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The Issues of Childhood and Parenthood in Modern Japan - 5. Creating a Parenting Friendly Society: Recent Framework Set by the National Government

To begin with, what is a "parenting friendly society"? The answers to this question should vary depending on each country, community or individual. As a working mother with a workaholic husband and a three-year-old son living in a Tokyo ward, I will jot down my "wish list." Though it does not represent all parents' viewpoints, it may reveal some of the fundamental issues that are prevalent in Japanese society.

Public men's bathrooms also have diaper changers.
People can rent/purchase a house/apartment large enough for a family with children at affordable prices.
Parents do not need to spend much money on education (such as cram schools) outside of compulsory education for their children.
People do not smoke while they walk on the street.
Women can announce 'I am a mother' or "I am pregnant" without feeling guilty at job interviews or at their office.
Husbands come home early enough so that children can enjoy family dinner time.
Mothers can go out for a late night movie without worrying about expensive babysitter fees.
... and my list goes on.

This list reminds me of the famous African proverb, "it takes a village to raise a child." In fact, recent Japanese government policies to create a children and parenting friendly society go one step further to obligate communities as well as businesses to bear responsibility to create such an environment.

Background
In Japan, creating a society in which parents can perceive childbirth and child-rearing as joyful events and in which children can grow up healthy in mind and body has been a desperate national concern since the early 1990s. Though stated euphemistically, the bottom line is encouraging couples to have children to cope with the declining birth rate and accelerating ageing society.

Major actions taken by the Government toward the declining birth rate
TER* Year Actions
1.54 1990 An inter-ministry committee "Creating a Sound Environment for Bearing and Rearing Children" established.
1.53 1991 Childcare Leave Act enacted
1.50 1994 The Angel Plan or the "Basic Direction for Future Child Rearing Support Measures (1995 1999) formulated. The "Five Year Emergency Measures for Childcare Services" planned.
1.42 1995 Childcare and Family Care Leave Act enacted.
1.38 1998 The amendment to the Child Welfare Law enforced.
1.34 1999 New Angel Plan (2000 2004) formulated.
1.36 2000 Child Abuse Prevention Law enforced.
1.33 2001 The amendment to the Employment Insurance Law enforced.
1.32 2002 The "Measures to Cope with a Fewer Number of Children Plus One" reported to the Prime Minister.
1.29 2003 Law for Measures to Support the Development of the Next-Generation, the amendment to the Child Welfare Law, and the Law for Basic Measures to Cope with Declining Fertility Society enacted.
* TER: The number of children that would be born to each woman if she were to live to the end of her child-bearing years and bear children at each age in accordance with prevailing age-specific fertility rates. This definition is excerpted from the Human Development Report of UNDP. Original Table Source: MHLW Annual Report. Excerpted from Yoshimi (2003).

Albeit vigorous earlier national efforts, which mainly focused on supporting the working mothers to reconcile work and childcare, the fertility rate continues to decline. Interestingly enough, according to the National Institution of Population and Social Security Research, the average number of children is slightly higher for working mothers (2.19) than full-time homemakers (2.11) among the couples married for the period of 10-14 years.[1]

Recent Legislative Measures Taken on the National Level
Hence, three pieces of legislations were passed in 2003: a partial amendment to the Child Welfare Law as well as enactment of the Basic Law on Measures for the Society with a Declining Birthrate (hereinafter the Basic Law) and the Law for Measures to Support the Development of the Next-Generation (hereinafter the Next-Generation Law).

The Child Welfare Law, which used to focus only on the children who lacked custodial care at home or needed special care, now considers the welfare of all children, including children of nonworking mothers, as the government acknowledges the heavy responsibility of being the sole provider of childcare. Consequently, the Law requires the municipalities to carry out community-based childcare support activities such as providing consultation and childcare services through childcare facilities and child caregivers.

The Basic Law stipulates fundamental philosophies and establishment of a special committee to formulate comprehensive policies to cope with the declining birthrate from long-term perspectives.

Finally, the Next-Generation Law, effective for 10 years starting from April 2005, obligates municipalities, the companies with over 300 employees and public organizations to formulate and file action plans by March 2005 to achieve a children and parenting friendly environment.[2] The action plans by municipalities are subject to seven categories: 1) community-based childcare support, 2) maternal and child health, 3) educational environment that assures children's healthy growth in body and mind, 4) living environment appropriate for families with children, 5) reconciliation of work and parenting, 6) children's safety, 7) detailed support initiatives for children who are at risk. In the case of companies with over 300 employees, the following three areas must be considered in their action plans: 1) creating a working environment where people can reconcile work and childcare/rearing, 2) developing various flexible working conditions by reviewing current work patterns, 3) supporting the community-based childcare /rearing activities. If business owners achieve the targets specified in the action plans, they can apply for and receive certification, which they can display in advertisements and products.

Discussion and Future Implications
Implicit government interference in individual family planning has been challenged by various interests groups. Furthermore, the effectiveness of the national policies, even the Next Generation Law in particular, is rather obscure due to the lack of penalty provisions and sufficient budget allocations.

Still, many give credit to the government for requiring municipalities and large business entities to formulate action plans to achieve a child and parenting friendly society, all of which encourage improvements in Japanese work patterns/systems and the attainment of a gender-role free society.

