The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry plans to earmark 700 billion yen for measures to boost child-care support for working parents within its fiscal 2002 budget request, according to ministry officials.

The move is primarily aimed at increasing the number of nursery centers, the officials said Thursday.

It is also in line with a pledge by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to provide sufficient after-school day care facilities and to eliminate waiting lists at officially licensed nurseries.

The ministry wants to spend 30 billion yen on achieving the latter goal and is looking to increase the quota of children admitted to public nurseries by 50,000 during the next fiscal year, the officials said.

The ministry also plans to open 800 new after-school child-care facilities during the course of the year, they said.

The government has said it is aiming to boost the number of places at nursery schools by 150,000 by fiscal 2004.

During fiscal 2002, which begins in April, the ministry specifically wants to raise the number of nursery school places for infants up to 2 years of age.

the officials said. Regarding after-school day care centers for elementary school students, the ministry aims to increase the number of facilities receiving state subsidies by 800 from the current 11,000. This will enable 444,000 children to register for the service.

The ministry also plans to abolish the requirements that small-scale centers catering for up to 19 children must fulfill to receive government subsidies, the officials said.

In addition, the ministry has earmarked 60 million yen for the installation of day care centers at railway stations and 250 million yen to help transportation services to nurseries in remote areas and 100 million yen to encourage unlicensed day care centers to obtain licenses.

The ministry also aims to extend the service hours at 10,000 nursery centers, the officials said.

As of October last year, 57,000 children were waiting for admission to licensed nursery schools across Japan, up 4,000 from the same period the previous year, according to the ministry.

Some estimates, however, put this number at more than 100,000.

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