TOKYO — For a buzzing hub like Japan, one might not expect to hear of problems involving poverty, especially for children. Japanese child poverty has been a growing problem that the country is only just now addressing. Makeshift cafeterias serving free and inexpensive food to children are becoming more common, with the first café opening in 2012 and expanding to around 500 in just five years.
The temporary cafeterias open regularly at community centers, grocery stores, restaurants and private homes. Local volunteers and governments help run them, and farmers often donate the ingredients.
These locations target children left alone by full-time working parents, but the children utilizing the resource represent just a fraction of those in need. Japan is one of the world’s richest countries but one in six Japanese children now live in poverty.
Japanese child poverty specifically targets single-parent households in the aftermath of a 2008 economic decline, especially those houses run by younger single mothers who only had irregular or part-time positions with very few benefits and social security available to them. In Japan, more than half a million single mothers live below the poverty line, earning less than $12,000 a year.
The vicious cycle of poverty has yet to be broken. One key factor holding Japan back from eradicating poverty is the stigma surrounding it. Of the 3.5 million children who are eligible for state support, only 200,000 actually receive any. As a society that values the appearance of financial security, Japanese child poverty is a feared subject largely hidden from public view.
Luckily, the kids’ cafés aren’t the only efforts in place to effectively address the issue. A program under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calls for efforts to equalize education opportunities for all children so that their future will not be affected by impoverished conditions and stop the chain reaction of poverty across generations. Research has shown children in poor households tend to receive limited educational opportunities, reducing their chance of achieving stable employment and living above the poverty line in the future.
“Abenomics” has been criticized previously for its ambitious initiatives for economic growth. Most of the program’s funding has gone toward welfare aid recipients and job training; but with a limited budget, Japanese child poverty is a second-tier goal. In the long run, problems associated with poverty such as a worse access to quality education, poor health and crime could increase fiscal burdens and dent Japan’s growth potential by shrinking the pool of skilled workers.
Japanese child poverty doesn’t have a clear solution. Complicated underlying concerns regarding inequality and stigma contribute to its continued strain on the developed country. However, with greater awareness and support from other developed countries, enduring change is possible. By making the issue a public discussion in Japan and beyond, more impoverished families can feel comfortable opening up about their struggles, and public and private entities can prioritize reducing poverty rates for Japan’s most vulnerable population.
All people, regardless of their gender or age, deserve support. It’s time to shed light on Japanese child poverty and offer a brighter future for all.
– Allie Knofczynski