Child poverty is a serious social problem in many developed nations, including Japan. Contrary to common perception, Japan’s child poverty rate is not low. It is 13.9% (2015 value, OECD Stat), indicating one out of seven children in Japan lives in poor households. This rate is higher than the U.K.(11.2%), Germany (11.2%), France (11.3%) and most of European countries, even though it is lower than Korea (16%), Canada (17.1%) and the U.S. (20.2%). However, for a long time since 1960s, Japanese government and the society in general was not aware of this problem and it is only after 2009 that “child poverty” became a recognized social issue. In 2013, the Law to Promote Measures against Child Poverty, the first law in Japan which has directly addressed child poverty.
The reason that Japanese society and the government was not aware of this social issue for decades not that there was not child poverty in Japan. In 1985, the child poverty rate was already higher than 10%. The problem was that, unlike in many countries, Japanese child poverty did not manifest visibly, such as in rising adolescent crime rate and undesirable behaviors. For this reason, Japan’s poverty is sometimes called “invisible poverty”.
Recently, the effects of this “invisible poverty” on children have increasingly become apparent with the use of social surveys. The talk will illustrate just how bad is the child poverty problem in Japan and how it is affecting children, using recently conducted social surveys on children in Tokyo.
Aya Abe holds a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. After working at a field office of the United Nations in India and a Japanese aid agency, she has turned her attention to domestic social policy in Japan and took a position in the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research in 1999, which is a research arm of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. She has participated and led many research projects on poverty and inequality in Japan and has published numerous books and articles on poverty issues in Japan. Her 2008 book entitled Child Poverty : Re-examining Japan’s Inequality is widely acclaimed to be the first book in Japan which focuses on child poverty in the country. She serves on numerous committees of national and local government on poverty and social assistance issues. In 2015, she left her previous position to take up a professorship at the Tokyo Metropolitan University. In the same year, she established the Center for Research on Child and Adolescent Poverty at the University.