National

As Japan's day care shortage bites, government approves bill to permit enrollment beyond hometowns

Kyodo

The government approved Tuesday a bill to promote the enrollment of children at nursery schools beyond their own municipalities to address serious day care shortages that have put tens of thousands on waiting lists.

Parents can in principle apply for their children’s enrollment only at facilities within their municipalities. But the bill will facilitate enrollment in wider areas through coordination with neighboring local governments.

Children who cannot find slots would be able to enroll in nearby municipalities or facilities near their parents’ workplaces — if there are vacancies.

Nationwide, more than 26,000 children were awaiting enrollment at authorized day care facilities as of April 2017, up for the third straight year, as the country sees increasing female employment while struggling with labor shortages, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

Specifically, the bill stipulates that prefectural governments will serve as facilitators in coordinating preschoolers’ enrollment and will set up councils with municipal officials in charge of day care services, nursery school operators and experts.

These councils will also discuss plans to increase day care capacity as well as train and secure nursery staff.

The government aims to have the bill enacted during the current Diet session and put it into force on April 1.

The envisioned legislation will also boost financial contributions from businesses for operating preschools by raising the upper limit in stages. The nation’s most powerful business association has accepted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s request for corporations to increase such spending by about ¥300 billion ($2.7 billion).

Of the boosted contributions, ¥100 billion is planned to be allocated for preschools operated by businesses to mainly cater to their workers’ children.

The bill will also set up a new framework in which the welfare ministry and other authorities will assist municipalities with severe day care shortages.