POPULATION OF TAIWAN, LOW BIRTH RATE AND ABORTIONS

POPULATION OF TAIWAN

Population of Taiwan: 23,299,716 (July 2013 est.), country comparison to the world: 51. Age structure: 0-14 years: 14.3 percent (male 1,722,887/female 1,609,813); 15-24 years: 13.7 percent (male 1,638,424/female 1,549,415); 25-54 years: 47.7 percent (male 5,562,031/female 5,553,318); 55-64 years: 12.7 percent (male 1,450,513/female 1,509,359); 65 years and over: 11.6 percent (male 1,262,939/female 1,441,017) (2013 est.). Median age: total: 38.7 years; male: 38 years; female: 39.4 years (2013 est.). [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Population growth rate: 0.27 percent (2013 est.), country comparison to the world: 170. Total fertility rate: 1.11 children born/woman (2013 est.), country comparison to the world: 222. Birth rate: 8.61 births/1,000 population (2013 est.), country comparison to the world: 215. Death rate: 6.83 deaths/1,000 population (2013 est.), country comparison to the world: 138. Net migration rate: 0.91 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2013 est.), country comparison to the world: 58. Sex ratio: at birth: 1.07 male(s)/female; 0-14 years: 1.07 male(s)/female; 15-24 years: 1.06 male(s)/female; 25-54 years: 1 male(s)/female; 55-64 years: 0.96 male(s)/female; 65 years and over: 0.89 male(s)/female; total population: 1 male(s)/female (2013 est.). =

Taiwan’s population was estimated in July 2004 at 22,749,838. The population at the most census in 2000 stood at 22,300,929. The annual population growth rate is 0.64 percent. Estimates put Taiwan’s population density at 705.2 persons per square kilometer in 2004, the second highest in the world after Bangladesh. The most densely populated area is Kao-hsiung, with 9,827 persons per square kilometer; Taipei is second, with 9,720 persons per square kilometer. About 69 percent of the population lives in urban areas and 31 percent in rural areas. [Source: Library of Congress, March 2005 *]

Demography in 2005: According to estimates of Taiwan’s age structure, 19.9 percent of the population is 0–14 years of age; 70.7 percent, 15–64 years of age; and 9.4 percent, 65 and older. Estimates made in 2004 indicate a birthrate of nearly 12.7 births per 1,000 population and a death rate of almost 6.3 deaths per 1,000. In 2004 life expectancy at birth was estimated at nearly 80.1 years for women and 74.3 for men, or 77.0 years total. The infant mortality rate was estimated at 6.5 per 1,000 live births, and the total fertility rate for 2004 was estimated at about 1.6 children per woman. The gender ratio at birth was 1.1 males to 1 female. *

Migration: In the 1960s, numerous Taiwan residents left for educational and employment opportunities abroad in industrialized nations, but as Taiwan became an economic powerhouse in the 1980s and 1990s, many returned or stayed. Migration from Taiwan since the 1990s has been primarily to mainland China, mostly to Shanghai and Guangdong Province. *

Taiwan: Home of the World’s Lowest Birth Rate

Taiwan, with a population of 23 million, has the dubious distinction of having the lowest birth rate in the world, the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau think tank said. The Ministry of the Interior says just 1.05 children are born per woman, down from 7.04 in 1951 and 2.10 as late as 1984. “It’s not just the lowest level ever in Taiwan, it’s the lowest level in history. Nobody has ever gone that low,” Carl Haub, a demographer at the Washington bureau, told AFP. [Source: AFP, Taipei Times, November 24, 2009 */*]

In industrialized countries, the average woman must have about 2.1 children to keep the population stable. In Taiwan the fertility rate is way below that. AFP reported: “As a schoolteacher, Ariel Shen has been observing the nation’s declining birth rate from up close. Five years ago, each classroom at her middle school in Taipei had 28 students, but now that number has dropped to 20, and the trend shows no sign of abating. She is thinking about starting a business just to stay secure financially. “My colleagues and I are definitely very concerned,” 37-year-old Shen said. “Some have already had to leave for other schools.” The development is a paradox in a society that remains devoted to Chinese tradition, where offspring are considered a blessing and a guarantee a family’s lineage will continue into the future.*/*

