With Japan increasingly aware of the child poverty problem in its midst, a growing number of businesses and nonprofit organizations are taking steps to help single mothers raising children alone.
The help offered ranges from free consultations on legal matters like custody and alimony, to assistance searching for jobs and places to live.
In late April in Tokyo, the support group Mama United kicked off an operation to provide single mothers with free legal advice and other useful information. Some 30 people, including women with small children, took part in the inaugural event.
The group was set up by Satoshi Fujishiro, the president of Mama Square, a company that runs a namesake chain of work spaces in Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan. Each Mama Square facility has an office area attached to a day care center and cafeteria so women can leave their children while working.
The entrepreneur, who set up the group to support working mothers, said it was partly inspired by an employee who worked seven days a week, including at a different job, to finance university educations for her two children.
Single mothers are said to face difficulty seeking legal advice (partly from fear the fees are too high), finding jobs to become financially independent, and securing places to live. Apartment owners sometimes shun single mothers as tenants on the assumption that they are financially unstable.
In addition to free legal advice, Mama United plans to provide information on companies that are willing to employ women with children and on apartments available to single mothers.
It also plans to allow single moms to seek advice from senior mothers online.
The woman in charge of running the service is a single mom herself.
“I want to help people with my own experience,” she said.
She hopes to offer all kinds of information, including tips on how to stop violent partners from accessing their resident registry data at municipal offices.
Hiroyuki Tateyama, a lawyer working with the support group, said: “Single mothers should not be distressed on their own. I hope they will seek expert help.”
He said some legal firms provide free advice, and the Japan Legal Support Center provides information on the legal system, bar associations and relevant organizations.
Tateyama, who was also raised by a single mother, said a government survey shows many do not receive alimony.
“Receiving financial support is the children’s right,” he said, pointing out that there are ways to negotiate without confronting former partners.
Child poverty has become a prominent social issue in Japan. Many impoverished children come from single-parent households, with a large chunk of them run by single moms.
According to a survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the annual income of single-mother households averaged ¥2.91 million ($26,000) in 2010, less than half of the ¥6.58 million national average for households with children.
In response to the problem, shared homes exclusively for single mothers and their children have opened in Kanagawa Prefecture.
The first one opened in 2012, and there are currently four in Kanagawa and the capital housing 12 people in six households.
Shared homes typically consist of an apartment with private rooms but shared living, dining and other common spaces. Single moms can keep living expenses low by sharing part of the space and the utilities. But they can also share baby-sitting and housekeeper expenses to help them work or study.
“I wanted to help single mothers to become financially independent and both work and raise kids,” said Satoshi Akiyama, an architect who planned the share homes.
He said the facilities help by ensuring residents have people around to speak with and by giving their children the chance to make friends to grow up with.
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