Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister is under fire this week after saying that the country's diminishing population is due to women not having babies.  Japanese media quoted him as saying at a seminar:

“There are lots of weird people who say the elderly are at fault, but that’s incorrect. 

Rather, those who aren’t giving birth to children are the problem.

The ageing population, combined with the diminishing number of children, is the grave issue in the mid and long term.”

Aso later withdrew the remarks after opposition MPs accused him of insensitivity towards couples who either do not want to have children, or want to have children but are unable to do so. Opposition lawmaker Kiyomi Tsujimoto, who belongs to the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said:

“He not only lacked consideration to those who choose not to or cannot have children, but he just doesn't understand what the problem is.  He has no sense of human rights.”

But why is saying an obvious and simple truth insensitive, and somehow against human rights no less?  Of course low fertility is due to women not having babies.  There is nothing at all in the statement which indicates those who can’t have children should be blamed for low fertility. 

Last year Japanese MP, Kanji Kato, was actually a little stronger in what he said.  Kato, who has six children and eight grandchildren, said when he encounters young women who say they do not intend to marry:

“I tell them that if they don’t get married then they won’t be able to have children, and that they’ll end up in a care home paid for with the taxes of other people’s children.”

Of course not everyone is lucky enough to get married and have children, but truth should always be allowed to be voiced.  On the flipside, such comments acknowledge the work of many mothers and fathers who spend a lot of their time raising children – often an under-appreciated role in a career focussed society.  This is especially necessary in Japan, where the culture of long working hours, and work events after work as well, is extremely hard on families (and are in fact one of reasons women there are hesitant to have children).

According to the latest Japanese government statistics, in 2018 Japan's total population fell by 448,000 people to 126 million, a record decline. It is forecast to fall below 100 million by 2050.  The number of births fell to 921,000, the lowest since records began in 1899.  

According to The Telegraph, Mr Abe himself has no children and has acknowledged that:

  • a lack of access to affordable child care;
  • excessively long working hours; and
  • elder care

are major factors behind the country's low birthrate.

He has promised labour and other reforms to help alleviate the burden on families that discourage couples from having more children.  The discussion this week also illustrates a broader truth — that we need to be able to discuss facts and truth above the many differing people who could potentially be offended by almost everything one could say.

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Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...