On Friday, Japan passed legislation that will make preschool services and education free, the latest of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s effort to revive Japanese birthrates through expanded child care, The Japan Times reports.
The Japanese government plans to use funds from a consumption tax increase planned for October to finance the new law, which will cost an estimated ¥776 billion, or $7.064 billion USD, per year. The Upper House passed the bill on Friday after it moved through the Lower House last month.
Critics argue that the bill signals improper prioritization from the government, which they argue should first try to reduce the sometimes lengthy waitlists for spots in nursery school before tackling preschool education.
Starting in October, preschool services will cost nothing for all children ages 3 to five, and day care services will also be free for children two and under in low-income households. Parents choose to send their kids to non-authorized preschools will receive maximum subsidies of ¥37,000, or roughly $336 USD, per child ages 3 to 5 and ¥42,000, roughly $380 USD, for those under the age of 2.
The program does not cover the cost of school meals.
“The financial burden of education and child-rearing weighs heavily on young people, becoming a bottleneck for them to give birth and raise children. That is why we are making (education) free,” Prime Minister Abe said Thursday.
Decreasing fertility rates have been an issue in Japan for several years now, and in 2017, the figure stood at 1.43. The tax hike planned for October will raise consumption taxes from 8 percent to 10 percent in an effort to prioritize child care.