Activists to lobby for improved child care

by Mariko Kato

A new activist group campaigning for better child care policies in Japan said at its inaugural event Saturday that it intends to put direct pressure on the government by highlighting Japan’s shortcomings compared with other countries.

Speaking at a symposium in Minato Ward, Tokyo, representatives of Japan Child Care Cheer Group said the nation’s low fertility rate of 1.34 is largely due to the insufficient support available for child-rearing families and working parents.

“Japan is trailing behind other leading economies in child care policies, and we will collect various data to show this, as well as analyze manifestos from political parties near the election to show the public what they each intend to do (to improve child care),” said economic analyst and best-selling author Kazuyo Katsuma, one of the leaders of the group recently set up by key commentators in the field. Katsuma is viewed as an example of a successful working mother, rearing three children.

The group will campaign for greater financial resources from the government for a better child-rearing environment, including better child care facilities.

The number of preschoolers unable to get into government-subsidized day care recently rose for the first time in five years to 40,000, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, due to more mothers being forced to work in these recessionary times.

Yuko Obuchi, minister in charge of tackling declining childbirths, agreed that the government needs to increase spending to support child rearing.

“The budget that Japan spends on child rearing and supporting households with children is only a third or a quarter of other countries such as France or Sweden,” said Obuchi, who was invited to speak at the event and is pregnant with her second child.

The two male leaders of the group, both fathers of three, demanded a more relaxed work environment that allows fathers to contribute more easily to child rearing.

Tetsuya Ando, head of the nonprofit organization Fathering Japan, who represents single fathers, said that fathers need to be more educated on how to contribute to child rearing.