A leading Japanese politician has criticised people who do not have children as being “selfish”, the latest in a string of controversial parenting remarks by senior figures from the ruling party.

Toshihiro Nikai, the secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, made his comments during a speech in Tokyo, during which he also urged the nation to have more children in order to make everyone “happy”.

“During and after the war when (Japanese people) were living on the edge of starvation, nobody said it’s better not to have children because it would be too much trouble,” said Mr Nikai, 79. “These days, some people have a selfish idea that it is better not to give birth to children.”

He added: “In order for everyone (in Japan) to be happy, we should have many children and develop our country.”

The Japanese government is currently contending with a record low birthrate, with around 941,000 children born last year – the lowest figure since nationwide records began in 1899.

However, Mr Nikai’s comments are likely to ignite concerns that the ruling elite are starkly out of touch with the realities of daily life in Japan, where mothers struggle to juggle careers with parenting while facing chronic shortages of childcare places and widespread gender discrimination in the workplace.

Meanwhile, only three per cent of Japanese men take paternity leave following the birth of a child, with many workers fearful about the impact on their career if they take their legally entitled break.

The extent of the nation’s childcare problem was reflected in a recent survey by the think tank Nomura Research Institute, which found that 348,000 children nationwide were unable to enroll in Japan’s limited number of facilities.

An additional 599,000 children needed to obtain places – nearly twice the government’s target of 320,000 for 2020 – if the employment rate of women aged between 25 and 44 was boosted to its goal of 80 percent in 2022, compared to 66 per cent in 2009, the report added.

Mr Nikai, whose comments were reported by Kyodo news agency, is not the only senior LDP figure to spark controversy in recent months due to outdated views of family life in modern-day Japan.

Last month, Koichi Hagiuda, the executive acting secretary-general of LDP – and a close aide to the prime minister Shinzo Abe – caused a stir when he declared that children under the age of two should be raised by women not men.

The veteran politician said during a speech in Miyazaki, southern Japan, that the idea of men raising young children was an “unwelcome idea”, adding that infants “must want mums, no matter how you look at it. I think it is a bit strange if they chose dads”.

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Just weeks earlier, Kanji Kato, a lower house member of LDP, also came under fire after saying that single women were a “burden on the state” and declared that newly-weds should have “at least three children”.

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