Establish children’s affairs agency only after thorough consideration

p>Child abuse and child poverty are among the nation’s social problems. National efforts are crucial to tackle such issues, but first there must be consideration of what kind of measures are needed. Creating a bureaucratic framework before such consideration is not the right order.

The Liberal Democratic Party has set up a body under the direct control of the party president to study the establishment of a children’s affairs agency. The party envisages the agency taking charge of all measures concerning children, including health care, welfare and education.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who aims to eliminate administrative sectionalism, called for considering the establishment of such an agency. Based on his experience in taking the initiative to create a new digital agency, Suga apparently intends to make this children’s affairs agency a key policy measure.

Regarding child-related measures, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry holds jurisdiction over child welfare, while the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry takes charge of education. And the Cabinet Office handles overall coordination of these measures. It has been argued that such sectionalism has deleterious effects, such as decentralizing responsibility and slowing down policy coordination.

Younger LDP members and others have proposed appointing a Cabinet minister to head the children’s affairs agency in order to give the agency greater authority in overall coordination and policy-making. The agency is expected to be given the ability to comprehensively grasp the situation concerning abuse, suicide, poverty and other child-related matters.

However, it is difficult to discern how that would differ from the current system under which the Cabinet Office conducts overall coordination. Cooperation with relevant ministries and agencies as well as local governments is also important in preventing abuse and other child-related problems. Top priority should be placed on discussions of why thorough cooperation is not already occurring and how the current situation should be changed.

One point of contention is likely to be whether a health ministry bureau in charge of childcare facilities and an education ministry bureau in charge of kindergartens should be integrated into the agency.

Some people have argued that the integration of jurisdiction over childcare facilities and kindergartens will help improve preschool education and contribute to measures for children on waiting lists for nursery schools. However, the integration did not happen, as both ministries strongly opposed it. As a result, certified childcare facilities, called nintei kodomoen, with functions of both nursery schools and kindergartens, were placed under the jurisdiction of the Cabinet Office, making the situation more complicated.

If the issue of sectionalism between the bureaucratic entities responsible for nursery schools and kindergartens — policy areas to which large budgets are allocated — is left unaddressed, the reform may be reduced to an empty slogan.

The LDP is said to intend to include the establishment of the agency in its campaign pledge for a House of Representatives election to be held by autumn.

It is essential for the government to set up a forum to study this matter and hold thorough discussions with the participation of experts, instead of hastily discussing simply the establishment of the agency.

Japan has been experiencing a serious decline in its birthrate. The number of births is expected to fall further this year as the trend of putting off marriage and pregnancy has continued due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Japan’s social security expenditures tend to be skewed toward the elderly. Support for children and their families in Japan is smaller than in European countries. The government and ruling parties are urged to present comprehensive measures that also specify financial resources.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 15, 2021.