The number of babies born in Japan hit a new record low last year, official data showed, highlighting concern over the pandemic’s impact on one of the world’s lowest fertility rates.
In 2020, the greying country saw 840,832 births, according to data released Thursday by the health and labour ministry.
Politicians have expressed concern that the population of the world’s third-largest economy is shrinking faster than ever, with couples hesitant to reproduce as the pandemic fuels financial instability and fears over hospital trips.
A declining number of births is a common trend among rich nations, and Japan has long been searching for ways to encourage a baby boom.
Its giant neighbour China this week announced it will allow couples to have three children after a census showed its population is also rapidly ageing.
Japan’s net decline in population, 531,816, was a record high while the birth rate — the average number of children a woman has — declined to 1.34, the data showed.
The number of marriages, 525,490, also hit a low not seen since the end of World War II, while the number of divorces also declined.
Fast asleep, swaddled in a towel and snug in a pink beanie, a baby born during a pandemic in a Thai hospital needs one last item to ensure its health — a face shield.
Bangkok hospitals are using the shields on newborns in their maternity wards to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Thailand has detected 2,613 cases of the virus, with 41 deaths — a relatively low number despite being the first country outside China to record an infection.
Bangkok is now under an effective lockdown — silencing the usually boisterous and boozy Thai new year Songkran festival this week — while an overnight curfew has kept all but essential vehicles off the streets.
Extraordinary measures have also been rolled out at Praram 9 Hospital, where newborns are being fitted with face shields, a precaution taken at other maternity wards across the capital.
The tiny face guards have been designed by the hospital for use when the baby makes its first journey home.
The Lagos State Police Command said it has arrested two suspects involved in the sale of babies in the state.
A statement by the command’s spokesman on Sunday, Mr Bala Elkana, disclosed that the duo were saved from being killed by an angry mob in the Ejigbo area of Lagos.
Elkana said, “On 26th August 2019, at about 3.30pm, a police officer attached to the Motor Traffic Division of Ejigbo Police Division while controlling traffic at Jakande Gate, Ejigbo noticed a sort of commotion close to her traffic point.
“She intervened and discovered that the brouhaha was about a lady named Gift Michael 24 years old, found with a suspected new-born baby. In her company is her ‘madam’, one Florence Nkem Douglas aged 50 years – both of Ijegun area of Isheri.”
“They were about to be mobbed due to the alarm raised by those who had been trailing the duo from their residence in Ijegun as the whole community had been suspecting them for long for being in the business of buying and selling of babies in their maternity clinic, but for the timely intervention of the traffic policewoman,” he added.
The command’s spokesman said the two women along with the baby were rescued to Ejigbo Divisional Police Headquarters where in-depth investigation was conducted.
Investigation revealed that Douglas, a native of Igueben in Edo State, was not a registered nurse but operating two maternity clinic – Flofidel Clinic and Maternity Homes – with branches along Ijegun Road and Okunola Ijagemo areas.
“On interrogation, the said Florence admitted having been in the business of sales of babies for a while.
“She revealed that a baby girl is referred to as ‘pink’ while a baby boy is called ‘blue’, and are both referred to as ‘market’,” Elkana noted.
He stated that the suspect confessed that the male baby found in their custody was brought to her from Gombe State, en route to Akure and was to be sold for N500,000.00.
The command’s spokesman said the rescued baby who appeared sick with symptoms suspected to be jaundice was promptly taken to hospital for medical attention.
He also revealed that pictures of about 50 different babies, suspected to have already been sold off, were found on the phone of the suspect.
According to Elkana, babies are usually sold between N500,000.00 and N1million depending on their gender.
He added that the Commissioner of Police in the state, Zubairu Muazu, has ordered the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti Yaba to take over the investigation and ensure that other members of the syndicate were apprehended.
In southern Florida’s Sunny Isles Beach, Russian tourists Anna and Helen sip coffee with their husbands and newborn babies: a common scene in what has become a prized destination for well-off foreigners looking to secure US citizenship for their children.
Under the shadow of luxury skyscrapers — among them Trump Towers — exists an army of well-dressed women, either pregnant or pushing top-of-the-line strollers. Most are Russian or from former Soviet Union countries.
The weather, white-sand beaches and dazzling turquoise waters are common reasons given for traveling to give birth in this city of 20,000 people, north of Miami.
But one 34-year-old, who gave her name only as Anna, was more direct.
“For the American passport!” she told AFP, smiling. She arrived in the US while expecting now two-month-old Melania.
Both she and compatriot Helen, mother to a three-month-old, said tens of thousands of dollars and months of planning went into their trips.
The attraction is clear. President Donald Trump does not like it, but according to the US constitution, children born on American soil automatically gain citizenship, opening up highly sought-after opportunities to study and work.
And why Sunny Isles specifically?
“Feel home, lot of Russian,” Anna said.
Upon turning 21, baby Melania will also be able to sponsor visas for her parents to come to the US — another policy that has disgruntled Trump.
The trend is big business: Miami Mama, a company in neighboring Hallandale Beach, has been organizing travel packages for Russian mothers since 2009.
Charging between $6,900 and $49,000, they will coordinate everything from interpreters and apartments to medical care and citizenship documents, according to the firm’s website.
And none of this is illegal, according to US immigration laws.
But according to NBC, the FBI raided Miami Mama in 2017, arresting one employee for making false statements in federal documents to obtain passports for children.
Miami Mama — whose logo shows a pregnant woman against the backdrop of an American flag — did not respond to AFP’s requests for comment.
So-called “birth tourism” to the United States isn’t just popular with Russians. Expectant Chinese parents have for years travelled to California, while South Americans — particularly Brazilians — prefer Florida.
A tentative estimate by the Center for Immigration Studies — a conservative group that advocates curbs on immigration — suggested in 2015 that maternity tourism to the United States could account for some 36,000 births each year.
But there is no reliable data on how many US citizens the practice creates.
In 2014, Vera Muzyka, head of a firm helping Russian mothers in Miami, told The Moscow Times that in that city, 40 to 60 babies were being born each month to citizens of Russia or former Soviet Union countries.
Sunny Isles Beach earned itself the nickname “Little Moscow” from around 2010, when Russian beauty salons, supermarkets, restaurants and realtors started to crop up.
Nowadays, you’re more likely to find syrnikis — a type of sweet cheese pancake — than Cuban croquetas, while dried fish has become a staple bar snack.
And while southern Floridians are used to seeing shop signs in English and Spanish, in Sunny Isles it’s English and Russian — with real estate offices, notaries and businesses offering “passport services” the most common around town.
According to a 2017 report by The Daily Beast, many Russian families stay in the luxury Trump Tower condominiums.
But while connections between Trump and the Kremlin have been under investigation for over two years, there is no evidence the president benefits from Russian tourism in Florida.
Suspicious of the press, most of Sunny Isles Beach’s Russians won’t speak to the media and those who do prefer to remain anonymous or give only their first name.
That included Kate, eight months pregnant with her fourth child, who would only tell AFP: “We plan to give birth.”
Entering a specialty Russian supermarket with her husband and children, the 35-year-old added — true to form — that it was the balmy climate that brought them to Florida.