Liberal immigration policies needed
An ageing population and low birth rate are twin social issues facing many nations.
Japan leads the pack in this region. Others include South Korea, Singapore, China and Thailand.
The case of China is puzzling. It went from imposing a draconian one-child-per-family policy in 1980 to allowing up to three children per family now.
Why would a country with over a billion people want more?
But then similar campaigns have been launched in other countries with the same problems.
Thailand used to be the role model of the developing world in terms of birth control. Between 1969 and 1979, the fertility rate declined almost 40%.
In 1970 the country's population growth rate was 2.7%. This dropped to 0.2% last year. This year, officials expect it to dip to zero.
For population planners, this is a red alert because it's happening just when the country is becoming an aged society as over 20% of the people are 60 years and older.
Low fertility stems from two reasons. One is that most families have just one or two children mainly because of economic reasons or lack of familial structural support. The other is an increasing number of young people, for various reasons, choose to lead a single life.
To address these population woes, the Public Health Ministry has during the past four years promoted a campaign called Mee Loog Phuea Chat or Pump Out Children for the Nation's Sake to encourage young people to get married and have children.
It's easy enough to understand how having a large population of old people could impose an enormous economic burden on the country.
In the same vein, having fewer young people could negatively impact national finances.
But I don't think asking young people to pump out more children is the right solution when the problem of overpopulation, in my view, has not yet been solved.
From a wider perspective, the world population has grown almost eight times since 1800 when there were just one billion people.
Since then, consumption of natural resources has grown at a maddening pace, decimating the world's forests, polluting land and oceans, and spewing out CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, creating what is now humanity's existential threat.
And it's not like the population has stopped growing. There are more people coming into this world everyday albeit at a much lower rate than 60 years ago.
The problem, as I see it, is that the world population and wealth are not evenly distributed. While some countries are concerned about having too few people to create more wealth, some others are contending with having too many people scrambling over too few resources.
The issue would have been resolved by itself had we had free migration in the world. Unfortunately, we have national borders and policies to keep people of different nationalities and other undesirables out.
I surmise what gets in the way of freer migratory policies is ingrained racial and other human prejudices.
Otherwise, labour would go where it is needed, and the problem of labour shortages because of a low population would have been solved.
I can understand that we cannot go back to the days when people migrated freely across the globe. However, it should be possible to devise more liberal immigration policies to allow more people into the country without creating national security threats.
Thailand, for instance, could allow in immigrants liberally from neighbouring countries to meet its labour needs.
These immigrants could provide labour that serves not only the industrial and construction sectors but other labour-intensive economic and social sectors such as health and geriatric care as well.
Don't forget they also pay taxes. In time, they could even become full-fledged productive citizens just like the Chinese immigrants before them. Thailand could then become a small melting pot.
Then, officials could turn their attention to more pressing problems of quality care for the country's children.
That list could include ensuring adequate and good nursery and child-care services for the work force, better educational access for children of lower-income and disadvantaged families, adequate maternal and paternal leave for new parents, more humanistic workplace policies regarding child care, etc.
Better attention and care are also urgently needed for disadvantaged segments of the population, including children in orphanages, in foster care or from broken families.
These children are some of society's most heart-breaking stories. They deserve more visible and better attention than what they currently receive.
Instead of promoting the inane "pumping out children" campaign, concerned officials should encourage more adoption or foster care. However, they need to come up with realistic and practical incentive programmes for prospective adoptive or foster parents.
These are areas where officials should pay serious attention, not try to regulate the population like a roller-coaster ride.
Enlightened population policies should take a longer view, focusing on quality rather than quantity, which in the end should serve long-term national and global interests.
Freelance Reporter and Managing Editor of Milky Way Press.