A leader of Japan's ruling party has sparked an uproar by calling people without children selfish, in the latest in a series of comments by senior politicians urging women to have more babies.
Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, said Tuesday that recent generations think they're better off without children. He contrasted them with older people who had large families despite the devastation of World War II.
He urged women to have babies to contribute to Japan's prosperity. The country is struggling with an aging and declining population.
"Before, during and after the war, nobody said it's better not have children because it would be too much trouble. Today, people have a selfish idea that they are better off without having children," Nikai said. "In order for everyone to pursue happiness, we should have (women) bear many children, so our country will prosper and develop."
Opponents said Wednesday that Nikai's remark neglected people's right to choose their family size and was insensitive to those who are forced to give up hopes of having children because of financial or medical difficulties. They also criticized Nikai for rejecting family diversity, including same-sex couples and single parents.
Opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a Diet debate Wednesday that the decision whether to have children "is part of the most basic right of self-determination, in which third parties should never interfere."
Abe agreed, saying the decision whether to marry or have children should be up to each individual, and acknowledged that he and his wife Akie have no children. "We should not impose our opinion on others," he said.
Abe pledged to provide financial support for child rearing and education.
Government statistics show 946,060 babies were born last year, the lowest number since Japan began compiling statistics in 1899 and below 1 million for the second year in a row.
Abe has promoted women's advancement at work to address labor shortages caused by Japan's aging and declining population, although rights activists say his measures are inadequate because they are not based on human rights.
Several senior lawmakers have been criticized recently for urging women to focus more on childrearing.
In May, an Abe confidante, Koichi Hagiuda, angered some women and single-parent fathers by saying that women should be primarily responsible for rearing children because "all babies prefer mommies (to daddies), there is no mistake."
Another ruling lawmaker, Kanji Kato, said every married couple should have at least three children.
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