Political parties in Japan compete over child-rearing policies

The ruling and opposition parties have been actively discussing policies related to children and child-rearing, spurred by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s proposal to create a “children’s agency.”

With an election approaching for the House of Representatives, the parties’ talks reflect their battle to appeal to young voters.

Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said at a party meeting held on April 27, “The LDP will strive to win people’s recognition that the party is resolutely working for the future of all children.”

As the government hopes to submit legislative proposals for establishing a children’s agency to the ordinary Diet session next year, the LDP has been rapidly moving ahead with discussions on the matter. It plans to hold its third meeting shortly.

The aim is for the children’s agency to centralize policies on children and child-rearing, which are currently spread over multiple ministries and agencies including the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry. The focal point under discussion by the LDP is how to handle resistance from legislators acting on behalf of special interest groups.

Putting aside the issue of how the envisaged organization should be set up, Komeito’s aim is to differentiate itself by focusing its discussions on improving support measures. This attitude reflects Komeito’s self-confidence that it has taken the lead on children’s policies, such as the provision of child-support benefits and realizing free preschool education for all.

“Even if the organization is set up properly, it’s meaningless if there are no policy changes,” stressed Yuzuru Takeuchi, chairman of the Policy Research Council of Komeito. Takeuchi chairs a specially appointed team on “creating children’s future.”

Komeito intends to work out its proposals this month, aiming to have them reflected in the government’s basic policy on economic and fiscal management and reforms, and in Komeito’s campaign platform for the lower house election. As the financial state of the central government has become increasingly severe, battered by the novel coronavirus pandemic, significant expansion in support measures will be difficult.

The opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) established its working team within the party in mid-April. Team chair Kensuke Onishi has said, “It’s the opposition parties that have originated policies on children and child-rearing.”

Onishi’s claim is based on the fact that the Democratic Party of Japan, from which the CDPJ originated, once advocated the creation of a “ministry of children and family affairs.” However, the then DPJ administration gave up on realizing this ministry, on the grounds that it would take too much time to coordinate different views.

This time as well, the CDPJ has not emphasized the establishment of an independent ministry or agency. It aims to differentiate itself from the ruling parties by working out a broad range of policies, including developing an employment environment that will make it easier for people to raise their children, and protecting children from accidents and consumer-related problems.