Anger in Japan after report on plan to clear student debt in exchange for having kids

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Japan’s ruling party faced backlash from opposition lawmakers and the public this week after reports surfaced that it is mulling a plan to forgive student debt for those who have a child.

A panel of the Liberal Democratic Party, which has dominated Japanese politics since World War II, said on Thursday that they might include the suggestion in a broader proposal aimed at reducing the financial burden from education. The plan is being crafted by the LDP’s research commission for education rebuilding, Jiji Press reported.

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For years, the world’s third-largest economy has struggled to address a declining fertility rate. The debt forgiveness proposal is one effort at reversing that trend.

Figures released earlier this week showed that Japan’s births for 2022 were lower than at any other point since records began in 1899.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has prioritized boosting birth rates, including pledging more spending on childcare and planning a new agency dedicated to children and families.

The LDP’s education commission, which makes recommendations to the government, has suggested a reduction in student loan payments or a full exemption for those who have a child.

Officials may issue special education bonds to fund the policy, the commission said.

But on social media, opposition politicians and others said the proposal discriminated against those who don’t — or can’t — have children.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Ichiro Ozawa, a senior politician in the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, wrote on Twitter, labeling the policy insidious. Another lawmaker from the Japanese Communist Party, Taku Yamazoe, called the plan “insane,” and instead urged for a cut in tuition fees.

The head of the research commission, Masahiko Shibayama, defended the proposal.

In response to a critical comment on Twitter, he said there was a “misunderstanding about the plan, which will apply to both genders.” He said there have been no objections to the proposal so far.

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