LCQ3: Policy on encouraging childbirth
It is learnt that the birth rate in Hong Kong has been declining continuously, and the total fertility rate fell to 0.77 in 2021, which was far below the natural population replenishment rate of 2.1, and was one of the lowest in the world. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether the Government has compiled statistics and conducted studies on the continuous decline in the fertility rate and the continuous rise in the median age of women at first childbirth, as well as reviewed its approach of "encouraging but not interfering" adopted so far, so as to formulate corresponding policies to address the relevant causes, thereby turning around the fertility rate to make it go up;
(2) whether it has plans to formulate comprehensive and all-embracing supporting policies on aspects such as childbearing, child-rearing and education (e.g. setting standards for child care services according to the age groups of children, centralising the management of facilities for community child care services, improving the relevant tax benefits, and providing subsidies for child-rearing), so as to alleviate the burden of families in respect of childbearing and child-rearing; and
(3) of the new plans in place to promote family-friendly workplaces, and whether it will consider introducing a "family-friendly enterprise certification" system, so as to encourage enterprises to implement family-friendly policies such as those for protecting the rights and interests and the maternity benefits of pregnant women?
The issue of fertility concerns about a wide range of policy aspects and bureaux, including the Health Bureau, the Home and Youth Affairs Bureau, the Education Bureau, the Civil Service Bureau, the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau, the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, the Labour and Welfare Bureau and other relevant departments. In response to the Member's question, I give the reply on behalf of the Government as follows:
(1) The Census and Statistics Department (C&SD) regularly compiles and releases statistics on fertility rates and median age of women having first order live births. Factors underlying the fertility trend include marriage postponement, increased prevalence of spinsterhood, decreased marital fertility rate for women, increased divorced rate and the decreased number of births in Hong Kong to Mainland women, etc. For detailed analysis, please refer to Chapter 3 of the publication "Demographic Trends in Hong Kong 1991-2021" released by the C&SD. The decision to bear a child is dependent on various factors, including personal preference, lifestyle, economic and social situations, etc., and childbearing is an important family decision. The Government has implemented various measures to foster a supportive environment for childbearing and to promote family-friendly measures to provide better support for couples who wish to bear children, but should avoid excessive intervention.
(2) and (3) The family-friendly measures being implemented by the Government include:
(i) Supporting parents to raise children: To alleviate the financial burden of taxpayers from dependent children, the Government has increased the child allowance under salaries tax since the year of assessment 2018/19. The allowance for each child and the increase in allowance for each child born during the year have been raised to $120,000. In addition, with the Kindergarten Education Scheme implemented since the 2017/18 school year by the Education Bureau, about 90 per cent of half-day kindergartens are currently free of charge while the school fees for whole-day kindergartens are maintained at a low level. Families with financial needs may apply for fee remission under the Kindergarten and Child Care Centre Fee Remission Scheme (KCFRS). To further support families with financial needs, starting from the 2022/23 school year, the fee remission ceiling under the KCFRS has been uplifted from the 75th percentile in the past to the 100th percentile of the school fees charged by respective half-day and whole-day kindergartens joining the Kindergarten Education Scheme, so that parents receiving full level of fee remission do not need to pay any difference in school fees. Besides, the Education Bureau has regularised the provision of student grant starting from the 2020/21 school year. All students studying in secondary day-schools, primary schools and special schools as well as kindergartens will receive a student grant of $2,500 every school year to alleviate parents' burden in education expenses;
(ii) Increasing day child care service: To assist parents who cannot take care of their children temporarily because of work or other reasons, the Social Welfare Department (SWD) subsidises non-governmental organisations to provide a variety of child care services to meet the different needs of parents and their children, including child care centre (CCC) service, occasional child care service, extended hours service, the Neighbourhood Support Child Care Project and mutual help child care centres. To enhance the long-term planning of child care services, the Government has formulated and incorporated a population-based planning ratio for aided CCC places (i.e. 100 places per 25 000 population) into the Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines in March 2020. The SWD is committed to increasing aided CCC places with provision of long full day child care service for children under the age of three through various means, such as land sale schemes, public housing estate development or redevelopment projects, etc.; and
(iii) Fostering a family-friendly environment: The Government strives to encourage employers to implement family-friendly employment practices, including flexible work arrangements, additional leave benefit, offering living support, etc., so as to assist employees to balance their work and daily needs. The Labour Department is planning to organise the Good Employer Charter 2024 to encourage employers to implement family-friendly employment practices and adopt good human resource management. In addition, the paternity leave and maternity leave under the Employment Ordinance were increased to five days and 14 weeks respectively in 2019 and 2020, which have enabled eligible employees to have more time to spend with and take care of their newborn babies.
As a good employer, the Government has endeavoured to provide a family-friendly working environment to its employees. The Government has implemented the five-day week (FDW) initiative by phases starting from 2006 to improve the quality of civil servants' family life without compromising the level and efficiency of public services or incurring additional costs to taxpayers. We will continue to encourage departments which have not fully implemented the FDW to explore the feasibility of migrating more staff to the FDW in a pragmatic manner. Taking into account the actual operational needs, Heads of Departments may arrange flexible attendance hours and approve no-pay leave for individual colleagues in need.
The Government will continuously promote and support breastfeeding. We have been actively promoting the adoption of Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace and Premises policy to support and encourage working women to sustain breastfeeding, and create favourable environmental conditions for lactating mothers. To this end, the Government has amended the Sex Discrimination Ordinance to prohibit discrimination and harassment towards breastfeeding women.
In addition, the Home and Youth Affairs Bureau will continue to support work of the Family Council in promoting family core values, i.e. "Love and Care", "Respect and Responsibility" and "Communication and Harmony" to members of the public, as well as promoting and encouraging the wider adoption of more diversified and flexible family-friendly employment practices in the community, such as encouraging breastfeeding. To this end, the Council will launch a set of new promotional videos and radio/television programme in 2023-24.
Ends/Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Issued at HKT 12:05
Issued at HKT 12:05