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Asia's baby shortage grows

By CNN Correspondent Phil O'Sullivan

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All across Asia birthrates are falling.

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Asia's low birth rates and governmental efforts to reverse the trend.
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SINGAPORE (CNN) -- Teeming populations have long been synonymous with Asia. But in Hong Kong, schools and nurseries are closing because there aren't enough children to fill classes. And governments from South Korea to Singapore are trying to encourage women to have more children.

In downtown Tokyo, Eriko Tanji drops off her two pre-schoolers at childcare before heading off to her job as a human resources manager at Johnson & Johnson. Tanji is something of a rarity in Japan in that she has children and a career.

But Tanji is helped by Johnson & Johnson who pay her extra to help with childcare to help keep a valued worker.

Japan's government also paid Tanji when she had each of her children.

But in a competitive work environment, Tanji can understand why many Japanese women are choosing to remain childless. She thinks it makes a woman's life so much harder.

"I'm not sure if it's appropriate to say this or not," she says. "But I think in a way, it's a huge risk."

And many women throughout Asia believe it's a risk not worth taking.

South Korea's government is listening. In the face of a depleting tax base, it is now considering proposals to pay women to have babies.

That's largely because South Korean women are marrying later and choosing to have fewer children. It's a growing trend across Asia's former "tiger" economies.

Several decades ago Singapore had a "Stop at Two" policy to prevent overpopulation.

But it has been 25 years since the birthrate in Singapore has been so low and the government is actively involved in trying to get its people to have more babies.

State-run Websites like www.lovebyte.org.sg are aimed at encouraging Singapore's young people to get married and have children. The site gives tips on dating and how to behave in a relationship.

It is one of many attempts Asian governments are making to turn around a problem they see as having far-reaching economic effects. They fear too many aging citizens will be dependent on a declining tax base from fewer and fewer young people.

Singaporean economist, P.K. Basu, says the Lion City is being sensible in acting before a potential problem becomes reality. But he says countries like Japan should have started work on the problem about ten years ago.

Going by the numbers it is generally accepted that each woman needs to produce 2.1 children to ensure population growth.

In less developed Asian economies, like the Philippines, over-population remains a concern as women there produce an average 3.4 children each.

But as economies improve, birthrates decline. In Japan the average birthrate is 1.3 per woman. In South Korea it is only 1.17.

John Bacon-Shone from the University of Hong Kong says this decline in baby making can be directly attributed to the emergence of well educated, career-minded women with financial independence.

They are the ones who control fertility, he says.

In countries like Japan and Singapore, governments are acknowledging it is in the national interest for women to be able to balance a career and a family.

And for women like Tanji, that means taking the big risk out of being a productive female, as well as an employee.


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