“Part of the explanation is economic and reflects the way a child has changed from being an asset in the rural society of half a century ago — an extra pair of hands at the family farm — to a major financial burden. Rising prices of everything from healthcare to education have made many think twice before they have another child. “There’s also an unmeasurable part of it, and no one can quantify this. Young people don’t come out of school with the idea that they want to raise a family,” Haub said. “There’s a reaction among young women, who see how many children their mothers had, and watched them spend all that time looking after household matters, and that’s not necessarily what they want to do.” */*

“Weakening family ties consolidate this mindset, as young people migrate from the countryside into the cities, away from the watchful eyes of their parents and grandparents. This relieves them from pressure put on them by the older generation to produce children, and many instead opt for a materially comfortable single existence. They are encouraged by modern media that hail the ideal of individual fulfillment, a far cry from the family-oriented tradition, experts said. The consequences will be felt sooner than many expect, and it will be only a few years before things start changing profoundly, they said.” */*

Impact of Taiwan’s Dwindling Birth Rate

Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, “In 1951, the average Taiwanese woman would have seven children. In 2010, the fertility rate was 0.89. The population is expected to start shrinking in the next 15 years. Equally worrying is its rapid ageing. About 14 percent of citizens are over 65. Within two decades, that will double. On current trends, it will become the oldest country in the world, warned Yang Wen-shan, a demographer at the Academia Sinica in Taipei: "Right now, seven working people are supporting one older person. By 2045, 1.45 people will be supporting one." [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 23, 2012]

"This is a tragic society," Taiwan's Health Minister Yaung Chih-liang said. He warned that if the island continues on this track, the population would experience a future labor shortage and that the next generation of children would have significant difficulty covering the health costs of their aging parents. That intense financial pressure, he said, could raise the future suicide rate. The Education Minister, in a separate statement, predicted that one-third of Taiwan's colleges will close in just 12 years if the trend continues. [Source: Natalie Tso, Time, December 7, 2009]

In October 2009, the Taiwanese education ministry said that more than one in three of Taiwan’s 164 colleges were likely to be forced to close by 2021 because of a shortage of students. AFP reported: “Much more serious, the dearth of births will eventually mean there are not enough people in the labor force to support a growing number of elderly. Current forecasts are that in 2051, more than one in three Taiwanese will be 65 years or older, up from one in 10 now. [Source: AFP, Taipei Times, November 24, 2009 */*]

“Importing labor from China on a massive scale would seem a solution, given the linguistic and cultural similarities, but it is not politically feasible, analysts said. Perhaps a majority of people in Taiwan are concerned about being devoured by a rapidly growing Chinese giant, and letting large armies of workers come would do nothing to reassure them. This means that if Taiwan wants to maintain its population, it has to increase its fertility rate, analysts say. */*

“Many people think a decrease of the population is good for Taiwan. It will help the environment,” Chen Yu-hua, a demographer at National Taiwan University, said. “But we really need to be concerned about the fertility issue. If we want to rely on ourselves, we need to encourage Taiwanese people to produce a new generation.” */*

Lee Seok Hwai wrote in the Straits Times, “The dwindling number of young people is already being felt in childcare centres, schools and businesses that cater to the young. At least 560 nurseries, childcare and after-school care centres closed down in the past five years, the interior ministry said recently, putting many baby-sitters out of jobs. In primary and secondary schools, children are conspicuously absent. The number of Primary 1 classes in Taipei city has fallen by about 150 each year, according to the municipal education bureau. Taoyuan county, just north of Taipei, saw 55 fewer primary 1 classes last year. One remote school managed to recruit just three pupils. In the rural southern county of Pingtung, the loss of 76 classes last year led to some schools giving away excess classroom furniture to needy families. Secondary schools and tertiary institutes are bracing themselves for the inevitable: the number of lower secondary graduates is expected to fall below 300,000 for the first time next year, and will decrease by 10,000 every year after that, according to official estimates. In response, government and education authorities are creating smaller classes, merging struggling schools, and hiving off surplus campus space for community use.[Source: Lee Seok Hwai, Straits Times, February 14, 2011]

