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Editorial: Political parties need clear societal vision to lift lives of children in Japan

  • October 21, 2021
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

How can Japan go about creating a society where children can live happily? This is one of the issues in question at the 2021 House of Representatives elections.


Each party is putting to the forefront its positions on education and child-rearing. But this amounts only to them raising points that sound good. Their philosophy for what society they’re actually aiming for remains difficult to see.


The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the country’s largest opposition party, has said it will do away with income limits on child allowances, and each party’s manifesto pledges contain statements on child-rearing support. Junior governing coalition partner Komeito sees grants for all children as a central part of its coronavirus countermeasures.


But a lack of clarity over where funds to back up these policies will come from means their viability cannot be secured. If it is to be left up to borrowed funds, the burden of paying it back will fall to the next generation.


Notably, there are also plans to create a ministry or agency solely engaging with children’s issues.


Policy is currently spread across a number of ministries and agencies, and some have asserted this has led to problems from a siloed management style. Creating a new organization is one choice, but the concepts put forward by the parties are not clear on the structures’ actual shape, such as to what extent they should take on what roles.


The situation around children is becoming increasingly harsh. Cases of child suicides and absence from school were at their highest ever in the 2020 academic year. Issues concerning one in seven children living in poverty have also not been rectified.


In a well-being survey on children from developed and emerging nations by UNICEF, children in Japan came in 37th out of 38 for mental well-being.


Looked at internationally, the amount budgeted for education and child-rearing by the national government is also low. The now defunct Democratic Party of Japan’s 2009-2012 period in government saw it introduce child allowance cash handouts and aim to improve levels of support, but the plans stalled due to a lack of available funds. The support insufficiencies have since remained an issue.


In 1994, Japan ratified the U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, which guarantees all children the right to education and to live irrespective of their parents’ economic situation and other factors.


But national laws that realize the convention’s vision have not been set down, and organizations such as citizens groups are calling for enactment soon.


If a basis for a vision is not first established, then there is surely no way that child policies can be drafted, or new organizations begin to be built. Each party cannot just hold up individual policies, they have a responsibility to show their vision for a society that can give children hope for the future.

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