Overcome sectionalism to protect children’s right to safety, education

Can the new agency become a command center that will strongly promote a wide range of child-related policies? The central government must establish a system of close cooperation with related ministries and agencies, and local governments, for that purpose.

The central government has decided on a basic policy for the creation of a “children and family agency.” It plans to submit related bills to the ordinary Diet session that will be convened soon, with the aim of setting up the agency early in fiscal 2023.

According to the basic policy, the child and family agency will be established as an external bureau of the Cabinet Office by transferring functions of organizations in charge of child-related policies at the Cabinet Office and the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. A full-time cabinet minister will be appointed and more than 200 staff assigned to the agency.

Measures concerning children span many ministries and agencies, and the segmentation of administrative services has been said to have a negative effect. It is understandable that the government aims to reorganize related government entities and swiftly implement policies.

The new agency will take charge of measures related to such matters as the chronically low birthrate; nursery schools; certified childcare facilities called nintei kodomoen that incorporate elements of both nursery schools and kindergartens; and the prevention of child abuse. There are plans to promote initiatives that transcend institutional barriers, to support children facing poverty and other hardships.

The decline in the number of children is accelerating, and cases of child abuse and domestic violence continue to increase. There will be problems if there are miscommunications between the agency and related organizations, or if they try to fob off responsibility on each other. The new agency has a heavy responsibility to fulfill in protecting children’s rights and supporting their healthy growth.

Prefectural and municipal governments are in charge of most day-to-day tasks, such as support for child-rearing and education. The key will be whether the agency can cooperate closely with local governments.

To prevent the sexual victimization of children, the central government intends to follow in Britain’s footsteps and consider a system that restricts people with a history of sexual crimes against children from engaging in related work.

There has been a spate of indecent acts against children by staff at facilities that watch children during after-school hours and on weekends, as well as by school teachers and certified nursery school employees. Cross-sectional measures must be taken in close cooperation with the National Police Agency and other entities.

The unification of kindergartens and nursery schools, a long-pending issue that has been seen as a symbol of the segmentation of administrative functions, has also not been realized in the latest policy. This may be due to resistance from the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry and other organizations that want to maintain their authority over education for preschool children.

All children — whether their parents work or not — should live in a safe environment and receive age-appropriate education. The government should continue to consider unifying kindergartens and nursery schools, keeping an eye on further drops in the birthrate in the future.

In addition to the education ministry, the new agency will likely have the authority to be involved in measures against bullying. The two bodies will be able to share information about serious bullying cases, and provide advice and recommendations to local governments. There are also plans to strengthen measures to prevent bullying outside of school, such as on the internet and at cram schools.

Victims of bullying tend to develop a sense of distrust toward schools. To protect children, it is hoped that the agency will get involved in bullying cases promptly and appropriately, from the standpoint of a third party.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 11, 2022.