Taiwan May Pay Couples to Have Babies to Boost Birth Rate

Taiwan said Friday the government may start paying people to have children in order to boost the island's dwindling birth rate, one of the lowest in the world.

Among the proposals being considered is a monthly subsidy of $5,000 Taiwan dollars (US$160) for all children under the age of three, the interior ministry said, a move which would cost $36 billion Taiwan dollars a year.

"The ministry hopes to raise the public's willingness to have children with measures that help them look after their children and improve their living standards," it said in a statement.

Taiwan's authorities have been offering various incentives to encourage births, amid growing concerns that a severe manpower shortage will trigger serious social and economic problems.

The ministry last month kicked off an on-line contest for a slogan that would "make everybody want to have children" with a cash prize of one million Taiwan dollars for the winner.

The response was overwhelming, with more than 1,000 entries only hours after it started, causing the ministry to upgrade its systems after its website was temporarily paralyzed by the traffic.

The island's birth rate stood at 8.29 per 1,000 people last year, according to official figures. That compares with a global average of more than 20 births per 1,000 people, according to the United Nations.

Lao Song Elementary School in Taipei — which set a world record in 1966 as the school with the most pupils at 11,000 — now has only 778, the China Times newspaper said.

Last year 191,310 babies were born in Taiwan, down almost four percent from the previous year.