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The Japanese government announced that it is now offering free day care to all children aged 6 months to 2 years old, regardless of parents’ employment status.

Key details: The “Childcare Access for All” program, set to begin in April 2024 with a trial run in 150 municipalities, will see nationwide implementation by 2026. All children within the age range will be eligible, with initial access capped at 10 hours per month, though an increase is planned for 2026, reported local outlets.

Why it matters: This significant change from the current system, which prioritizes children of working parents, holds the potential to address Japan’s declining birth rate. By improving access to affordable childcare, lawmakers hope to incentivize couples to have more children.

The bigger picture: Ultimately, the ambitious program seeks to address Japan’s declining birth rate and support families by significantly reducing the financial burden on families, especially those considering having more children. The cost of childcare is a major deterrent for many couples, and removing the barrier could encourage them to expand their families.

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The program is part of a broader government effort to support families. This includes expanding financial assistance for families with children, implementing flexible work arrangements for parents and improving the quality of education and childcare.

Challenges to address: Proponents of the nationwide program have yet to fully clarify where it will get its funding. Hiring many daycare workers could also be difficult in a country with an aging population.

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