Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has mapped out a policy to have fertility treatment covered by insurance as part of measures to address Japan's falling birth rate. About one in 16 babies born across the country is conceived through in vitro fertilization under sterility treatment.
As of now, fertility treatment is not covered by public medical insurance except for some cases. Such treatment costs several hundreds of thousands of yen (thousands of dollars) each time. The move to make fertility treatment coverable by insurance comes in response to requests by groups of concerned parties that have complained of financial burdens for the treatment.
However, fertility treatment alone would not solve the falling birth rate. It is also essential to develop a favorable environment for having and raising children over a broad spectrum.
The birth rate in Japan stood at 1.36 in 2019, logging the fourth straight year of decline. There are various circumstances behind couples not being able to have children as they desire.
The most important task is alleviating economic burdens on couples longing to have children. According to a survey by a national research institute, the most common reason behind why couples were not having the ideal number of children was because "it costs too much money to raise and educate children."
In an outline of measures for addressing Japanese society with a declining birth rate, which was updated in May, the government laid out a policy to expand the program for making higher education free of charge to the middle income population and to consider extending child allowances beyond junior high school students. The government needs to discuss these issues including how to secure financial resources for those measures.
It is also imperative to support households with working parents. There are more than 10,000 children awaiting spots in day care facilities across the country. It is necessary to identify and focus on areas with many children on those waiting lists in promoting the development of child care facilities.
Another issue is that there are still few men who take child care leave. Japan is one of the highest ranked nations among members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in terms of the long period for child care leave. Yet there are only a small number of men who actually go on parental leave. The government is urged to create a system where companies encourage employees to avail themselves of paternal leave.
Due to the unstable job market, the number of those who remain unmarried is on the rise to a serious level. In particular, young men in non-regular employment make up a higher percentage of those unmarried compared to their regular worker counterparts. This is apparently because of the difficulty for the former group to envision their future outlook. The government is urged to step up support for non-regular workers so they can secure stable employment.
Amid the spread of the novel coronavirus, some have pointed to the possibility of Japan seeing a decline in the number of people getting married and women falling pregnant. It is essential to get a swift grasp of the trends in those rites of passage in order to discern what kind of repercussions they would cause.
According to a survey conducted by the Cabinet Office in 2018, a mere 30% of respondents answered that Japan is "on a path to achieving a society that embraces marriage, child-rearing and other life-time events." The government bears the responsibility to bring about a society where parents and guardians find it easy to raise their children.