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Health minister Chikara Sakaguchi has submitted to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi a set of measures to deal with the nation’s declining birthrate, including steps to have more men take paternity leave.

Under the plan, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry hopes to raise the proportion of men taking paternity leave to 10 percent from 0.4 percent in fiscal 1999. The new target for women taking maternity leave is 80 percent.

Koizumi told Sakaguchi Friday it is important to come up with concrete measures that would lead workers to take child-care leave, and suggested that the elderly be enlisted to help with child-rearing. Sakaguchi asked the government to promote child-care leave measures to companies and local governments.

She also sought cooperation from the various government ministries regarding the financial problems that would arise.

Before submitting the initiative, Sakaguchi told a news conference that legislation must be passed to oblige employers to allow staff to take child-care leave, noting little progress will be made without such efforts.

But the initiative is expected to meet strong opposition from some quarters of the government on grounds it would be an additional burden on firms.

The ministry, which aims to work intensively on these measures over the next two to three years, will urge companies and local governments to draw up action plans for the initiative, ministry officials said.

It will also study legislative measures, such as revisions to the law covering child care, and the government will compile by the end of this year comprehensive measures to deal with the declining birthrate, the officials said.

Under the initiative, the ministry will ask companies to raise to 25 percent from 8 percent in fiscal 1999 the proportion of employees who take leave to care for a sick child, and to raise to 25 percent from 7 percent the proportion of those who shorten their work hours before their children enter school.

Other measures would enable men to take at least five days off after their wives give birth, and limit overtime for men and women to an hour a day until their child enters school. The initiative calls for studying a mechanism under which the workers’ annual pension would not be reduced.

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