23 Jan. (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged on Monday to take urgent steps to address the country’s declining birth rate, saying it was “now or never” for one of the world’s oldest societies.
Japan has tried in recent years to encourage its people to have more children with promises of cash bonuses and better benefits, but according to surveys it remains one of the most expensive places in the world to raise a child.
According to official estimates, births fell to a new record low last year, falling below 800,000 for the first time – a turning point that came eight years earlier than the government had expected.
That likely led to further population decline in a country where the median age is 49, the highest in the world behind only the small city-state of Monaco.
“Our country is about to preserve its social functions,” Kishida said in a policy speech at the opening of this year’s parliamentary session.
“It’s now or never when it comes to policies related to births and upbringing – it’s an issue that just can’t wait any longer,” he added.
Kishida said he would submit plans to double the budget for child-related policies by June, and that a new government agency for children and families would be set up in April to oversee the issue.
According to YuWa Population Research, Japan is the third most expensive country in the world to raise a child, behind only China and South Korea, countries that also see shrinking populations as worrying signs for the global economy.
Other countries are also getting a grip on aging and population decline. Last week, China reported that by 2022 its population will decline for the first time in 60 years.
Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Edited by John Geddie and Gerry Doyle
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