Apolitician from Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party has issued a reluctant apology after suggesting that single women are a burden on the state.
Kanji Kato, 72, was accused of sexism for telling newlyweds that they need to have at least three children and those who fail to have large enough families will end up living in nursing homes paid for with other people’s taxes.
Mr Kato made the comments in a meeting on Thursday of a faction of the LDP. A number of female politicians at the event immediately condemned the attitude of Mr Kato – who has six children and eight grandchildren – with one woman telling Kyodo News “This is exactly sexual harassment”.
Mr Kato’s comments have provoked a storm of criticism in a nation that is wrestling with a sharply contracting birth rate, an aging population and shrinking tax revenues. It has also been wracked by scandalsinvolving sexism in politics, the media and the world of entertainment.
“I always tell brides and grooms at wedding parties that I would like them to have three or more children”, Mr Kato said. “We need three or more children from those people to make up for couple who cannot bear a child no matter what they do”.
Those who fail to meet Mr Kato’s suggested quota will live on pensions and receive health care paid for with the taxes of other people’s children, he said.
Challenged about whether he would amend or retract his advice, Mr Kato was unapologetic.
“Improving the birth rate is the most important issue facing our nation. That is all”, he said.
Under pressure from senior LDP members, however, Mr Kato’s office issued a statement later in the day in which he said, “I apologise if my words game the wrong impression. Although I never intended to discriminate against women, I retract the remarks I made because they could have been interpreted as such”.
Around 941,000 children were born in Japan last year, the lowest figure since nation-wide records were first collated in 1899. Government data released on April 1 showed there were 15.53 million children under the age of 15, down 170,000 from the previous year and also the lowest figure on record.
The falling birth rate comes despite financial and other incentives designed to encourage young couples to have children. Japanese are today getting married later in life, more women are opting for a career over a family and the expense of raising children makes larger families prohibitively expensive for most.
Mr Kato’s comments echo those of a number of other LDP members in the past, including Hakuo Yanagisawa, the former minister of health who in 2007 described woman as “baby-making machines” who are duty-bound to increase the population.
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