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2013年6月11日 (火)

出生数過去最少 結婚・出産支援も強化したい

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 11, 2013
Marriage, child-bearing assistance needed to combat low birthrate
出生数過去最少 結婚・出産支援も強化したい(6月9日付・読売社説)

A number that makes us keenly aware of the crucial need to lift the nation’s low birthrate has been released.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s demographic statistics for 2012, which were made public Wednesday, the number of babies born in Japan last year stood at 1,037,000, the lowest figure since the government started compiling population statistics in 1899.

The year’s population decline, calculated by deducting the number of births from the number of deaths, totaled 219,000, the largest on record.

The fertility rate--the number of children a woman is expected to give birth to in her lifetime--slightly increased in 2012 to 1.41 from 1.39 the previous year.

Population to shrink further

A major factor behind the slight rise in fertility is that an increasing number of so-called second-generation baby boomers--people around 40 years old--are having babies, the statistics show. The marginal rise in the fertility rate is hardly something to become ecstatic about.

As there are fewer people in the generation below the second-generation baby boomers, the number of newborns is expected to decline.

If the population continues to shrink, the burden of working people supporting the elderly will become heavier. The decline in the workforce will also create a drag on the nation’s economic growth.

Effective measures are essential to stop the birthrate from falling further.

On Friday, the government approved a set of steps to deal immediately with the low birthrate on the basis of measures to deal with the “national crisis of the low birthrate” drawn up late last month by a panel of academics and experts.

In addition to conventional government assistance for child rearing and improving working conditions for women with small children, the panel said support for “marriage, pregnancy and childbirth” should act as pillars to stem the decline in the birthrate.

The measures included strengthening assistance in local communities at such facilities as postnatal care centers to provide mothers immediately after giving birth and their babies with better breast-feeding and mental care services.

They also called for improving the quality of counseling services at these facilities to help eliminate anxieties women may have during their prenatal and postnatal periods.

The measures also emphasize the importance of providing information about pregnancy and childbirth.

The government has abandoned a plan to distribute a handbook about life and women, or so-called women’s handbook, in light of criticism that the government was trying to dictate to women when they should have children, through descriptions in the handbook about the appropriate age for pregnancies and relevant information.

There are, however, many women who regret missing the suitable child-bearing age from a medical point of view.

It is obviously up to the individual whether or when to have a child. But it is highly important to disseminate knowledge about childbirth.

Steadily enforce steps

Some local governments have had success in dealing with the birthrate decline. The Yokohama municipal government, for example, has reduced to zero the number of children on the waiting list for day care nurseries.

Other local governments have set up “courses for prospective fathers” while some sponsor programs to provide men and women with a meeting place for possible matchmaking.

Arrangements to assist in marriage, pregnancy and child-bearing are expected to be incorporated into recommendations by the government’s Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, a basic policy of which is scheduled to be worked out shortly.

Measures that should be put into force to stem the decline in the birthrate have been worked out in full.

These measures must be steadily put into effect.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 9, 2013)
(2013年6月9日01時42分  読売新聞)


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