Report on Symposium
“Children for the Future, Future of the Children --Child Policies and the Role of Civil Society in a Time of the Economic Crisis” (1)
The Japan Foundation (JF) and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) hosted an international symposium “Children for the Future, Future of the Children --Child Policies and the Role of Civil Society in a Time of the Economic Crisis”.
In their opening addresses, both Tsuyoshi Takahashi (JF) and Sven Saaler (Sophia University/FES) referred to the theme of the conference: "Children for the Future - Future of the Children". They drew particular attention to the fact that even industrialized countries such as Japan and Germany have an increasing number of children living below the respective poverty lines. The economic crisis has strengthened this trend in both countries. Government policies, however, do not always sufficiently take into account the interests of the children. Takahashi ended the remarks by expressing the hope that Japan and Germany learn from and support each other in their striving to ensure a secure future for the children of both countries.
Session 1: Social Policies Concerning Children & Families
Moderator: Professor Miyoko Motozawa, Tsukuba University
Martina Peucker (German Federal Ministry for Families, Senior Citizens and Youth): Recent developments in German family and child policy
After a brief summary of the economic background, Peucker explained that, according to a survey conducted in summer of 2009, about one third of all working persons have been directly affected by the economic crisis. In the same survey it was found that state support for families with children was considered necessary by the majority, demonstrating that child and family policies play a pivotal role in society. Therefore, the federal government and the regional governments have agreed to invest one tenth of Germany’s GDP in education and research until the year 2015 with the main objective to promote preschool education as a key to success in education. A central focus of current child and family policies, Peucker explained, is the increase of daycare facilities, but also the improvement of quality of these institutions. These measures are aiming at guaranteeing equal opportunities in early education for all children and improving work-life-balance of parents. Peucker also referred to the exacerbated situation with regard to child abuse and explained the steps already taken by the federal and state governments with regards to more active child protection measures, such as the federal government’s action plan “Early Help” as well as the Child Protection Law. Within this context, the federal government’s action plan to protect children and youths from sexual violence as well as the international activities of the federal government were mentioned. Finally, Peucker presented the federal government’s initiative “Strengthening Youth”, which is aiming at providing support for socially disadvantaged families and young people from immigrant families in particular, and the action plan “Multiple Generations House”, aiming at fostering cooperation and communication among generations.
Tomoaki Asakawa (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare): Recent Developments in Family and Children Policies in Japan
In his presentation, Asakawa primarily addressed the problem of Japan's low birth rate. In the long run, this also has an adverse effect on Japan's economic strength, as the number of working people as a percentage of the population is steadily decreasing. Younger women, in particular, either tend to delay marriage for as long as possible or reject it outright, leading to fewer children being born. As an important point, Asakawa mentioned the fact that extremely long working hours in Japan make it practically impossible to combine children with a career. As permanent job appointments have also become few in Japan, it is also becoming increasingly difficult for young men and women to create the financial framework required for marrying and having children. He wrapped up his presentation by stating that it is necessary to realize a well-functioning work-life balance at individual working environments, accompanied by government policies to support young families.
Sawako Shirahase (University of Tokyo): Poverty among Families with Children in International Comparison
Shirahase made the presentation focusing on the welfare of children, mainly because Japanese society and policies have lately concentrated mainly on senior citizens, with child poverty only recently becoming a subject for discussion. She emphasized that, in times of crisis, families with children are particularly affected, i.e. both higher-income and lower-income families. One of the main reasons for this is that higher-income families are - on average - investing more money in the education of their children and thus feel the financial burden as much as families with a lower income. Young families and single parents are particularly affected, as are the so-called working poor, i.e. those who have employment, but whose income is insufficient to support a family. As an approach to finding a solution, Shirahase suggested that low-income families should receive support such as child benefits, while middle- and higher-income families could be supported by means of tax relief.
Masako Maeda (Yokohama Association for International Communications and Exchanges, former Deputy Mayor of Yokohama): “Which is More Important for Children: Monetary or Societal Support? Policy Priorities under Limited Resources”
Based on her experience as Deputy Mayor of Yokohama, Maeda stressed that financial assistance alone is not sufficient to help children and families. Fewer interpersonal relations and rising unemployment are resulting in social alienation, especially among young mothers, fueling their fear and loneliness. As a result, the number of child abuse cases is on the rise. She said that the work of social workers and counseling services should become as important as meeting the physical needs of families with children and reaffirming the significance of networking with society.
Antje Richter-Kornweitz (Landesvereinigung für Gesundheit und Akademie für Sozialmedizin Niedersachsen): “Child Poverty in Germany and the Consequences for Health, Education and Participation: Policy Recommendations for a Better Future of all Children”
On the issue of growing child poverty in Germany, Richter-Kornweitz pointed out that inequality affected the socially disadvantaged in two aspects – education and health. One problem impeding equal access to education and health is the compartmentalized public administration. She called for a more comprehensive approach and urged the federal and state governments to make concerted efforts to establish a framework so children in poverty can be more integrated into society, instead of being blamed for their problems.