National

Expert panel on increasing marriages in Japan ditches 'marriage-hunting mentor' proposal

Kyodo

A group of experts advising the government on how to boost marriage numbers has said that companies should aid employees hoping to wed by holding events to help them meet potential partners, but it ditched a proposal to create a “marriage-hunting mentor” system in the face of mounting criticism.

A group of 12 experts, including a university professor, the top editor of a woman’s magazine and a number of researchers, issued a set of proposals to wrap up their discussions, which kicked off in October.

The panel was created by the Cabinet Office, which has taken charge of formulating policies to boost the nation’s perennially low birthrate, which is attributed largely to more young people delaying or shunning marriage, since out-of-wedlock childbirth is relatively rare in Japan.

The experts were specifically tasked with finding ways that companies can help facilitate the marriages of employees. The government has said the corporate sector should also contribute to bolstering marriage numbers at a time when many local governments are organizing matchmaking parties.

The panel initially planned to propose creating a commendation system in which companies that take proactive steps to encourage employees to wed are recognized and commended by the government.

It also considered asking companies to introduce so-called marriage-hunting mentors — married bosses who give advice to single workers hoping to find spouses.

This draft proposal, however, faced intense criticism from labor unions and groups representing sexual minorities soon after it was revealed.

The critics said companies adopting such measures would lead to cases of workplace sexual harassment, with employees being questioned by bosses about private information such as relationships and marriage plans.

The measures, they said, are also tantamount to firms forcing employees to accept that everybody should be married.

Reflecting these criticisms, the experts did not include the commendation or mentor systems in their proposals, and instead said companies should organize in-house events such as an athletics meet for single employees who wish to take part.

In the event employees use matchmaking services provided by other companies, their employers should pay part of the costs, the panel said. The experts also said that improvements in general working conditions — including reducing overtime hours — were also needed.

However, in implementing measures to help boost the marriage rate, employers “must not press certain values, such as ‘one can be fully grown only after getting married,’ on employees,” the experts said.

Japan’s fertility rate is one of the lowest among industrialized nations, standing at 1.42 in 2014, compared with 1.86 for the United States, 1.98 for France and 1.37 for Italy, according to the government’s Declining Birthrate White Paper.

The Cabinet Office began subsidizing local governments for holding matchmaking events in fiscal 2016, having been allocated ¥500 million ($4.2 million) in the state budget for such expenditures. It seeks to more than double that amount, to ¥1.1 billion, for the next fiscal year beginning in April 2017.