“Some businesses also feel the pinch. At Gymboree, an upmarket American-style playhouse for toddlers and pre-schoolers, membership has fallen about 10 percent a year for the past five years, said spokesman Cheryl Huang. Still, the company, whose nine centres in Taiwan conduct play, music, art and culture lessons, has seen its annual turnover here rise by about 5 percent. “Parents these days have just one or two children, so they are more willing to invest in them,” noted Huang. Each six-month package, comprising weekly 45-minute sessions, costs NT$20,000 (US$688). At Janfunsun Fancyworld in western Yunlin county, one of biggest amusement parks in Taiwan, the number of young people visiting has been dropping. “It used to be that parents would come here with four or five kids,” said spokesman Shih Le-ping. “Now, it’s many adults accompanying one child.” To counter the decline, rides have been redesigned so adults can enjoy them with their children. And now, the number of ‘mature’ visitors aged 45 and beyond has risen, and it makes up 5 percent of the park’s clientele, said Shih, compared to 2 percent just six years ago.” [Ibid]

Taiwan's Sinking Birth Rate Threatens Productivity and National Security

Taiwan fears a lack the manpower or brainpower in 10 to 15 years caused by its low birth rate will prevent it from keeping up with its industrialized Asian rivals and the growing economies of some Southeast Asian countries. Ralph Jennings of Reuters wrote: A crude birth rate of 8.3 newborns per 1,000 people last year puts Taiwan above only Germany, Hong Kong, Italy and Japan, according to estimates by the CIA World Factbook. In comparison, Vietnam has a birth rate of 17.73 and Malaysia 22.24. "Without a young generation, there's no labor force, then you lose productivity," said Hu Chung-ying, deputy minister of the Taiwan cabinet's Council for Economic Planning and Development. "It's a very worrisome issue." [Source: Ralph Jennings, Reuters, April 2, 2010]

Japan, despite a rate of 7.64, has soldiered on with automation and encouraging elders, women and foreigners to work. Asian peer Singapore has used baby bonuses for nine years to raise its rate, which was estimated at 8.82 in 2009. Taiwan's productivity would slide as retirees exceed new workers on the island of 23 million people unless citizens return en masse from abroad or more elderly seek jobs, economists say. That would cripple Taiwan's hard-fought efforts to compete with Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, all known for industrialization and fast growth from the 1960s to the 1990s. [Ibid]

Lee Seok Hwai wrote in the Straits Times, “So few babies are born on the island these days that the government now fears the problem threatens Taiwan’s very existence. It has prompted Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou to order recently a comprehensive set of solutions to what has been described as a matter of ‘national security’. The latest government statistics revealed just how serious the situation is. Taiwan’s total fertility rate, already the lowest in the world, fell again last year to 0.91. That means that on average, a woman in Taiwan bears less than one child in her lifetime. The number of newborns dipped to 166,886 from 191,310 in 2009. It was yet another record low—though officials also blame superstitious fears about the Year of the Tiger for the poor numbers. If the baby shortage continues, the island’s population could start shrinking in 2023, according to previous projections.[Source: Lee Seok Hwai, Straits Times, February 14, 2011]

Reasons for Taiwan's Low Birth Rate

Ralph Jennings of Reuters wrote: “Taiwanese are shunning births in favor their careers, which often delays marriage or scraps the idea altogether, and to save child-rearing expenses that include babysitters and education from kindergarten to university. "Women have changed. Women have expectations of a career," said Linda Arrigo, an American-born Taipei university instructor in Taipei with a sociology background. "Women can't handle a career with two children plus." [Source: Ralph Jennings, Reuters, April 2, 2010]

“Housing prices are rising fast in parts of Taiwan while wages are stagnant, adding financial pressure to middle-class couples. Sunny Yen, 42, is a typical case. She and her husband are middle-class white-collar workers in Taipei. They decided against a second child after realizing that their first would cost T$20 million ($630,000) to raise from diapers through college degree. "If the financial burden were not so high, people might have more children," Yen said. "The government needs to take more practical measures step by step." [Ibid]

Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, “Most people still aspire to having two or more children. But they marry later  or not at all  and are more likely to divorce. They have their first child in their thirties and are often unable or unwilling to have another. Harold Li of the Child Welfare League Foundation blamed the cost of child-rearing  given stagnant salaries and high house prices and childcare fees  but also growing individualism. "I think Taiwan's low fertility rate is absolutely a big problem," said Sean Lin, a 24-year-old doctor from Taipei. But he added: "I not only don't want children, but also have no plans for marriage. It's not for economic reasons; I simply prefer more emotional freedom and believe that a family would be a burden." While his attitude is unusual, he says younger people are more accepting of childlessness. His girlfriend is happy with his choice and even his parents respect it. It is a striking shift in attitudes for a predominantly Chinese community. "There is a traditional saying 'There are three ways of being unfilial to your parents  and having no children is the most serious,' " said Li. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 23, 2012]

Natalie Tso wrote in Time, “In a society where the cost of living is high, the notion that kids are an unwelcome burden — taboo in many cultures — has become an accepted idea. Take the title of a recent panel discussion put on by Taiwan's Human Social Sciences Foundation: 'Having Children! Does It Hurt That Much?' "The hurt," explains the foundation's president, professor Liu Pei-yi, "refers to financial loss." In a research poll administered by Kun Shan University in 2007, students interviewed 100 residents of Taiwan between the ages of 20 and 40 about their family plans. One-third didn't plan to have any children for fear of losing two precious things: money and freedom. [Source: Natalie Tso, Time, December 7, 2009 ^^]

“Balancing work and family life has proven to be a challenge for both men and women in Taiwan. According to the Swiss-based International Institute of Management Development, Taiwanese work some of the longest hours in the world, averaging nearly 44 hours a week, and Taiwan's women are very career-oriented. "Most women are afraid of losing their jobs" by taking time out to have a child, says Liu. He says Taiwan should follow the lead of European countries like Germany, where women are entitled to up to three years of maternity leave by law. Taiwan has been making progress in this area; in 2002, the government passed a law requiring companies to allow their employees two-year parental leaves without pay. This year, a policy came out that enables parents to take six months of parental leave while receiving 60 percent of their salary. But many say these changes only look good on paper, as most bosses discourage people from taking the time off. ^^

“Underneath these logistical issues, however, may be a fundamental shift in values. Two-thirds of working women in Taiwan are university-educated, and fewer of them are jumping into tying the knot early. "I'm not pursuing marriage," says Hsu Yu-hua, a 30-something accountant in Taipei. "Not with today's divorce rate [38 percent in Taiwan]. I'm financially independent, and it's more convenient to be single." Only a third of Taiwan's women are married by age 30, in contrast to 20 years ago, when the average age for marriage for women was 26. Many more men have also been marrying women from other Asian countries like China and Vietnam, both countries where women are statistically inclined to have more children. China, even with the government's one-child policy, still has a birthrate of 1.6, compared with Taiwan's 1.0 (Vietnam's is 2.1). Today, 1 in 8 babies in Taiwan is born to a non-Taiwanese mother. ^^

“The chief of Taiwan's Child Welfare Bureau, Chen Kung-huang, says lowering housing prices for families with children and other related goals — like helping singles date and mate — are all items on the government's to-do list to try to boost the number of babies being born in Taiwan's delivery rooms. But underlying factors behind the low birthrate may be beyond the grasp of government policy. When asked if she wanted to have children, happily married broadcast journalist Huang Shih-han replied, "I like reading and, well, you can't read if there are children wailing." Why does she think Taiwan's birthrate is so low? "I think our generation is more selfish," she says. "When you have children, you have to sacrifice a lot, and I don't want to do that." ^^

Taiwan’s Low Birth Verus China’s One Child Policy

Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, “The comparison with the mainland is striking. Despite Beijing's "one child" policy  which has several exemptions  the fertility rate in China is still about 1.7. Liang Weixiao, who comes from southern China but married a Taiwanese man, says her siblings struggle to understand why she has only one son. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 23, 2012 ||||]

