Odd policies for birthrateThe strategies to cope with the low birthrate unveiled by the Presidential Council for National Future and Vision seem to be an odd collection of policy measures. The council caused a controversy by rushing to make its announcement without due consideration.
A prime example is a proposal to give 5-year-olds early admission to elementary school, which is said to contribute to a reduction in child care costs. The proposal caused a huge controversy because Education Ministry officials are said to hold different views about it. The government insists that the measure will contribute to cutting child care costs and helping mothers return to work, but that seems far-fetched. For many working couples, it is far more beneficial to send kids to day care centers for an entire day, rather than sending them to school.
The government also unveiled other controversial proposals, such as one to give larger families preferential treatment for university admissions and another to extend the retirement age.
According to last year’s statistics, the decrease in the number of couples having their first child was much bigger than the decline in the number of parents having a second or third child. What is more urgent is to create an environment that will encourage young people to marry and have children, rather than encouraging parents with two children to have a third or fourth child in order to raise the birthrate.
All the government needs to do is create a family-friendly corporate culture and social environment, to help parents manage their work and family lives and to increase the number of high-quality child care services.
However, no one yet knows how effective these policies will prove to be. Therefore, we should begin to consider special measures that would compel men to take child care leave, as is done in Northern Europe. According to research done in advanced countries, if a husband actively participates in sharing the household chores, including child rearing, the birthrate for second children will see a marked increase.
Meanwhile, measures to prevent abortion should not be rushed. A recent survey by the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs shows that of the nearly 340,000 abortions performed in one year, unmarried women accounted for 144,000 abortions.
In addition, calling women “single mothers” instead of “unmarried mothers” will not be effective in combating discrimination against this group of women and their children. We should expand our tolerance of different kinds of family before encouraging women to have more babies. The government should be strong in implementing measures that are effective, rather than being driven by impetuousness.