Kishida has pledged “unprecedented” measures to tackle the country’s perennially low birthrate, and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is reportedly drafting a set of policy recommendations on the issue for the government.
But the reported debt forgiveness plan has sparked anger.
“Scholarship debt reduction and whether an individual would have a baby or not are completely different issues, aren’t they?” opposition lawmaker Noriko Ishigaki asked Kishida at an upper house session Friday.
“This is a policy that requires a child in return for reducing scholarship debts, (it’s)… a bad, unprecedented measure to tackle the low birthrate,” Ishigaki said.
Kishida said little on the substance of the proposal, insisting only that “free and vigorous debate should be respected”.
“This is like saying ‘pay with your body!’, ‘give birth to a child if you want to reduce debts’. I wonder what they are thinking. Childbirth can risk your life. So cruel,” one Twitter user said. “The LDP’s policies (are) always treating humans as if they are livestock,” history writer Masahiro Yamazaki said in another tweet.
Others called the plan “incomprehensible” and “abnormal”, and wrote that “whether to have a child or not is a matter of personal decisions in the first place”.
Masahiko Shibayama, an LDP lawmaker who heads a team discussing the issue, told private broadcasters TBS and TV Asahi that the plan was aimed at financially supporting families with children, not punishing those without them.
“We are discussing this as an expansion of support for child-rearing rather than a policy linked to childbirth,” he told TV Asahi.
“It is extremely regrettable that this was taken in a context that it wouldn’t give benefits unless giving birth.”
The LDP is expected to submit its policy recommendations to Kishida’s government by the end of this month, according to local media.
In a policy address in January, Kishida said Japan’s low birth rate and ageing population posed an urgent risk to society, adding that “focusing attention on policies regarding children and child-rearing is an issue that cannot wait and cannot be postponed”.
Birth rates are declining in many developed countries, but in Japan the issue is particularly acute.
The country has the world’s second-highest proportion of people aged 65 and over, after the tiny state of Monaco, according to World Bank data.
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