[EDITORIALS]Help for working mothersPresident Kim Dae-jung was right in calling Wednesday for major reforms in areas like child care policies after hearing the Ministry of Gender Equality's report on its agenda for the year. As this newspaper has pointed out before, working women are important in developing our nation's competitiveness, but without solving the problem of child care, society cannot use this womanpower effectively.
The distribution pattern of working women by age in our society is "M"-shaped, with the number of working women increasing through their 20s, decreasing rapidly during the childbearing 30s and then increasing again during their 40s. This social pattern of women halting work because of child care makes businesses shy away from employing women, and women themselves lose the opportunities to develop their expertise.
We have, until now, been relying on privately-run day care centers for our child care system. However, this system has a structural problem: Most small day care centers are not trustworthy enough, while most centers that can be trusted are too expensive for most parents. The current child care system also gives free rein to the child care professionals, not the parents. So parents have difficulties in finding child care services for children under the age of 2 or after-school child care, which are what they need the most. Although the child care law was revised 10 years ago, there has been no progress; working women still find it hard to juggle families and jobs.
The Ministry of Gender Equality is planning to spend more to provide child care support to more families and to transfer privately-run day care centers for children, usually over the age of 5, into facilities for younger children. But this is not enough. The fundamental solution is to boost the efficiency of the day care centers themselves and to convince parents to trust these centers. That is why the government needs to step in now, late though it may be. The percentage of the government budget spent in child care funding is only half that of Japan's spending. The government should not stop just at financially supporting privately-run day care centers, but speed up the conversion of the present system into a public child care system in which the government is responsible for supervising and regulating child care.