Creating an agency for childrenYOON SEOL-YOUNG
The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
I lived in an ordinary apartment complex in Seoul. There were multiple childcare facilities within the complex, and it was not hard to find a spot. But pick-up and drop-off was the problem. Children could attend from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It was not policy, but little children sometimes stayed beyond 3 p.m., but those who stayed later were not welcome.
There was one incident when I picked up my child around 5 p.m. and I was very angry because their diaper was not changed. It may have been a tacit warning not to leave my kid late. In reality, working moms have a hard time sending their children to childcare facilities without the help of grandparents or babysitters.
But daycare centers in Tokyo care for children from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. I find it hard to leave children at the daycare center for an extended period, but it was a big consolation that I could rely on it. Daycares are open on Saturdays as well.
Basically, daycares give priority to families with both parents working. The next priority goes to families with sick family members, pregnant mothers or families with newborns.
Childcare fees are differentiated based on household income level. It was cumbersome to provide an income tax document and proof of employment once a year. Now, childcare facilities are free for all in the Abe administration’s free childcare initiative in October 2019.
Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party pledged to create an agency for children to oversee issues related to children as a general election promise for the fall. It plans to command policies handled by different ministries such as shortage of childcare facilities, child abuse and low birth rate. Young Liberal Democrats’ study group came up with the idea, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga embraced it.
Critics say that it is just a plan for the election, and the agency won’t solve the problems. But supporters already say that a new ministry should be installed. Nevertheless, the government is at least showing the will to focus on having and raising children as the center of policy.
The by-elections campaigns for Seoul and Busan mayors were mud fights. There is ample reasons for the heads of the biggest and second biggest cities with 25 percent of the country’s population to think about children. They must confront the grim reality that Korea’s birth rate is 0.84 while Japan’s is 1.36 as of 2019.