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On the International Year for Children - 2

Japanese

Children in Europe Were Considered as Small-sized Adults

Even in developed countries in Europe and Christian nations, with much less culling than Japan and advanced social welfare, the social standing of the child in the Middle Ages had never been well established. Religious paintings in those days show the figure of Jesus held in the arms of the Virgin Mary, whose body was that of an adult with a small head. People in those days simply thought that children were like adults of a smaller size.

It is said that in those days people did not raise a tomb when their children died. Life stories of great men talk about their date of birth and great achievements, but not events in their childhood. This fact indicates that social position of the child was not very clear. This is probably because the child did not necessarily grow up to become an adult. Even today in some developing countries, almost half of the newborns die before they reach the age of ten; Europe in those days may have been in the similar situation.

In the sixteenth century in Europe, there came an idea to recognize the child and their social status was gradually established for the first time in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, following the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. Of particular relevance was a stronger idea of human rights, social trend from large families to nuclear families, and the progress of medicine and public health. Children did not die at their early age any more.

At the end of the eighteenth century the idea to educate children by their age started in France and in the nineteenth century children's hospitals were built at many places in Europe. These indicate the social standing of the child. The history of children's hospitals in London gives us lots of implications. The hospital originates in the facility for orphans. Just like children working as chimney sweepers in the novels of Dickens, it was nothing unusual to see children being exploited. Dr. West, a passionate pediatrician, with the cooperation of men of letters like Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Lamb, made this orphanage into a hospital so that children suffering from infections and environmental pollutions could benefit from the modern medicine. This hospital in Great Ormond Street1 , literally translated as the Hospital for Sick Children, was established in the mid-nineteenth century (The author studied in the United Kingdom for three years from 1961).

The establishment of children's social standing had been lagging behind until the end of the nineteenth century. However, it is quite natural considering the situation in developing countries. The passion of Japanese people on education after the Meiji Era must have greatly contributed to the establishment of the children's social position. However, it was only after World War II that medical services and welfare system were well established. What is important is the fact that a country like Japan where there was culling up until 100 years ago has become a nation with the lowest infant mortality rate. Why did that happen?

The infant mortality rate in Japan in 1900 was 155; 155 newborns out of 1,000 died within a year after their birth. The mortality rate in 1977 was 8.9, one of the lowest in the world and now it is 3.6. Nobody can deny that the reason for the lowering of the infant mortality rate in such a short period of time has to do with the development of pediatric medicine in our country. It is, of course, not only pediatricians, but also pediatric medical staff, administration staff of mother-and-child health, who made a contribution, with the background of Japanese culture and affluent society.

It is not uncommon in developing countries that we see very magnificent hospitals for children. However, once we get down to the street, we come across pitiful situation of children suffering from hunger and disease. A lot of mothers, holding their children in their arms, ride on a donkey or a bus and visit the children's hospital with half-a-day trip. They stand in line before dawn but many children die before they can see a doctor.

It is not uncommon in developing countries that we see very magnificent hospitals for children. However, once we get down to the street, we come across pitiful situation of children suffering from hunger and disease. A lot of mothers, holding their children in their arms, ride on a donkey or a bus and visit the children's hospital with half-a-day trip. They stand in line before dawn but many children die before they can see a doctor.

The first children's hospital of the Western style was established in 1965, one century later than the United States and Europe. Situations in developing countries, however, tell us that children's hospitals are not the only criteria to show the level of pediatric care. The driving force that successfully enhanced the level of pediatric medicine and health in Japan may have been the Japanese mind toward children written in Manyoshu, the affection shown by Jizo, a guardian deity of children.

Working of human beings are various and diverse. There are various events in our surroundings. I think that what is essentially important is a flow of ideas passed down from people to people. Here the important thing is human rights. The idea goes back to almost 800 years ago, when Magna Carta was written. This was the right demanded and acquired by noblemen and priests against their king's tyranny in the United Kingdom.

The right was recognized as citizenship after long years of history, about 200 years ago, when the war of American Independence and the French Revolution took place. However, the right was given only to men, not women and children; they had to wait for another 200 years before their rights were recognized.

The idea was succeeded by the League of Nations after World War I, and then by the United Nations after World War II. In 1979 and 1989 respectively, at last, the right of the woman and the child was recognized. In this way it took almost all of the second millennium to establish the right of the child.

I became interested in the right of the child in 1979, twenty years after the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of the Child2, when the year was designated as the International Year for Children. At that time I was the director of the International Congress of Pediatrics, about 25 years, or a quarter of a century after graduating from college to be a pediatrician. Ten years later, in 1989, the right of the child was finally recognized in the United Nations. For the workings of human beings, whether they are large or small, I strongly feel that people' s mindset behind them is really important.


  • 1: The Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, London
  • 2: The Declaration on the Rights of the Child to the Convention of the Rights of the Child
    The child shall have the right to lead a healthy and happy life just like adults: this was recognized by the Declaration on the Rights of the Child, by the League of Nations, Geneva in 1824, then by the United Nations, New York, in 1959. The year 1979 was designated as the International Year for Children, twenty years after the declaration in New York. In Japan the Children' s Charter was enacted by the academic in 1951. In 1989 the Convention of the Rights of the Child was finally adopted in the United Nations.
Kobayashi, Noboru (1981). "Kokusai Jidounen ni Omou - 2" (written in Japanese). Tokyo: Child Research Net. Retrieved Mar 25, 2006, from the http://www.crn.or.jp/LIBRARY/KOBY/MIRAI/cbs0134.html
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