National / Politics

Japan's Lower House approves free preschool education bill

Kyodo

The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved legislation to expand child care support by offering free preschool education from October, with the move coming as Japan struggles to reverse its falling birthrate.

The free education program, expected to cost ¥776 billion a year, is a key pillar of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s initiative to widen the scope of social security services. It will be funded by revenue from the planned sales tax hike in October from 8 percent to 10 percent.

Following Tuesday’s approval, the government hopes to have the bill passed through the House of Councilors before the regular Diet session ends in June.

Under the program, the government will make preschool education free for all children age between 3 and 5 starting in October. Day care services will be also made free for children up to 2 from low-income households.

If parents send their children to preschools that are not authorized by local governments, a maximum subsidy of ¥37,000 per month will be given to parents of children age between 3 and 5, and ¥42,000 for those with children age 2 and younger. School meals will be charged separately.

Reducing the financial burden of child-rearing is seen as key to boosting the country’s falling birthrate at a time of increased female participation in the workforce. The country’s total fertility rate — the average number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime — stood at 1.43 in 2017.

The Abe administration also faces the difficult task of reducing the number of children wait-listed at day care facilities. Around 20,000 children were unable to be placed in day care in 2018 due to a lack of nursery schools and teachers.