Thursday, September 08, 2005
Asahi –Shimbun Tokyo, Japan
EDITORIAL/ Child-care support: Big changes are vital for the nation's future.
An ancient Japanese poem included in the Manyoshu, the earliest known anthology of verse, celebrated children as treasures worth more than gold, silver or gems. But the number of babies born in Japan has been declining year after year, casting a huge pall over the future prospects of the nation.
In 2004, the fertility rate-the average number of children per woman in her lifetime -was 1.29 in Japan, a record low figure unchanged from the previous year.
The government began grappling with this demographic crisis in the making in the 1990s. It has taken a variety of policy measures to increase birthrates, including steps to support people trying to handle both a career and raising children, promote mutual help in child rearing within communities, and encourage male corporate employees to take child-care leave.
All these efforts, however, have failed to reverse the disturbing trend of falling birthrates.
The sense of crisis about the nation's demographic future is apparently growing within political circles. Greater child-care support is a main plank on most parties' manifestoes for the Lower House election. A larger variety of ideas and proposals are on the platforms than during the campaigning for the previous poll in 2003.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party's manifesto says raising children is a responsibility of society. That may sound hackneyed, but it actually represents a notable step forward for the party, which has many members who argue that the onus of bringing up children should be principally on parents.
But the LDP's campaign platform contains no drastic ideas that could compensate for the many years of miserable policy failure. It offers nothing but rather vague slogans like easing the financial burden on parents of young children and promoting shorter working hours for employees raising children.
The opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), ruling coalition partner New Komeito and the Social Democratic Party are all promising to bolster the child-support program.
The current program provides a monthly allowance of 5,000 yen for the first and second child, and 10,000 yen each for subsequent children. But the money is supplied only for children until they finish the third grade, and there is also a limit to the provision based on the family's income.
Minshuto proposes a new program to provide 16,000 yen per month, without any income-based limitation, for all children until they complete junior high school.
The party says the program would be financed by the money saved after scrapping income tax deductions for children and spouses. The idea is to replace these tax benefits with direct payments of cash to families with young children.
of child-care support, proposes to expand the current program to cover all children until the end of the sixth grade and ease the income limitation.
The SDP says it would increase monthly payment for children under 8 years old up to 10,000 yen for the first and second child and 20,000 yen each for subsequent children.
We have also been calling for a substantial increase in child benefits, and emphasized the need to change the distribution of overall social security benefits. While elderly people receive 70 percent of social security payouts, children and families receive only 4 percent. Unfortunately, no manifesto addresses this serious structural problem of the nation's social security system.
The Japanese Communist Party as well as New Komeito and the SDP pledge to introduce a system to legally require fathers with a young child to take a certain period of parental leave. A quarter of Japanese men in their 30s, who constitute a large portion of fathers with young children, are working 60 or more hours per week. While it is undoubtedly important to promote greater involvement of fathers in child rearing, parties should offer concrete plans to change this working situation.
Voters should pay serious attention to the child-support policies of the parties because this is an issue that has huge implications for the nation's future.
-The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 5(IHT/Asahi: September 6,2005)