Japan Needs Basic Law to Set Forth New Vision for Child-Rearing (2) [2020/01/24]
▼Treat Children as Autonomous Individuals
Mechanisms such as the Children’s Commissioner in the United Kingdom and Children’s Ombudsmen in other countries can be models for consideration in Japan. Under these systems, independent officials are charged with investigating whether children’s rights are protected and making policy recommendations if necessary.
Concerning Japanese society, critics argue that children’s rights tend to be neglected, while their parents’ rights are too strong. Japanese society as a whole should be more sensitive to children’s calls for help by treating them as autonomous individuals. As a matter of urgency, the whole of Japanese society−communities, families, schools and workplaces−needs to play a role in child-rearing, the burden of which is mostly placed on mothers these days ?
I’ve heard through the grapevine that the government is reluctant to enact a basic law on the child, maintaining it can carry out what’s enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child by enforcing existing laws and regulations. But issues surrounding children are diverse, complicated and deep-rooted.
If Japan enacts a basic law, it would make clear a new vision for child-rearing that would be shared with the whole of society and pave the way for making more effective use of existing laws and regulations. It would also encourage those parents, who have been apt to pay attention only to their own children, to take a broader view and look out for other children too. Besides, it would help create a society in which children are taken care of by the whole community, which is fitting for a rapidly aging country.
Japan has a total of 50 basic acts, including the 2007 Basic Act on Ocean Policy that The Nippon Foundation helped to formulate. As far as child-rearing is concerned, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has a Parliamentarians League to Think About Child Rearing and Children’s Future, while there is a nonpartisan Parliamentary Group to Protect Children from Child Abuse. In December last year, I spoke about the role of the Children’s Commissioner in the U.K. before a joint study meeting of the two groups.
The number of babies born in Japan in 2019 fell an estimated 5.9% from the previous year to 864,000, a mere one third of the so-called baby boomers born during a major surge in births between 1971 and 1974.
The faster than expected graying of Japanese society is attributed to an increase in the number of people marrying later in life or not at all with fewer babies born as a result, as well as to the heavy burdens placed on women in the workplace. In other words, Japan is far behind other countries in improving the environment for growing children.
To raise healthy and sound children for the future of Japan, I hope that a basic law on child-rearing will be enacted on the initiative of nonpartisan parliamentarians. It is my sincere hope that members of both ruling and opposition parties will have a heated debate on the issue and that we will once more see a Japan that looks after and cares for children like no other country in the world, as once observed by Dr. Edward Morse and Isabella Bird.