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The Declining Birthrate in East Asia

It is said that the declining birthrate, as a term, first appeared in Japan in the 1992 White Paper on National Lifestyle. When it was announced in 1990 that the total fertility rate for 1989 had reached 1.57, the news generated shock waves and prompted the government to embark on a series of measures to reverse the decline. With the formation of a new cabinet in October 2005, Kuniko Inoguchi was appointed as Minister of State for Gender Equality and Social Affairs, a new post created to specifically address this problem of the decreasing birthrate. Despite these efforts, the birthrate has continued to fall. The most recently announced 2005 birthrate plummeted to a new low of 1.25.

The declining birthrate is also a problem faced by other East Asian countries. The 2004 total fertility rate was 1.16 in South Korea, 1.18 in Taiwan, and 1.24 in Singapore. With the exception of China where the one-child policy has been enforced since 1978 to restrain population growth, other nations in the region have undertaken a number of measures to halt this trend.

The declining birthrate exerts various pressures on society, and in Japan, these are expected to affect the economy and social security system. A coincident fall in the future workforce and collapse of social security system are a particularly strong concern and subject of discussion. In contrast, however, little discussion has focused on how children themselves are affected. Given that the birthrate in Japan has been declining for almost fifteen years now, children born during this time have been growing up in a society with few children. What effect has this sort of society had on their growth and development?

The only child, for example, tends to be viewed negatively, as selfish, self-absorbed, lacking in patience, etc., but can't these characteristics also be found in children with siblings? Or looking at the situation from another perspective, what traits are fostered by having siblings? And if these traits are lacking in only children, couldn't these traits be supplemented by school and community life? How has the growth and development of children in China, where nearly all are only children, been affected by the one-child policy?

CRN would like to examine these important issues and how they affect children in East Asia. We are now planning an international symposium devoted to this problem shared by our fellow East Asian nations in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of our founding. In particular, the conference will focus on the children themselves and how the declining birthrate has affected their development. We would very much appreciate your assistance in the planning of this event by putting us in contact with scholars and researchers who engaged in study in this area. We hope to bring together an exciting roster of speakers and presenters to ensure a successful and productive conference.
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