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The number of Japanese children who were under 15 years old as of April 1 fell from a year earlier, reflecting the continuing decline in the nation’s birthrate, the government said Friday.

The figure marked a 20th straight year-on-year drop and a 14th consecutive postwar low, it said.

As of April 1, there were an estimated 18.34 million children in Japan below the age of 15, the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications revealed.

This figure — 9.41 million boys and 8.93 million girls — constitutes a decrease of around 240,000 from a year earlier, the ministry said.

The percentage of children within the nation’s overall population dropped by 0.3 percentage point to 14.4 percent, the ministry announced ahead of the Children’s Day holiday, which falls today.

Junior high school students, age 12 to 14, numbered around 3.99 million. Fourth-grade to sixth-grade elementary students, age 9 to 11, stood at around 3.66 million, with first-grade to third-grade elementary students, age 6 to 8, numbering an estimated 3.57 million.

The fact that there were fewer children in the lower age groups indicates that the number of children is expected to decrease further in the near future.

According to the Health Ministry, the average number of babies born to a typical Japanese woman during her lifetime hit a new low of 1.34 in 1999, breaking the previous record of 1.38 set the year before.

As of Oct. 1, 2000, the population of Okinawa Prefecture contained the highest percentage of children at 19.5 percent. This was followed by Shiga Prefecture with 16.3 percent and Saga Prefecture with 16.2 percent.

Tokyo ranked last among Japan’s 47 prefectures with 12.5 percent, with Akita Prefecture ranking second-last with 13.6 percent and Kochi Prefecture ranking third-last with 13.7 percent.

Japan’s child-percentage figure is among the lowest in the world, ranking alongside Italy’s 14.5 percent.

Germany has a child-percentage figure of 15.8 percent, France 19 percent, Britain 19.1 percent, the United States 21.4 percent, South Korea 21.6 percent and China 23.9 percent.

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