Online babysitter dangers

On March 17, a two-year-old boy was found dead in a babysitter’s apartment in Fujimi, Saitama Prefecture. The victim’s 22-year-old mother had found the babysitter through an online intermediary site and hired him to care for the boy and his eight-month-old brother from March 14 through 16. This case underlines a need for the government sector to regulate and raise the quality of babysitting services, which many mothers turn to due to a shortage of nurseries.

After failing to make contact with the babysitter, the mother turned to the police on March 16. When a police officer entered the babysitter’s apartment, the two-year-old boy was discovered naked and dead on his back with bruises around his nose and mouth. The younger boy was unharmed but was also naked. The police arrested the 26-year-old babysitter, Yuji Motte, on suspicion of abandoning a dead body. It was later discovered that Motte used a false name and asked another man to pick the two boys at the Shin Sugita station on the JR Negishi Line in Isogo Ward, Yokohama.

Currently anyone can work as a babysitter without formal qualifications and no state or prefectural qualifying examinations exist. In contrast, a person who wants to become a nursery school teacher must pass a prefectural government examination. Under the Child Welfare Law, a person who takes five or less children under his or her care is not required to notify their municipal or prefectural government. This situation greatly increases the possibility that people may entrust their children to people who cannot adequately care for them or pose a danger to them.

Although babysitters can be hired through dispatch companies, which charge about ¥2,000-¥3,000 per hour plus annual membership fees, people often try to find them online both for reasons of convenience and to save money as online babysitters usually charge only about ¥1,000 an hour. The anonymity of the Internet raises the risks of using online babysitters. As in the case of Motte, some online babysitters use fake names or list false qualifications, and intermediary sites do not take responsibility in the event of problems. Motte had posted a picture showing him and children at a nursery school where he worked as an assistant, apparently to make it look as if he was well qualified to care for children, but in reality he had no formal teaching qualifications.

The Fujimi case has taken place at a time when the health and welfare ministry is planning to introduce a system in which municipalities will certify people who have undergone training as babysitters and give subsidies to entities that employ certified babysitters. The ministry should speed up the introduction of this system, which is scheduled to begin from fiscal 2015. The ministry should also regulate companies that serve as online intermediaries for babysitters. The government also should help increase the number of nurseries that provide late night and 24-hour childcare services. Finally, parents must take precautions when vetting potential babysitters, including insisting on recommendations and other verifiable evidence of suitable childcare qualifications.