"My brother and sisters have one child each and wish they could have more. They say 'Look; there are no limits on birth controls in Taiwan  you can have two or three,' " said the 39-year-old. At first the couple felt they could not afford a second child. When they tried again Liang, by then in her late thirties, struggled to conceive. She thinks the effect on her six-year-old is obvious. "He wasn't used to sharing his toys [when he started kindergarten], because it's only him at home. He has to get used to not always being the best," she noted. ||||

Li, who said such behaviour has been called Prince or Princess Syndrome, warned of other problems. "Because children don't have playmates and siblings, they have to mature earlier and act like adults. We worry their childhood ends too early," he said. "Also, where parents have only one child they focus all their energy and income. The child has to bear a lot of pressure." ||||

Government Efforts to Address Taiwan’s Dwindling Birth Rate

Ralph Jennings of Reuters wrote: “Officials can choose from a number of measures, drawing on examples in Europe, Australia and Asia. Choices include more time off, better access to child care, government financial aid and offers of above-market wages to keep the elderly on the payroll. Cities and counties in Taiwan will come up with subsidy packages for families with newborns, while the parliament considers a tax break plan, said Hu of the planning council. Scholarships are in the works, Hu said, and more employers are providing nursing rooms for workers.[Source: Ralph Jennings, Reuters, April 2, 2010 <>]

“The government is also studying a plan to offer parents T$5,000 a month for each child's first three years, media said. The interior ministry expects its 2010 budget to cover the so far unknown cost of encouraging child births. If it needed more, Taiwan could set up a special budget or reallocate resources, said Tony Phoo, an economist at Standard Chartered in Taipei. In the longer term, Taiwan may allow more migrant labor, supplementing a foreign workforce of about 300,000, mostly from Southeast Asia, he said. But first, a T$1 million reward will go to whoever submits the best pro-baby slogan. "If the birth rate keeps going down, the government has got to produce measures," said Liang Kuo-yan, president of the Polaris Research Institute in Taipei. "One, of course, is to encourage more births." <>

Weak Government Efforts to Address Taiwan’s Dwindling Birth Rate

AFP reported: “The government has shown little inclination to introduce effective measures, said Chen Yu-hua, a demographer at National Taiwan University. “It seems the government does not have any strong political will to do anything about it. It doesn’t provide any incentive for the people,” she said. There is also no particular pressure yet from public opinion to act, as the general understanding of the issues remains low, Chen said. With a population density ranked as the 15th-highest in the world, many would welcome a drop in numbers, but the key issue is how to achieve this, she said. “You need to have proportional decrease for each age group, not just a decrease among the young,” Chen said, referring to the problem of a thinning work force supporting millions of retirees. But a “proportional decrease” is not practically possible — a government cannot cut the number of those already born — and therefore Taiwan has no other choice but a gradual reduction, not the steep one seen now, she said. [Source: AFP, Taipei Times, November 24, 2009 */*]

In August 2010, “Taiwan's government unveiled a new slogan aimed at encouraging couples to have more babies. "Children -- our best heirloom" was chosen via an on-line poll after garnering nearly a third of the 31,000 responses, followed by "happiness is very easy, baby one two three" and "it's good to have a child", said the interior ministry. The slogan's writer will get a cash prize of one million Taiwan dollars (31,250 US) while the phrase will be printed on government literature, it said in a statement. [Source: AFP, September 1, 2010]

Taiwan Baby Bonus and Blind Dates

Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, Authorities are mustering every weapon to see the problem off: from money to Chinese astrology and blind dates for its citizens. Taipei believes the year of the dragon is its last chance to turn things around. As an auspicious time for birth, each dragon year sees a sizable baby bump. By adding cash and other incentives, it hopes to produce a larger than usual increase to maintain its 23 million population. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 23, 2012 ||||]

“Faced with the personal and social costs, Taiwan's search for a solution is increasingly urgent. In the last two years the government has introduced subsidies for childcare, though critics say they are insufficient and that better quality care is needed. Mothers have also gained the right to return to work after up to three years off. ||||

“Taipei, which has the lowest birthrate, has gone furthest. There are free tests to identify fertility problems; parental advisers; a "baby bonus" of 20,000 Taiwanese dollars (£430); and a childcare allowance for under-fives worth up to 150,000 dollars a child. To encourage marriage, the city organises matchmaking day trips for singles and free courses on handling relationships. It even subsidises companies to lay on dating activities for employees. ||||

