Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says Japan must take urgent steps to address the country’s declining birth rate, and that it was “now or never” for the world’s oldest society.
“Our nation is on the cusp of whether it can maintain its societal functions,” Kishida said in a policy speech recently at the opening of this year’s parliamentary session.
“It is now or never when it comes to policies regarding births and child-rearing – it is an issue that simply cannot wait any longer,” he added.
Kishida said a new government agency to tackle the issue would be set up in April and that he would submit plans to double the budget on child-related policies by June.
Japan saw a record low number of births in 2021, the latest data available, prompting the biggest-ever natural decline in the population.
Adding to the problem, about 28 percent of Japanese are over the age of 65.
For years, the country has maintained strict immigration policies limiting the number of people able to settle in Japan, and experts say it needs to relax its approach in order to offset the rapid ageing of its society.
In recent years, the government has been tinkering with the laws to allow more foreigners to live and work in the country along with their families.
Japan has a population of about 126 million people. While largely homogeneous, there are about one million people of Chinese descent as well as hundreds of thousands of ethnic Koreans.
In his January 4 news conference, Kishida laid out three areas that needed attention to help turn around the fallen birthrate.
The first was to provide economic support in the form of child allowances, while the second was expanding the range of child-rearing options, including child care facilities for after-school hours as well as for children with special medical needs.
The third area is reforming labour practices to make it easier for parents to take child care leave.