YOKOHAMA – The brutal murder of 13-year-old Ryota Uemura in Kawasaki last month has highlighted the challenges of single parenthood, which often involve struggles to sustain the family and adequately support children amid ineffective public assistance.
Uemura’s case has prompted groups providing support and campaigning to improve the lives of single-parent families to call for a more robust consultation service system for such households.
Uemura’s parents divorced when he was attending elementary school on one of the Oki Islands in Shimane Prefecture. He was one of five children his mother was raising on her own by working at a hospital.
She decided in summer 2013 to move in with her parents in Kawasaki.
In a statement a week ago, the woman said she felt guilty for failing to recognize signs that may have led to her child’s death.
In January, Uemura, who was in his first year of junior high, started skipping school and in mid-January returned home with a severely bruised face.
“Because I had to leave for work earlier than Ryota left for school and would come home late at night, I had no idea what he was doing every day,” she said in the statement. “Now I think he acted as if nothing happened, not wanting me and the family to worry.”
A woman in her 60s who last Friday visited the site of Uemura’s slaying on the banks of Tama River to offer a prayer, said her own son also came home once with bruises.
She said she didn’t have time to sit down with him and listen to his problems because she was too exhausted from working.
“Such problems are rooted in poverty,” she said. “Assistance is needed for single parents so that they can have a break.”
According to a survey conducted by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the average annual income for fatherless families in 2010 was about ¥2.91 million, about 40 percent of the average for all households with children. Roughly half of single mothers do not have full-time employment, the ministry said.
Terue Shinkawa, head of the nonprofit single-parent family support group M-Step and who raised two children as a single mother, stressed the need for a system enabling single parents to receive advice and support.
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