“Although the fertility rate appears to have rebounded in 2011  with a 36 percent rise, officials said  it is hard to determine the long-term trend, because 2010 was particularly inauspicious for motherhood. Yang said births usually dropped sharply after dragon years, so that keeping up this year's momentum will be a challenge. He believes Taiwan must open its borders and encourage migration to stabilise its population. "We are too late to start an incentives programme. If we don't do anything, it reaches a point of no return. If we do something, it will still be a problem that hangs over society for the next 20 to 30 years." ||||

Taiwan Births Rise in 2011 for the First Time in 11 Years

Taiwan's birth rate rose for the first time in 11 years in the first half of 2011 after a string of incentives aimed at boosting the island's fertility were introduced. A total of 91,658 babies were born in first six months, up 10.82 percent from the same period the previous year, with nearly 15,900 babies being born in June alone said the interior ministry. The birth rate rose to 7.98 births per 1,000 people, up from 7.21 in the first half of 2010. [Source: AFP, July 7, 2011]

The authorities have offered various incentives to couples in recent years, including cash gifts and other childcare and fertility treatment subsidies amid growing concerns of a serious manpower shortage.Taiwan's birth rate hit a record low in 2010 to one of the world's lowest when the number of newborns dwindled to 166,886 from 191,310 of 2009, government data showed.Meanwhile, the number of people aged 65 and over accounted for 10.74 percent of the island's more than 23 million population, above the 7.0 percent level at which a society is defined as "ageing" by the World Health Organisation.

Taiwan's birth rate had been falling since 2000 when 305,300 babies were born in the Year of Dragon, considered the most auspicious year in the Chinese zodiac and a favourite birth sign for children.

Abortions in Taiwan

The Bureau of Health Promotion (BHP) estimates that at least 240,000 abortions are carried out in Taiwan each year, based on figures for induced abortion under the National Health Insurance program and the use of the abortion-inducing drug RU-486. [Source: Chiang Sheng, Taipei Times, August 3, 2011 <^>]

Annie Huang of AP wrote: “In Taiwan’s traditional Confucian society, abortions were frowned on because they were seen as the outcome of loose or illicit sex. That began to change in the 1970s, when the island’s economy grew spectacularly and many working women wanted to limit their families to one or two children. Growth in teenage sex also fueled abortions. By last year, gynecologists say, one fetus was aborted for every three births. Taiwanese law permits abortion, but those under 18 need parental consent, and that drives many of them to seek illegal clinics or abortion drugs to keep their pregnancies secret from parents, abortion rights activists say. Religious groups were once at the forefront of the anti-abortion movement, railing against the legalization of the practice in 1985 and pushing unsuccessfully to roll back the law in the following decade.” [Source: Annie Huang, AP, August 29, 2008]

Chiang Sheng, Taipei Times, “According to figures compiled by the BHP, an average of 180,000 to 190,000 induced abortions are reported through the National Health Insurance system each year. In addition, RU-486 is used in 40,000 to 50,000 cases a year. Based on these figures, the Bureau of Health Promotion comes up with an estimate of at least 240,000 abortions each year. The bureau’s estimate, however, is wide of the mark. It is talking about diagnosed miscarriages and therapeutic abortions, along with early abortions, which are not paid for by National Health Insurance, all in the same breath. <^>

“The nature of human reproduction is such that only 30 to 50 percent of pregnancies last beyond three months, the rest being anembryonic gestations — what doctors sometimes call a “dummy pregnancy” — or ending with a natural miscarriage. Miscarriages that can be detected by a doctor account for 15 to 30 percent of all pregnancies, and complications that can occur during the first three months of a pregnancy include ectopic and molar pregnancies, choriocarcinoma, complications associated with assisted reproduction, and so on. Even when a pregnancy lasts beyond the first trimester, there is a 5 percent chance of the fetus being malformed, and various complications can occur, such as premature rupture of membranes (breaking of the waters), ante-partum hemorrhage (bleeding), and premature birth. <^>

“For women, getting pregnant may be welcome news, but it can also be a threat to life. Now the BHP has lumped in the reported figures for all these diagnosed miscarriages and therapeutic abortions to reach its inflated estimate of 240,000 abortions per annum. Besides a lack of expertise, the bureau could be accused of egging on the “pro-life” lobby.” <^>

500,000 Abortions A Year in Taiwan?

