Japan mulls over more childcare policies amid declining birthrate

TOKYO, March 31 (Xinhua) -- The Japanese government announced a draft policy outline on Friday to tackle the country's falling birthrate, which includes advancing childcare allowances and increasing benefits for families with multiple children.

The policy package, proposed by Masanobu Ogura, minister in charge of policies for children, also includes expanding college education scholarships and upping support for single parents.

It stated that until parents' children graduate from high school, the government would abolish income limits and continue to pay benefits to the parents. However, it did not specify the amount of money that would be awarded.

The Children and Family Agency to be launched Saturday plans to strengthen cash benefits for families in order to make child-rearing less of a financial issue, the Japan Times reported, citing officials.

Amid efforts to reform childcare services, scholarships and student loans for higher education will be expanded to households with multiple children and students of certain majors, as such benefits are now offered mainly to low-income families, according to the draft.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, calling the proposals "unprecedented steps," told reporters on Friday that the government will set up a new panel chaired by himself to discuss related issues, aiming to present a general framework for a budget focused on childcare that will be "double" previous amounts, Kyodo News reported.

The total number of births in Japan slipped to a record low last year by falling by 43,169, or 5.1 percent, from the previous year to 799,728, according to preliminary data released by the health ministry.

Falling under 800,000 for the first time since records began in 1899, the drop came much earlier than the government had expected.

The daft proposals will likely be included in new economic and fiscal policy guidelines due in June, according to local media reports.

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