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Kwan Weng Kin
Thursday, Jun 5, 2014

Asia

Japan gets to grips with population woes

The Straits Times | Kwan Weng Kin | Thursday, Jun 5, 2014

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe feels Japan is unfairly singled out for wrongs that were more widespread than their accusers admit.

JAPAN - With the past government's efforts to raise Japan's low fertility rate having had little effect, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is taking a new approach that goes beyond incentives like childcare assistance.

The government is to set up a comprehensive strategic task force headed by the premier himself that will get all branches of the central government to work together, and also with the local authorities, to tackle the issue from the ground up.

The establishment of the task force will be included in the government's basic economic and fiscal policy outline to be unveiled towards the end of this month, say reports.

It will be the first time that population issues are included in such a policy outline. The task force itself is likely to be set up next month.

This comes as Japan's fertility rate rose only slightly to 1.41 in 2012, up 0.02 point from a year earlier and still far below the 2.07 needed to maintain a country's population.

Japan also faces the problem of population decline in smaller cities as young people move to the capital Tokyo and other bigger cities in search of jobs and a better life.

Mr Abe's new comprehensive approach will aim to solve both the problem of a lack of babies nationwide and that of falling population in smaller cities.

The government aims to make smaller cities attractive to young couples by creating jobs and providing housing, shopping malls, creches and other social infrastructure to support young families.

This, it hopes, will encourage young people to remain in such cities to work, marry and have children, and persuade more mothers to remain in the workforce.

"For women, it should not be a case of deciding whether to work or to have children. Women should be able to do both without making such a great effort," said Mr Akira Amari, minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy, last Saturday.

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