Looking into the effectiveness of new pro-family policies

Zhu Ying
Paid childcare leave aims to fix a growing demographic imbalance and boost childbirth, along with longer maternity leave and policies to support couples having three kids.
Zhu Ying

As something new in China, paid childcare leave serves to redress a growing demographic imbalance and boost childbirth, along with extended maternity leaves and favorable policies for couples having three children.

Do such policies work? My answer is "yes and no."

I felt like winning the lottery at the end of November when local government stipulated that each couple can enjoy five days of paid childcare leave each year until their child is 3 years old. It was a move to comply with an amendment made last August to a national law on population and family planning.

What did I do during my childcare leave? I brought my 1-year-old daughter to visit Shanghai Zoo and TeamLab, which are usually crowded on weekends but almost empty on weekdays. Additionally, I tried to cook food for her, something I am usually too busy to do. To my surprise, my daughter enjoyed my omelets, making me feel more confident in the kitchen. I also allocated time to myself for practicing calligraphy and meeting friends.

So, "yes," the childcare leave delivers positive results, especially for working parents who can flexibly leverage such leave to spend more time with their children.

The news on childcare leave traveled fast in my WeChat groups for mommies, where seemingly everyone applauded the regulation. However, for many of them, it was too early to rejoice.

Approved by the Standing Committee of the Shanghai People's Congress last November, the regulation on childcare leave took effect immediately. However, some companies, especially private ones, have found it difficult to comply.

"I asked my HR colleagues about childcare leave in December and found our company was still researching the policy," said an employee surnamed Zhang, a mother of a 1-year-old child who works at an accounting firm.

Working at one of China's top Internet companies, my husband encounters the same problem. The rule did not become effective at his company until a few days ago. Before this, his company explained its implementation regulations hadn't been approved by senior management.

The introduction of a policy is one thing but the implementation is quite another. If policies can't be put into practice, they are just empty words.

Online discussions are also rife with concerns about possible negative effects of some parts of the new regulation, especially those concerning extended maternity leave.

In most Chinese families, women bear more childcare burdens than men, which puts many women at a great disadvantage in the workplace. The extension of paid maternity leaves will probably exacerbate job discrimination. Although such leaves are covered by maternity insurance, employers have to fill gaps to match their female employees' salaries. As a result, many employers prefer male candidates, whilst women, especially those who don't have kids, are sometimes regarded as a "time bomb," because they may take maternity leave in the future.

By comparison, the newly introduced childcare leave is gender-neutral. Encouraging fathers to share child-rearing responsibilities, it offers the same amount of parental leave to males and females.

In short, any social or economic policy encouraging childbirth has profound significance, so long as it's well considered and implemented.

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