Lu Hung-chi, a retired professor of pediatrics at National Taiwan University, estimated that up to 500,000 women undergo abortions each year in Taiwan while others say that increased education on birth control has reduced the the number to roughly 150,000 at most. The China Post reported: “Citing the number of local births in 2010 as roughly 166,000, Lu said after talking to doctors and obstetricians, a high number of women - between 300,000 and 500,000 - had abortions that year. Taiwan's Genetic Health Law stipulated that a woman may allow a medical professional to perform give her an abortion if the pregnancy or labor will adversely affect her health and family life. Lu argued that the law was too broad and relaxed, and pushed for tighter control. [Source: China Post, July 17, 2011 ***]

“The government should provide counseling guidance for pregnant women, he said, adding that they should be well aware of adoption as a choice. If either an unmarried woman or teenager experiences an unwanted pregnancy, the government can evaluate the case and match up the infant with a loving family. Regarding the alarmingly high number of abortions, Dr. Pan Hung-hsing, an OB/GYN at Shin-Kong Hospital said the figure was not impossible, although from a traditionally Chinese perspective, he had doubts that the abortion number would be so high in the auspicious year of the dragon. ***

“Based on the hospital figures, Pan said two out of 10 pregnant women that Shin-Kong treats wished to have an abortion, mostly due to economic constraints. This should be a message to the government to create initiatives to turn an abysmal economy around, not tighten existing ¿genetic health laws," he added. According to Professor Lee Mao-shen of Chung Shan Medical University, research shows that there are roughly 80,000 pregnancies terminated by pills or surgery; 150,000 at most, including “back-alley” methods. The prevalence of birth control has significantly decreased the number of domestic abortions, he said.” ***

500,000 Abortions A Year Figure Misleading

Chiang Sheng wrote in Taipei Times: “Major newspapers have prominently reported the words of Lue Hung-chi, when he gave a startling figure of 500,000 for the number of abortions performed in Taiwan each year. If it were true that there are 500,000 abortions in Taiwan every year, it would be a NT$5 billion (US$173.2 million) medical market. According to market principles, an invisible hand operates behind the scenes of the economy to balance supply and demand. [Source: Chiang Sheng, Taipei Times, August 3, 2011 <^>]

“Why is it, then, that the number of gynecologists in Taiwan has declined sharply in recent years, with practitioners getting older to the extent that more than 80 percent are over the age of 40? Why are gynecologists moving in droves into the fields of beauty and weight loss? Meanwhile, the Taiwan Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology frequently seeks support funding. This picture of a sunset profession is clearly at odds with the thriving market that Lue portrays. <^>

“Behind the picture that Lue is promoting lies the aim of restricting women’s reproductive rights. Lue reportedly said that overly liberal laws and excessive women’s self-determination have made abortions a casual affair. However, a professor who quotes dubious statistics will not gain morals respect. As convener of the Child Health Alliance Taiwan, Lue should focus on the health of children and teenagers. When he blames women’s reproductive rights for the fact that fewer children are being born, it is clear that he has another purpose, and such pronouncements create a false impression that Taiwanese women will go for abortions at the drop of a hat. <^>

Up to 3,000 Female Fetuses Aborted in 2009 in Taiwan

The male to female ratio of newborns currently stands at about 110 to 100, and for the third child in a household it is 120 boys to 100 girls. It is estimated that as many as 3,000 female fetuses were aborted during 2009. [Source: Taipei Times, January 1, 2011 ==]

The Taipei Times reported: “Minister without Portfolio James Hsueh, who is also a sociology professor at National Taiwan University (NTU), said that the ratio of male to female newborns is unbalanced. As a warning, Hsueh said that Taiwan’s birth rate has been declining since 1950. Around 191,000 babies were born in 2009, but the figure for 2010 may be less than 180,000. He said that when he goes to a park during holidays, he sees more people walking their dogs than playing with their children. ==

