Japan on Saturday launched a new agency for overseeing child policies as the government under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida struggles to reverse the country's declining birthrate.
The Children and Families Agency, under the direct supervision of the prime minister, will tackle a wide range of challenges, including the perilously low birthrate, child abuse and poverty, as the "control tower" in compiling policies while eliminating sectionalism.
The agency, the first governmental body to be established after the Digital Agency in September 2021, brought together relevant departments from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry as well as the Cabinet Office. Combined with people from the private sector and local governments, the agency has around 430 officials.
Yumiko Watanabe, a senior bureaucrat of the welfare ministry, heads the agency.
Its launch comes at a time the number of babies born in the country last year fell to below 800,000 for the first time since record-keeping began in 1899.
Kishida has warned that Japan is "on the brink" of losing its social function against a backdrop of the rapidly falling birthrate.
Aside from tackling the birthrate problem, the new agency is also tasked with supporting pregnant women, children with disabilities and "young carers," or children who routinely look after their family members.
Among new measures, the agency plans to introduce a system of requiring a certificate of no criminal record for people assuming jobs linked to children in the wake of a series of sexual abuse cases by babysitters that came to light in recent years.
Although the agency has been designed to eliminate sectionalism among governmental organizations, school education -- a key area related to children -- will remain in the hands of the education ministry.
About 4.8 trillion yen ($36 billion) was allocated to the agency for the fiscal year starting April, but critics say it may be difficult to secure a sufficient budget for child policies in a stable manner.
Kishida has expressed willingness to "double" his administration's spending on child policies, but he has not specified its starting point or how to secure the increased amount, fueling speculation that the government will have to carry out tax hikes to finance the costs.
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