China Seeks Another Way to Raise its Falling Birthrate
Importing millions of brown Asians as nannies isn’t likely to help
China, growing increasingly concerned over its low birthrate, now among the lowest in the world at 1.3 per female, has hit on a new idea for reversing it: serfdom. The nation’s women are in short supply for reproductive purposes partly because of pro-male gender selection, now at 106 males to 100 females, which is a natural concomitant of a ruling Politburo which has always been almost entirely male.
China’s Generation Z women born during the prime child-bearing age between 1990 and 2010 are almost all at work, whether they want to be or to earn enough to buy their dream apartment – often without needing a man to share the burden. Numerous studies have found that marriage is no longer among their priorities, let alone childbearing. As a result, China’s playgrounds (above) are increasingly filled with the elderly.
This has become a major concern for China’s planners, who canceled their draconian one-child policy in 2016 as the country’s birthrate fell precipitously below the replacement rate of 2.1, only to follow that with an announcement voiding a two-child policy in May 2021 and saying that families could now have three children, which was largely met with a yawn by China’s potential childbearing young.
But the planners hope to find a solution, according to the YuWa Population Institute, quoted in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post under the headline: “Foreign nannies can raise birth rate by 200,000.”
The idea is to import three million foreign caregivers to look after children, enabling Chinese women to keep working as well as reproducing while children are taken care of by foreigners paid small wages and unable to come with their own families.
This is one area, the article suggests, where the mainland could follow the Hong Kong example, the Special Administrative Region now having about 350,000 foreign domestic helpers, almost all from the Philippines and Indonesia, now make up 5 percent of the adult population. Singapore likewise recruits most domestic helpers from those two countries and South Asia.
There are, however, two problems which go with such a policy. The first is the essentially racist notion which lies behind it. Instead of allowing significant permanent immigration from neighboring countries such as the Philippines and Bangladesh with significant pools of underemployed labor, the focus would be on short-term contract workers paid a fraction of local salaries and with no rights to bring spouses and fewer holidays than the rest of the population.
Hong Kong and Singapore have long shown the way forward in this regard. In Hong Kong’s case, the underlying racism of government policies as well as attitudes has been seen in stark relief during the pandemic.
The second is that judging from the very low fertility rates in both Hong Kong – at 1.05 per woman – and in Singapore, at 1.14, the availability of helpers for middle-class families has done almost nothing for birth rates. The YuWa proposals do not seem to have noticed that.
In Hong Kong, failure to enforce laws to protect foreign domestic helpers from excessive hours, forced labor on days off, abysmal living conditions, payments below the minimum wage have long been a source of shame for society. Now, the government has gone on the offensive in its maltreatment of helpers. Last year it made vaccination mandatory for helpers, the only group in society to which the rule was applied, implying that they were a particular danger to society.
In contrast, there was no effort to encourage, let alone enforce, vaccination of old people in care homes. The result: the old are now dying in significant numbers as the Omicron variant has suddenly swept through the territory, rising by 237 percent over the past week, and with deaths going from 12 to 158 in the same period.
Recently it has become known that some helpers who tested positive for the virus were sacked by their employers for fear of contagion. This is illegal but its occurrence caused the normally quiet Philippine Consul-General Raly Tejada to denounce it as “immoral” as well as illegal, according to Agence France Press.
Another racist discriminatory step resulted from a shortage of helpers caused by many returning home at the end of contracts but with new arrivals prevented by a shortage of flights and long quarantine requirements. Some households began to offer better salaries and working conditions which encouraged some helpers forced into overwork to quit and sign contracts with better employers.
But such freedom of choice was not to be permitted. Those who signed new contracts were often then refused work visas by the Immigration Department, a body with a long history of usually siding with employers and employment agencies against helper interests. Last week, a helper who had got a new contract but was then denied a visa had to live in a park in very cold weather waiting for a flight home.
Helpers, who are required to live with their employers, are supposed to be able to go outside on their day off. But many are now being prevented from doing so out of their employers’ fear they could contract Covid-19. Such illegal action not only goes un-prosecuted but is now being actively encouraged by the government in the name of reducing the spread of the coronavirus.
Now employers are being asked to advise their helpers on the subject of going out and “encourage” them to stay indoors. In all of its actions and non-actions, the government gives the impression that employer’s rights over those of helpers go far beyond normal work.
To further keep helpers in their proper, subservient, place, police have taken to handing out spot HK$5,000 fines to those found in breach of social distancing rules when meeting outside on their days off. That amount is more than one month’s salary for a helper. Public outrage at police focus on this underclass saw HK$170,000 raised to help pay for the fines. But this was then quashed by the government on grounds that it was abetting criminal behavior.
In short, Hong Kong and Singapore both offer very good reasons why China shouldn’t go down this foreign nanny route, which probably would do little for the fertility rate and can be expected to further enhance the view in much of brown Asia that China views them as inferior peoples for whom serfdom is a natural condition.