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Japan: Support for Single Working Parents

(Oct. 12, 2012) Near the end of its regular session in September 2012, the Diet (Japan’s parliament) enacted the Act on Special Measures to Help Single Parents Have Jobs (Boshi katei no haha oyobi fushi katei no chichi no shu_gyo_ no shien ni kansuru tokubetsu sochi ho_, Act No. 92 (Sept. 14, 2012)).

The new law includes support for single fathers as well as mothers, emphasizes the importance of skill development of single parents in the field of information/communication technology, and obligates the government to procure goods and services from firms that support single parents, if possible, among other measures. (Act No. 92, arts 2, 3, & 6.)

Background on Single-Parent Poverty in Japan

The poverty of single-parent households has received more attention in Japan in recent years. In 2006, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported that “the rate of relative poverty in Japan is now one of the highest in the OECD area.” It noted in particular that “[s]ignificant poverty among single parents is a factor boosting the child poverty rate to 14% in 2000, well above the OECD average.” (Economic Survey of Japan 2006: Income Inequality, Poverty and Social Spending, OECD website (July 20, 2006).)

Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (MHLW) followed up the OECD report and conducted a similar poverty rate study in 2009. It turned out that, as of 2006, Japan’s poverty rate among households with one or more children and one adult aged 18 to 65 is the highest among OECD member countries. (Regarding Release of the Relative Poverty Rate of Households of Working Age Adults with Children [in Japanese], MHLW website (Nov. 13, 2009).)

In addition, the increase in the number of welfare recipients has recently been an issue, with that number hitting a record high as of June 2012. (Kekka no gaiyo_ [Summary of Statistics], MHLW website (June 2012) [click “kekka no gaiyo_” under section 2].) The proportion of single-parent households that receive welfare is high: 14.4% of single-mother households and 8.0% of single-father households receive welfare. (Report on Nationwide Single-Mother Households – Research of 2011 [as of Nov. 1, 2011] [in Japanese], MHLW website (Sept. 2012), at 66 [click “Betten 2”].)

It is hard for single mothers to find jobs that pay enough to support a household in Japan. “Once Japanese women leave the labor force to care for children, they often end up in non-regular employment which is often low paid, part-time, and temporary.” (Doing Better for Families: Japan [in Japanese], OECD (2011).)

Previous Government Support Measures

The Japanese government has previously implemented various measures to support single-mother/parent households. (Boshi katei to_ kankei [Concerning Single-Mother Households and Others], MHLW website (last visited Oct. 10, 2012).) Since 2002, the government has stressed the importance of the financial independence of single mothers, rather than their being welfare dependent, and it has implemented measures such as the establishment of support centers that assist in job hunting and provide seminars, provision of part of the fees for classes to acquire skills, and provision of grants to employers that employ single mothers. (Boshi katei jiritsu shien saku no genjo_to_ ni tsuite [Regarding the State of Support to Make Single Mother Households Financially Independent], MHLW website (2005).)

A special measures law to help single mothers secure jobs, similar to the new 2012 Act, was enacted in 2003 but expired in 2008. (Act on Special Measures to Help Single Mothers Have Jobs, Act No. 126 of 2003.)