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Japan to channel billions of dollars into raising birth rate

June 1, 2023

Japan is investing around 3.5 trillion yen in a push to increase the number of children. The country's acute population problem is getting worse quicker than expected.

A nurse rocks a three day-old baby to sleep at a maternity unit in a Tokyo hospital
The number of new Japanese babies dipped to an all-time low last yearImage: Robert Gilhooly/dpa/picture alliance

The Japanese government on Thursday announced specific measures to curb falling birth rates by boosting financial support for households with children.

Tokyo says it will spend about 3.5 trillion yen (about $25 billion or €23.5 billion) annually to turn around a trend that, while affecting many developed countries, is particularly acute in Japan.

What is included in the plan?

Parents will be entitled to a monthly allowance will of some 15,000 yen —about $107 dollars — for each child from newborn to two years old. There will then be 10,000 yen for children from the age of three and older, with the coverage expanded to include children in senior high school.

According to the draft, the state will no longer use household income as a criterium in providing allowances to parents.

The government also plans to open up nursery school or day-care center places to children, even if their parents do not have jobs.

It will raise childcare leave benefits, starting in the fiscal year 2025, so disposable family incomes remain unchanged for up to four weeks even when both parents take leave.

The measures also include increasing paid parental leave and providing subsidies for fertility treatments.

Why is the plan being proposed now?

Figures show that annual births last year fell below 800,000 for the first time in a country of 125 million. It has met that new benchmark of decline eight years earlier than had been expected.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who flagged up the plan in March, said he was proposing "policies to tackle the falling birthrate on an unprecedented scale" and seeking to increase income for the child-rearing generation.

"We will move forward with these measures to fight the falling birthrate without asking the public to bear a further burden," he told a group of ministers, experts and business leaders.

Japan has the world's second-oldest population after Monaco, and relatively tough immigration rules mean that it is facing restrictive labor shortages.

A poll for the Reuters news agency showed that more than nine out of 10 Japanese firms feel a sense of crisis about the accelerating birthrate decline.

Meanwhile, the cost of caring for the elderly has soared.

Kishida's government has faced criticism over a perceived failure to identify funding sources that do not rely on spending cuts and hoped-for improvements in the economy.

rc/dj (AFP, Reuters, NHK)