• Kyodo

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Japan will give national public employees up to 10 days of paid leave a year to receive infertility treatment starting next January as the country grapples with a low birthrate.

“The public sector will take the initiative,” Yuko Kawamoto, president of the National Personnel Authority, said Tuesday at a news conference, indicating she hopes the move will encourage the private sector to follow suit.

An online survey, conducted in January and February that received responses from roughly 47,000 national public employees, showed 1.8% were undergoing infertility treatment while 10.1% said they have experience with it and 3.7% said they had considered it.

Among people who have had infertility treatment or were considering it, 62.5% said it was “very difficult” to balance it with work while 11.3% said it was “impossible,” the most common reasons being the need to make frequent visits to the doctor, cost and scheduling conflicts with work.

The National Personnel Authority’s new plan aims to ease the burden by enabling full-time and part-time national public employees to take five days of paid leave, with five additional days available if necessary.

The time off can be broken up and used flexibly, such as by taking a few hours off to see the doctor during work hours.

Increasing access to infertility treatment has been a focus for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who pushed for it to be covered by public health insurance from next April.

The number of babies born in Japan fell to a record low of 840,832 in 2020, with the recent downward trend exacerbated by the social and economic impact of COVID-19.

The total fertility rate, or the average number of children a woman is expected to give birth to in her lifetime, stood at 1.34, down from the previous year by 0.02 point.

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