A recent case in Japan highlights the predicament of single mothers in that country at a time when lack of childcare resources and social assistance are forcing children into dangerous situations.
In March 2014, a single mother in Yokohama, hoping to pick up a few extra shifts at the restaurant where she worked, contacted a babysitter whom she had never met over the Internet to care for her two toddlers. Two days later one of the toddlers was dead, apparently killed by the babysitter.
Months later, the case continues to be talked about, and the mother has faced a backlash on social media and from a local politician eager to score points.
Yutaro Tanaka, a municipal councillor from Tokyo’s Suginama Ward, used the incident to muse about the current perceptions of childcare in Japan in a March 2014 blog post:
How could a mother possibly hand over her young tots, her most precious treasure, to a complete stranger without even a second thought?
Tanaka, who admits to being unmarried and childless, also frets about a trend he has identified online called a daycare concierge:
Even before this incident, for quite some time I have felt uncomfortable every time I have encountered the term “daycare concierge.” A concierge is someone, typically employed by a hotel who provides advice and information about local transportation, attractions, and nightlife.
Should handing over our children to a caregiver be as simple as getting tickets for a night out at the movies?
At the same time, the poverty and lack of support that forces single parents in Japan into these sorts of situations is getting worse.
Half of single-mother households in Japan now live below the poverty line, making Japan among the worst in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development rankings. More than 48 percent of households headed by a single mother fall below the 1.25 million yen poverty line (about US$12,000 a year).
One reason for this increase in poverty rates is declining social welfare support for single-parent households combined with the decline of intergenerational households. In the past single parents, most often mothers, could be expected to live with parents who could provide help as caregivers and cover the cost of necessities such as rent.
On top of this, joint custody between parents is still relatively rare in Japan. Children receive little to no contact with the alienated parent, and the remaining single caregiver, typically the mother, receives little to no financial support.
As a result, single parents must work to support the household while somehow finding day care at a time when local governments are cutting back on childcare programs.
Yutarou Tanaka, the muncipal councillor from Suginami Ward, attracted criticism at the time for his blog post:
「この母親に、非はなかったのでしょうか」と子供を殺された母親を責める杉並区の田中ゆうたろう議員のブログ。保育園一揆の時にも物議をかもした人ですよね。私が杉並区民になることがあったら、絶対に投票しません。 ベビーシッター事件に思う http://t.co/zl2Ziq1VKi
— いがやちか「つながる図書館」四刷目 (@sisiodoc) March 20, 2014
In his new blog post, Tanaka wonders if the mother is not somehow at fault. He's always using daycare to stir up controversy. If I lived in Suginami, I would never vote for this guy.
http://t.co/RSrs3fzHdL 田中ゆうたろうブログ 「ベビーシッター事件に思う」 今読んだけど呆れた。あらゆる面で想像力を欠いてる。この議員は過去にも色々あるみたいだしこの記事も批判集中してるわけだけど、彼の論調のような雰囲気が世の中にあるなら本当に生きづらいわ
— inowledge (@inowledge) March 19, 2014
I was shocked when I read Tanaka's blog post – his way of thinking represents a total failure of imagination. Tanaka has been criticised in the past for a lot of the other stuff he has written on his blog, and it sucks that there are people in this world who hold his sorts of views.
— やすゆき (@yasuyukima) March 20, 2014
LOL, this guy never changes, does he?
It turns out that Suginami councillor Takana was also notorious for an earlier blog post made about parents waiting for non-existent daycare spaces in Suginami, entitled “A Touch of Shamelessness, a Touch of Doubt” (一抹の忸怩なき待機親に一抹の疑義あり). In the 2013 blog post, Tanaka essentially argued that parents (and mothers in particular) should be assuming more responsibility for ensuring their children are taken care of.
Even in 2013, Tanaka's comments had created a storm of controversy:
こ、この議員は酷いなぁ(苦笑)。 RT 突っ込みどころが多すぎてくらくらした。一番の突っ込みどころは「信念：子育て先進地域・杉並を目指します」って書いてるところ。杉並区議・田中ゆうたろう氏 http://t.co/ssq4AnY5pU
— 太郎(‘◇’) (@l_taro) February 26, 2013
…There's just so much wrong with his way of thinking, the worst of which is that parents (particularly working mothers) in Suginami are entirely responsible for providing childcare, with no help from Tanaka and the local government.
A common observation on Twitter was that, although there is absolutely no available daycare space in Tanaka's home ward of Suginami, the local politician is still criticizing a working mother using an unlicensed and unregulated childcare provider.
— 多紀 (@kumakumataki) February 26, 2013
Councillor Tanaka is totally out of touch. Instead of taking responsibility as a public servant and suggesting ways to solve the problem, he's merely using his blog to create more worry and frustration for parents on waiting lists for childcare.
It was also noted that in 2013 Yutaro Tanaka had also scored cheap political points by visiting and hoisting the Japanese flag on the disputed Senkaku Islands (China, Taiwan and Japan all claim territorial rights over the islands. China refers to them as Diaoyu; Taiwan as Diaoyutai.)
Tanaka's March 2014 blog post continues to attract a flood of comments. Said one commentor:
As a resident of Suginami Ward I'm embarrassed. This is a politician who is unconnected with reality, and should quit.