TOKYO - With Japan's birth rate stuck in low gear, the Abe administration has come up with a new idea to make babies: convince the women to have a child earlier rather than later.
It plans to give out notebooks to all young women - and perhaps also to young men - to get that message across.
The notebooks, to be available from next April, will indicate the most appropriate timeframes for pregnancy and childbirth.
Japan's low birth rate is said to be partly due to women opting for late marriage and delayed childbirth in recent years. In 2011, it stood at 1.39, far short of the 2.07 needed to stop the population from shrinking.
The "Women's Notebook", as it has been dubbed by the media, is the brainchild of a government task force which feels that young Japanese women need to be informed about the importance of not putting off childbirth.
Announcing the proposal earlier this month, Ms Masako Mori, the minister in charge of birth issues, said: "As (a woman) grows older, it becomes harder to become pregnant. The risk to mother and unborn child also increases. We must spread this knowledge among teenage girls and upwards to enable women to make choices and plan their lives."
But the proposed notebook created an uproar among women, who saw it as the government attempting to blame only the female gender for the low birth rate. They also resented the government's interference in their private lives.
"It's none of the government's business," said marketing officer Natsuki Sasaya, 31.
"They seem to have concluded that women alone have no knowledge or awareness of those things. I have friends who want to have children but cannot do so and are on fertility treatment."
Ms Mori was severely reproached in Parliament by opposition lawmaker Renho, who had briefly held the same portfolio from September 2011.
"It is up to the individual to decide when to get married or to have children," Ms Renho said.
In an article on the Nikkei Business website, Ms Kaoru Kawai, who has a PhD in health sciences, wrote: "I don't remember being told that one can have a baby by oneself."
Added the 47-year-old part- time lecturer and weather forecaster: "If the government brings out a women's notebook, there should be one for men too."
Some newspaper editorials echoed her sentiment. Last week, Ms Mori said the task force was contemplating having a similar notebook for men as well.
The notebook is part of a set of measures to raise the birth rate that is expected to be included in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic package to be announced next month.
Others include subsidising dating events, providing low-rental housing for newlyweds, and making it easier to set up creches by, for example, cutting red tape.
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