Fri, Jun 29, 2018 - Page 9 News List

The children of Japan’s single mothers have become an underclass

Single parents struggle because of the twin taboos of being divorced and poor, and a social policy geared toward the elderly

By Yoshiaki Nohara  /  Bloomberg

Illustration: Mountain People

The beating of a four-year-old boy on Christmas Eve last year went on through the night. Covered with bruises and having suffered catastrophic internal bleeding, he was pronounced dead at a hospital. Soon after, his mother and her two boyfriends were arrested.

While the news of the child’s death sparked outrage and horror in Japan’s media, Orie Ikeda, a single mother of two, said she can understand how such a brutal assault occurred in Minoh, the affluent dormitory town near where she lives.

“It could have been me,” she said quietly. “I didn’t abuse my children only because I was lucky.”

Ikeda managed to get on a government training course that helped her secure one of the lowest-paid jobs in Japan: looking after the nation’s growing cohorts of elderly people.

Most single mothers in Japan exist on less than half the national median income, the poverty line defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Their children are, on average, poorer, less educated and have fewer prospects — an underclass in a wealthy and aging nation that can ill-afford to lose a significant chunk of its future workforce. One in every seven children in Japan experiences poverty.

Failing to address that will cost Japan ¥2.9 trillion (US$26.3 billion) in lost incomes and ¥1.1 trillion in lost taxes and social security payments for each year of children at school, according to the Nippon Foundation in Tokyo.

The estimate calculates the impact over the future working life of 15-year-olds.

It is also a lost opportunity for a nation that desperately needs as many young, highly skilled workers as it can get.

Even after decades of stagnation in the shadow of China’s economic rise, Japan is still among the 10 wealthiest nations with more than 10 million people in terms of GDP per capita.

However, almost none of that wealth trickles down to Japan’s single mothers. Fewer than half of them receive alimony, and even if they can get a job, the odds are stacked against them.

Working women earn about 30 percent less than men doing a similar job in Japan, and about 60 percent of women who work hold part-time, contract or temporary jobs, where pay is lower and benefits can be non-existent.

Yet while Japan’s overall population is declining, the number of single-mother households rose by about 50 percent to 712,000 between 1992 and 2016, according to the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

The child poverty rate for working single-parent households in Japan stood at 56 percent, the highest among OECD nations, compared with 32 percent in the US.

Those that get alimony or child support from their ex-spouse or live with their parents are the lucky ones.

In Japan, single parents are more likely to live in poverty with a job than without, according to the OECD.

“Your choices become very narrow when you don’t have money,” said Ikeda, 52. “You must put up with a lot of small things.”

What made the Christmas Day death especially shocking for Japan is that Minoh is the last place where most people would expect it to happen.

Minoh Mayor Tetsuro Kurata, 44, had tried to make the city a national model of child protection, installing hundreds of surveillance cameras along the roads children use to go to school and parks, and analyzing a database with the assistance of social groups that monitor children’s progress at school and home for any sign of trouble.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top