As the sliding birth rate crisis looms in Japan, its government launched the Children and Families Agency on April 1 to oversee child policies, including the issues of tackling child abuse and poverty. According to the Japanese government statistics, the number of babies born in the country in 2022 slid below 800,000, a level reached more than a decade sooner than the government had estimated. The government jumped into taking immediate action to control the ongoing demographic crisis. The Japanese Government is also set to launch bigger child allowances for families, and working parents will have access to more after-school childcare. There will be reforms finalized in June that will make it easier for parents to take leave to raise families.
With a birth rate of 1.3, the world’s third-largest economy’s population has been declining for three decades and has suffered a fall of 644,000 in 2020-2021. According to the preliminary data released in February 2022, at 799,728 births, the figure represented a 5.1 percent drop from the previous year and a seventh consecutive annual fall. It marked that first-year births had fallen below 800,000 since records began in 1899.
Japan’s Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, has repeatedly issued a stark warning to the Japanese people regarding the crisis. In January this year, he said, “Japan is on the verge of whether we can continue to function as a society, and addressing the stubbornly low birth rate cannot wait and cannot be postponed.”
In February this year, Japanese Prime Minister’s advisor Masako Mori said in an interview in Tokyo, “If we go on like this, the country will disappear. The number of babies born last year slumped to a record low.” She added, ”It’s the people who must live through the process of disappearance who will face enormous harm. It’s a terrible disease that will afflict those children.” She warned that the social security system would collapse if nothing were done, and industrial and economic strength would decline. There also wouldn’t be enough recruits for the Self-Defense Forces to protect the country.
Despite assurances and warnings issued by the Japanese Government, experts believe that the government has not developed any effective policy until now to solve the problem. The government must take its policy failure seriously and act swiftly to reinvent its strategy for tackling the intractable challenge. In February, the Japanese Prime Minister promised the government would double its childcare budget from the current 2% of GDP. However, the government backtracked, saying it was not setting any specific targets for the budget size.
Japan has adopted a two-pronged strategy to deal with the decreasing birth-rate problem. Japanese employees are encouraged to “go home and multiply” with financial incentives for married couples who heed the call. Government-driven policies are focused on a “child-first social economy,” spearheaded by the new Children and Families Agency. There are also subsidies for pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare. These have failed as experts complain that politicians target parents with children while failing to ask themselves why young people are reluctant to start families. Experts say that throwing money on couples won’t solve the problem. A paper from a Japanese government panel on gender equality said sweeping changes are needed to reduce the burden on women of raising children and make it easier for them to participate in the workforce after giving birth.