The Korea Herald


8,000 child day care centers shut down over 4 years

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : Feb. 20, 2023 - 14:12

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Children attend classes at a day care center in eastern Seoul, in this photo taken Feb. 6. (Yonhap) Children attend classes at a day care center in eastern Seoul, in this photo taken Feb. 6. (Yonhap)

Over 8,000 child day care centers in South Korea closed over the past four years, weighed down by declining births, government data showed.

Some 21 percent, or 8,248, of all day care centers across the nation disappeared from end-2018 to the end of last year, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare on Sunday. The total number of day care centers, which typically admit children aged 6 and under, stood at 30,923 as of Dec. 31, compared with 39,171 at end-2018.

Separate data showed that the number of children attending the day care programs declined 22.6 percent from 1.41 million in the beginning of 2018 to 1.09 million at the end of last year.

Among day care institutions, private centers saw the sharpest decline. In particular, those established within apartment and housing complexes declined most rapidly, with the number falling 35.1 percent from 18,651 to 12,109 in the four-year period. Such institutions typically provide care for infants aged 1 or younger.

The number of public day care centers increased 37 percent from 6,090 to 8,346 in the same period. The growth is mainly attributed to the previous administration’s effort to raise the public centers’ share to 40 percent, by transitioning several privately run day cares into public.

“The main reason for the declining number of day care centers is an overall drop in the country’s fertility rate,” the Health Ministry explained.

South Korea is grappling with the issue of low fertility rates amid a transition into a superaged society by 2025, where more than 20 percent of the population is aged 65 years or older.

The number of births here fell to an annual 260,562 in 2021 from 357,771 in 2017, according to Statistics Korea. In the first 11 months of last year, a total 231,862 were born, the latest data showed.

The nation's total fertility rate -- the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime -- came to just 0.79 in the third quarter of last year, according to government data.

The government is currently pushing to combine the country’s day care and preschool programs by 2025. Under the change, the new program will put all children aged 6 and below under the same institutions.