National / Politics

Election pledges for free child care and kindergarten places under scrutiny by government and ruling LDP

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

The government and ruling Liberal Democratic Party are reviewing proposals to provide financial support to families which use unauthorized day care centers for children aged 3 to 5, in accordance with the party’s campaign policy pledge for the Oct. 22 Lower House election, sources and media reports said on Thursday.

The government is now considering a subsidy of up to ¥25,700 a month per family that uses unauthorized facilities, according to a Kyodo News report. The Japan Times could not independently confirm the figure.

During the campaign Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, also head of the LDP, pledged to eliminate tuition fees for all children aged 3 to 5 in child care or attending kindergarten.

After the election, however, the central government had reportedly considered the possibility of excluding unauthorized day care centers from the free child education programs Abe had promised to introduce.

The concern was that funding unauthorized child supervision may be viewed as government endorsement of facilities that do not meet the standards set by authorities, according to media reports.

But strong public criticism has prompted the ruling and central government to deliberate on financial support for those using unauthorized facilities as well.

Many families with working parents have long expressed deep frustration over the serious shortage of certified day care centers, which has left them no choice but to send their children to uncertified facilities.

Fees for such centers are usually much higher than their certified counterparts because the operators do not qualify for government subsidies.

“The disparity would expand further if certified centers are made free of charge and uncertified ones are not. This is just like heaven and hell,” Hiroki Komazaki, head of nonprofit child care organization Florence, wrote in his blog on Nov. 6.

Komazaki also argued that the government should provide free child care services only for low-income families, and that additional revenues should go toward increasing the total capacity of day care centers.

A Liberal Democratic Party policy panel held a meeting Wednesday to discuss Abe’s pledged provision of free early childhood education programs.

After the meeting, a senior panel member told reporters that a general consensus was forming against excluding unauthorized certified day care centers from government support programs, according to a party source.

But, the panel also plans to consider introducing an income limitation for the programs, according to media reports.