Free child care feared to deepen moral hazard among young mothers
The government's decision to provide free day care for toddlers under 24 months from this year is expected to cause serious adverse effects, with Korea already ranking third among advanced nations in terms of the utilization rate of child care systems as of 2009, experts warned Sunday.
Korea's utilization rate of day care centers for kids under 24 months stood at 50.5 percent as of 2009, the third highest figure among the member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), according to OECD data.
Only two other OECD countries -- Denmark with 83 percent and Sweden with 66 percent -- registered figures higher than South Korea's in terms of day care for under-two-year-olds.
The data are particularly troubling, as the percentage of working mothers in Denmark and Sweden reached 72 percent and 76.5 percent, respectively, compared with Korea's 29.9 percent.
Experts here say that Korea has long before exceeded the OECD's under-30-percent guideline for toddlers' day care, warning that the day care utilization ratio is feared to skyrocket in the coming years due to the government's decision to offer free child care to all households regardless of their incomes.
Defying public criticism against populist policies, particularly in election years, the government in March introduced the so-called Nuri program to provide free kindergarten for all five-year-olds and free day care for kids under 24 months from this year. The program is scheduled to be expanded to include day care for three and four-year-olds starting in 2013, regardless of household incomes.
The populist welfare policy came as the presidential election is slated for December. The ruling party seized half of the National Assembly's 300 seats in April's parliamentary elections.
"Children can open their eyes to the world through communion and care of their mothers. Communion built based on maternal affection can be the source of children's capability to cope with reality and frustration," Ahn Myoung-hee, a psychology professor at Sogang University, said, stressing the importance of domestic child care.
Experts say that a growing number of local mothers are expected to choose to capitalize on the subsidized child care program, regardless of their working and income status, increasing the risk of moral hazard in Korean society. (Yonhap)