The actual change in prevailing patriarchal values, social norms, and people's practices may not be observed for years to come. Yet it is happening slowly but surely.

[1] It is based on Dai 12kai shussei doukou kiso chousa conducted in 2002. (The 12th Basic Survey on Birth Trends: Marriage and Childbirth). The working mothers here refer to women who have been working continuously (i.e., prior to marriage, after the birth of the first child, and at the present time).
[2] Companies with 300 or fewer employees are also responsible for making efforts.



References

In English

Glocom Platform by Japanese Institute of Global Communications
http://www.glocom.org/

Japan Child and Family Research Institute (JCFRI)
http://www.aiiku.or.jp/aiiku/english.htm

Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/english/index.html

National Institution of Population and Social Security Research
http://www.ipss.go.jp/index-e.html

Quality of Life Policy Bureau, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan
http://www5.cao.go.jp/seikatsu/index-e.html

United Nations Development Programme
http://www.undp.org

Specific Documents

Cabinet Office, Government of Japan (2003). Annual Report on the Japanese Economy and Public Finance 2002-2003: No Gains Without Reforms III. Retrieved August 5th 2004 from the World Wide Web http://www5.cao.go.jp/zenbun/wp-e/wp-je03/03-00301.html

Chitose, Yoshimi (2003)."Chapter 2: Policies Targeted to Families with Children: Policy Responses to Declining Fertility." In National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (ed.), Child Related Policies in Japan. National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. Retrieved March 8, 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://www.ipss.go.jp/English/childPJ2003/childPJ2003.pdf

Doteuchi Akio (2004). Toward a Prosperous Society with a Declining Birthrate - Enhancing the Social Environment for Childcare Support. NLI Research Institute. Retrieved August 5th, 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://www.nli-research.co.jp/eng/resea/life/li040421.pdf

Glocom Platform. The section that deals with issues related to declining birth rate in Japan. Retrieved August 5th 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://www.glocom.org/special_topics/social_trends/list/

Hanai, Kiroku (2004, July 26th). Lifting women's job status. The Japan Times. Retrieved August 5th 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://202.221.217.59/print/opinion/eo2004/eo20040726kh.htm

Meguro, Yoriko (2004). Statement by Dr. Yoriko Meguro Representative of Japan at the 48th session of the Commission to the Status of Women Agenda 3. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Japan. Retrieved August 5th, 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://www.mofa.go.jp/announce/speech/un2004/un0403.html

Ozawa, Toshiro (2004). At the Thirty-Seventh Session of the Commission on Population and Development. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Japan. Retrieved August 5th 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://www.mofa.go.jp/announce/speech/un2004/un0403-4.html

In Japanese only

Cabinet Office, Government of Japan. The section that gathers official documents related to coping with the declining birth rate and ageing society.
http://www8.cao.go.jp/kourei/index.html

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Shoushika Taisaku(tackling the declining birth rate).
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/topics/bukyoku/seisaku/syousika/index.html
This home page has links to various official documents related to the declining birth rate, including amendments to the Child Welfare Law in 2003 as well as the Basic Law on Measures for the Society with a Declining Birthrate and the Law for Measures to Support the Development of the Next-Generation.

Zenkoku Hoiku Dantai Renraku Kai (National association for the childcare organizations)
http://www.hoiku-zenhoren.org/

Specific Document

Kouichi, Nishina (2003). Honkakuka suru shoushikataisaku [A full scale measures to tackle the declining birth rate is underway]. Fuji Research Institute Corporation. Retrieved August 5th 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://www.fuji-ric.co.jp/kikou/think0306.html

Maeda, Masako (2004). Kosodate shiyasui shakai [Parenting friendly society]. Tokyo: Minerva Shobou.

National Institution of Population and Social Security Research (2003). Dai 12 kai shussei doukou kiso chousa:Kekkon to shussan ni kansuru zenkoku chousa (The 12th basic survey on birth trends: the national survey on marriage and childbirth.) Retrieved August 5th 2004 from the World Wide Web:http://www.ipss.go.jp/Japanese/doukou12/doukou12.pdf

Shussan Ikuji ni Yasashii Kankyou wo: Jisedai ikusei shien [a childbirth and childcare friendly environment: supporting the development of the next generation] (2003). Yomiuri Online. Retrieved August 8th from the World Wide Web:http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/iryou/ansin/an391901.htm )

Yamaoka, Yukari (2003). Shinkutanku no me: Jisedaiikuseishien wa nihon wo kaeruka. [Think-tank viewpoint: is it possible for the support for the development of next generation to change Japan?] Fuji Research Institute Corporation. Retrieved August 5th 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://www.fuji-ric.co.jp/kikou/think0306.html

Related Articles in CRN (English version)

Maeda, Masako (2000). Toward a Society that Supports Child-rearing and Work http://www.childresearch.net/papers/parenting/2001_01.html

White, Merry(2003). Families and Their Discontents: Home (sic) in Japan http://www.childresearch.net/papers/new/2003_01.html
Profile

Teruko Kagohashi
Teruko Kagohashi is a researcher in the field of education/international development. She received a dual master's degree from the Teachers College and the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University in New York in 2000. Ms. Kagohashi has extensive overseas studying and/or working experiences in the United States, Germany, Australia and Bolivia. She currently resides in the Tokyo area with her husband and three-year-old son.
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