“Hsueh said that 20 to 30 years ago, most women gave birth when they were between 25 and 29 years old, but nowadays people tend to get married later or not all, causing women to postpone getting pregnant until they are between 30 and 34 years old. Statistics show that only 43 percent of women between 25 and 34 years old are married. The decline in the marriage rate is much more obvious than in other countries. ==

“Professor Chen Yu-hua of NTU said that Aboriginal men and men who only have an elementary school education are getting married later and later. In the early years after the end of World War II, Aboriginal men were getting married at around 24 years old, but now on average they wait until they are 33.4 years old to tie the knot. Men who only have an elementary school education get married three to four years later than university graduates, with financial hardship believed to be the reason. ==

“The gender imbalance is also an area of concern. Hsueh said that parents’ gender preferences only emerge after the birth of their first child. If the first child happens to be a boy, then the second child’s gender is not an issue. But if the first is a girl, the second tends to be a boy. As the number of children in a family grows, the tendency becomes more and more pronounced, as parents rely on gender selection techniques and abortions, which creates a gender imbalance. ==

“Hsueh estimated that there were 3,000 abortions of female fetuses in 2009, if the gender ratio of newborns remained unchanged. He suggested that regulations in the Genetic Health Law be revised to avoid unnecessary abortions. He also suggested lowering taxes on families with children under six years old.” ==

Seeking Reincarnations for Abortions in Taiwan

Annie Huang of AP wrote: “Thick incense smoke fills the gilded, elaborately carved temple. A 50-year-old woman kneels down and bows before a table piled with plastic toys and baby bottles. Clasping her hands in supplication, Lin Shu-wen utters a short prayer for the two abortions she had more than 20 years ago. The retired history teacher is one of scores of women who have come to Ching Shui Temple in Taipei to make similar prayers. With abortion becoming less taboo in Taiwan, several dozen Buddhist and Taoist temples are offering a “baby souls mourning” service during ghost month, a time when Taiwanese honor wandering ghosts in the hope they will be placated and cease to haunt the living. [Source: Annie Huang, AP, August 29, 2008 \=\]

“In offering the baby souls service, the temples — longtime opponents of abortion — are recognizing a reality they nonetheless regret: Abortion is on the rise. Many Taiwanese ridicule the new ritual, seeing it as a backward superstition. Some respected monks condemn it for not reflecting genuine Buddhist doctrine. But Lin said she had no hesitation about taking part in the ceremony, during which a red-robed Taoist priest rang a bell to summon up baby spirits as she prayed for the redemption of her aborted fetuses. The mother of two adult daughters, Lin said she had the abortions in her mid-20s because she feared the extra burden would short-circuit her budding career. Now, she regrets the decision. “I could have raised them,” she said. “My mother sold fish in the market with her big tummy and yet she raised all her seven kids.” \=\

“With the battle to end abortions effectively lost, “some temples are trying to spur soul-searching among women who have had abortions. Ching Shui Temple is a leading proponent of the new approach. It touts its elaborate “baby souls mourning” ritual as a chance to help unborn children be reincarnated, possibly into well-to-do families, provided the mothers pray hard enough, says temple priest Chen Chun-kai. “We tell the women fetuses are complete with souls and must not be removed on a whim,” Chen said. “In the old days, babies only died at birth or through natural deaths, they were not aborted.” \=\

“Unlike many older Taiwanese, young women generally don’t make regular temple visits. But the baby souls ritual is drawing a growing number of them in, Chen said. “When they ran into mishaps in their lives or careers, they began to wonder if the aborted babies were taking revenge,” he said. Some smaller temples are offering online mourning rituals for women who do not want to risk public exposure. \=\

“The “Baby Palace” set up by Taoist monk Chi Chin-cheng charges NT$2,000 (US$64) to reincarnate aborted fetuses by e-mail. This marriage of high technology and religious ritual is far from universally popular. Tsai Wan-chen, secretary general of feminist group Taiwan Women’s Link, says Taiwan needs to step up sex education, rather than practice superstition. Schools “still mainly teach students to avoid premarital sex, not addressing their sexual desires and the need for birth control,” she said.” \=\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan), Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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