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FILE PHOTO: Japan Ground Self Defense Force members take part in their joint exercise, named Northern Viper 17, with U.S. Marine Corps at Hokudaien exercise area in Eniwa, on the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, August 16, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai(reuters_tickers)
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's military plans to raise the maximum age for new recruits in a bid to cope with a shrinking pool of potential soldiers due to the country's low birth rate and fast-ageing population.
The maximum age for enlisted personnel and non-commissioned officer applicants will be raised to 32 from 26 from Oct. 1 to secure "a stable supply of Self-Defense Forces (military) personnel amid a declining pool of recruits due to the recently declining birth rate", the defence ministry said on Wednesday.
The number of Japanese people aged between 18 and 26 years old - the current age band for recruits - is forecast to fall below eight million by 2046 from 11 million this year and a peak of 17 million in 1994.
The declining numbers, along with competition from the private sector due to a labour shortage, mean the SDF has been unable to fulfil recruitment quotas for the past five years, with the navy facing an especially tough time.
"Due to the declining birthrate and greater advancement into higher education, the environment of recruiting SDF personnel is increasingly severe," the ministry said in its 2017 white paper, echoing a lament heard for several years running.
The personnel pinch coincides with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push to bolster Japan's military capabilities and seek a greater global security role.
The military is also trying to lure more women to its ranks to make up for the dearth of male recruits and aims to increase the percentage of women to nine percent from six percent by 2030.
Japan's fertility rate, the average number of children a woman bears during her lifetime, fell to 1.43 in 2017, above the record low of 1.26 hit in 2005 but far below the 2.1 needed for a stable population.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Michael Perry)