Japan PM says tackling childbirth crisis ‘can’t wait’

Japan’s low birth rate and aging population pose an urgent risk to society, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Monday, promising to address the problem by establishing a new government agency.

Birth rates are declining in many developed countries, but the problem is particularly acute in Japan, which has the world’s second-highest proportion of people aged 65 and over, after tiny Monaco, according to World Bank data.

“It is estimated that the number of births fell below 800,000 last year,” Kishida told lawmakers in a keynote speech at the start of a new parliamentary session.

“Japan is on the verge of whether we can continue to function as a society,” he said.

“The focus on politics related to children and child-rearing is an issue that cannot wait and cannot be postponed.”

The Conservative leader said his policies – including the creation of the new Children and Families Agency in April – are designed to support parents and ensure the “sustainability” of the world’s third-largest economy.

Kishida added that eventually he wants the government to double spending on child-related programs.

“We need to build a child-first social economy to reverse the (low) birth rate,” he said.

Japan has a population of 125 million and has long struggled with how to support its rapidly growing elderly population.

Birth rates are slowing in many countries, including Japan’s closest neighbors, due to factors such as rising living costs, more women entering the labor market and people choosing to have children later.

Official data showed last week that China’s population will shrink in 2022 for the first time in more than six decades.