With the strong backing of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is discussing legislative proposals for a new Cabinet-level agency that would centralize administrative control over child education and welfare policies.

The new Children's Agency is now being discussed among LDP members. The party hopes to formally present legislation in next year’s Diet session and launch the agency during fiscal 2022. Opponents have criticized the move as a political ploy designed to win votes at election time, but the new agency’s supporters say it will be an effective way of streamlining bureaucracy in relation to children's issues.

“Preventing child abuse currently involves the National Police Agency, the education ministry, the Justice Ministry and various other government organs. We need to think about eliminating these bureaucratic walls and fundamentally consider the way things are organized,” Suga said in the Upper House earlier this month.

As it stands now, at least five different government bodies are in charge of policies related to children, often leading to confusion among parents as to who is in charge of what.

For example, the health ministry is in charge of support for day care centers and providing children’s medical care, infant exams and vaccinations. The ministry also runs support facilities for mothers and children, women’s shelters for victims of domestic violence and protection facilities for children suffering from domestic abuse.

The education ministry, meanwhile, is responsible for kindergartens and pre-kindergarten educational facilities, conducting school medical checkups and policies to prevent school bullying. The Justice Ministry handles juvenile detention centers and reform school facilities, and deals with human rights assistance. Finally, the National Policy Agency is involved with preventing delinquency and criminal incidents involving children.

Yet the Cabinet Office, in charge of dealing with the low birth rate, has introduced certified nursery schools that, since 2006, provide both day care and education. It is also in charge of nursery care centers operated on the grounds of private firms for use by employees of those and other companies. And it is responsible for developing policies dealing with children who are isolated or lonely.

In addition, the Cabinet Office is in charge of centers for spousal abuse and, under its Gender Equality Bureau, women’s centers operated in each prefecture to provide information and support on a wide range of women’s issues.

In the case of parents with toddlers or young children, issues involving their kindergartens would be dealt with by the education ministry. But if their child is in a day care center, it’s the health ministry that sets the rules and provides assistance. Certified nursery schools are under the authority of the Cabinet Office.

Child abuse cases are dealt with by the health ministry. But suicides, perhaps due to that abuse, are investigated by the police.

Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai (center) discusses the proposed Children's Agency during a meeting at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo on April 13. | KYODO
Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai (center) discusses the proposed Children’s Agency during a meeting at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo on April 13. | KYODO

The Children’s Agency was proposed last month by a group of nearly 20 younger LDP members led by Upper House lawmakers Hanako Jimi and Taro Yamada as a way to put these administrative responsibilities related to child care all under one roof. The proposal has led to a series of LDP meetings on child-related issues that, beginning April 13, were chaired by powerful LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai

“We’re proposing this new agency that would comprehensively grasp the various issues regarding child medicine, health, rehabilitation, social welfare and education and unify them,” Jimi told the Upper House on April 5.

Suga has indicated his support for the idea. But creating a single new agency under the Cabinet could face resistance from current ministries. On April 2, health minister Norihisa Tamura told reporters that there were any number of issues that would have to be dealt with first, and that discussions on which areas should be transferred to the new agency are vital.

There have also been charges by those wary of the plan that it’s little more than an empty political stunt on the part of the LDP — an attempt to appeal to voters with children before the general election later this year. An Upper House election must also be held by July next year.

Upper House LDP lawmaker Yamada acknowledges the criticism but says it’s still a good idea.

“There has been some criticism on social media that this idea is an attempt to draw votes in the election. But even if people say that, voters should be the judge,” Yamada told the Asahi Shimbun on April 13. "If the LDP makes it a campaign pledge in the Lower House election but then does nothing, the party will lose in next year’s Upper House election."

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