TOKYO -- Japan will urge new fathers at government offices to take at least a month of parental leave starting next fiscal year, hoping to spread the trend to the private sector and help stem the country's population decline.
A record 21.6% of eligible male civil servants in general positions at the national government took parental leave in fiscal 2018, up 3.5 percentage points from the year before.
But the figure lags far behind that for their female counterparts, 99.5% of whom took parental leave, and is even lower when including elected officials, judges and those in other specialized positions.
New fathers who took leave also tended to remain off for a shorter time than mothers, with 72.1% gone for a month or less.
Though both male and female civil servants can take up to three years of parental leave, many worry that doing so would harm their career prospects.
"We will create a system that doesn't put people at a disadvantage for taking time off," a government source said.
Tokyo will use expert advice to devise policy measures by the end of the year. One possibility involves having offices allocate tasks ahead of time to ensure new parents can take the needed time off, and evaluating supervisors in part on how well they stick to these plans.
The initiative also is aimed at encouraging regional governments and companies to embrace parental leave. Just 6.2% of eligible male workers in the private sector took parental leave in fiscal 2018. Of them, 36% took less than five days, while another 35% took between five and 14 days off.
The rate among women was also lower compared with civil servants, with 82% taking time off.
Additional reporting by Mariko Kodaki and Shogo Kodama in Tokyo.