2000 to 2.1 in 2012.
She said a reason for this decline was due to women delaying marriage for the sake of their career and that this low fertility rate will affect the country’s workforce in 20 or 30 years’ time.
Clerk Lily Chang, 35, said only an incentive of about RM100,000 would convince her to try for her third offspring.
“There are so many expenses involved when it comes to having a baby, from the medical consultation fees and delivery fees to strollers, baby clothes and milk bottles.
“Any incentive below a five-digit amount would not be enough for me to have more children in this day and age where medical benefits are insufficient, maternity leave is limited and cost of living is higher,” said the mother of two.
She added that this would not be a problem in Western countries because aside from pregnant mothers being able to take at least six months of paid maternity leave, baby products are also tax-free.
“The system is working for them and not against them, so the welfare of new mothers is guaranteed.
“There is even childcare service within organisations so that mothers can go to work knowing that their children are safe and in good hands.
“Whereas here, we often hear of incidents of abuse and inefficiency in daycare centres that are located outside workplaces,” said Chang.
Meanwhile, businessman H.W. Loh said that one-off incentives can only ease the financial burden during that short period of time when the baby arrives.
“However, in the long run if cost of living continues to rise, these incentives would amount to nothing at all.
“While it may seem attractive at first to people who wish to have more children, it will be too late once they realise that they may not be able to afford taking care of them in the future,” he said.
Loh suggested that it would be better for the government to provide a higher tax relief for children because it would ensure long-term practicality.
“The decision to have children needs to come with proper family planning. It is not so much about the cash incentives.
“If people with meagre salaries choose to start a family purely because of this, the children are the ones who will suffer when parents cannot afford proper care,” he said.
Telesales officer Patrice Chan, 24, said it was not a good idea to give monetary incentives to encourage married couples to have more children.
“Naturally, people who know nothing of childcare and childbirth would see this as an opportunity to get extra cash.
“But more importantly, this defeats the real reason behind married couples choosing to have children,” she said, adding that in the long run, people may think that having children was equivalent to having money.
She suggested that the government could instead subsidise education costs.
“This includes transportation to schools for those staying in rural areas and are less privileged.
“Perhaps longer maternity leave and even paternity leave, which allows the mother to get proper rest and recuperate after giving birth, would be a better form of encouragement,” said Chan, who plans to have two or three children in the future.