Amid the declining birthrate, the government held its first meeting Friday of Cabinet ministers to discuss ways to encourage young couples to have more children.

“Marriage and giving birth to a child is basically the choice of individuals, and it is a matter in which neither the state nor society should intervene,” Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi told the meeting. “But it is the task of the state and society as a whole to create an environment where young people can dream of family life and child-rearing and where they can realize their hopes.”

The meeting of the panel of Cabinet ministers, including Obuchi, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka and Health and Welfare Minister Sohei Miyashita, followed a set of proposals made last December by an advisory panel to the prime minister.

The advisory panel, comprised of scholars and experts, drafted nearly 150 proposals, including promoting leaves of work for child-rearing, supporting women returning to work after having children, creating tax incentives for parents and providing better nursery services.

The Cabinet ministers will discuss ways to carry out those proposals and try to wrap up their discussions by the end of this year, government officials said.

Obuchi also said the government plans to establish another panel called the “people’s conference,” comprised of representatives from business sectors, labor unions and academia as well as experts on child care to discuss measures to address this issue.

A rapidly graying society accelerated by the nation’s declining birthrate is becoming a serious problem in Japan.

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