Japan unveils plans for fund to tackle child poverty

Updated 02 April 2015

Japan unveils plans for fund to tackle child poverty

Tokyo: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe unveiled plans to set up a fund to help alleviate child poverty Thursday, in a country where one in six children is classed as poor.
The move follows a law passed by parliament last year aimed at tackling an issue that critics say has long been swept under the carpet in the world’s third-largest economy.
“We need to support the independence of financially-constrained single parent families or families with many children,” Abe told a meeting of politicians, business leaders and non-profit groups.
“I want to form a system in which the entire society helps children grow up,” the prime minister said.
A memorandum adopted at the meeting called for the formation of a privately-financed fund to help groups providing education and other services for children facing poverty, news reports said.
The document did not specify how much money would be placed in the fund, but Abe pledged to secure revenues for the program by December, the reports said.
“The fact that the government recognizes child poverty as a national issue is a big step,” Aya Abe, a professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University who has been researching child poverty in Japan, told AFP.
“But the government should also make a financial commitment or set a goal of how much they want to reduce the poverty rate.”
In 2012, a record high 16.3 percent of children aged 17 or under were living in poverty — defined as surviving on funds half that of the average disposable income.
That compares with 9.8 percent in Britain and 21.2 percent in the United States, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a grouping of rich countries.
The poverty rate jumps to 54.6 percent for children living in single-parent households in Japan, the worst in the OECD.


Experts say the cash allowances currently given to low-income single-parent households of up to 40,000 yen ($330) a month for the first child — topping up a single mother’s earned annual income of just 1.81 million yen — are too small.
The moves by the government “cannot be called big progress” because it is not promising any financial contribution to the proposed fund, said Koji Ogawa, a former spokesman for Ashinaga, a non-profit group that provides grants to children who have lost one or both parents.
But, he said, “a national campaign could be meaningful” because it might improve the discrimination and prejudice against people in poverty.
Single parents face strong social stigma in conservative Japan.
Most recently, the mother of a 13-year-old schoolboy who was murdered in February, probably by a gang of youths, publicly blamed herself for his death, saying he would not have died if she had kept an eye on him.
She said she had not known what her son was doing because she was working day and night to raise her five children alone.
University student Ryohei Takahashi, who grew up in a single-parent household, welcomed the idea of a private fund to reduce child poverty.
Takahashi’s father committed suicide when he was 13 and, since then, his mother has had to provide for the family.
“I consider myself lucky,” said Takahashi, now 22. His mother did not have money for tuition but he won a scholarship and lives in an Ashinaga-funded dorm that serves breakfast and dinner.
Not many single-parent families can afford expensive university fees, he said. Even if children manage to get into university, some still have to juggle part-time jobs to send money to their families.
“I want companies to make an investment (in helping under-privileged children) because we’ll definitely contribute to society in the future,” he added.


World political and religious leaders denounce deadly terror attack in French church

Updated 28 min 37 sec ago

World political and religious leaders denounce deadly terror attack in French church

  • Attacker killed three at the Basilica of Notre-Dame in Nice

JEDDAH: Political and religious leaders worldwide united in condemnation on Thursday after a man wielding a knife beheaded a woman and killed two other people in a church in the French city of Nice.
The attacker, Brahim Aouissaoui, 21, a Tunisian migrant, was shot six times by police as he fled the Basilica of Notre-Dame, and taken to hospital for treatment.
President Emmanuel Macron said France had been attacked by an Islamist terrorist “over our values, for our taste for freedom, for the ability on our soil to have freedom of belief. And I say it with lots of clarity again today, we will not give any ground.”
The attack took place as Muslims observed the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. A spokesman for the French Council for the Muslim Faith said: “As a sign of mourning and solidarity with the victims and their loved ones, I call on all Muslims in France to cancel all the celebrations of the holiday.”
Saudi Arabia condemned the attack. “We reiterate the Kingdom’s categorical rejection of such extremist acts that are inconsistent with all religions, human beliefs and common sense, and we affirm the importance of rejecting practices that generate hatred, violence and extremism,” the Foreign Ministry said.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation “affirmed its steadfast position rejecting the phenomenon of hyperbole, extremism and terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, whatever the causes and motives, calling for avoiding practices that lead to hate and violence.”

Opinion

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Arab and Muslim leaders drew a distinction between Islam and violent acts that claimed to defend it. At Al-Azhar in Cairo, the center of Sunni Muslim learning, Grand Mufti Ahmed Al-Tayeb denounced the murders as a “hateful terror act.” He said: “There is nothing that justifies these heinous terror acts which are contrary to Islam’s teachings.”
Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri voiced his “strongest condemnation and disapproval of the heinous criminal attack,” and urged Muslims “to reject this criminal act that has nothing to do with Islam or the prophet.”
There was condemnation from US President Donald Trump, UN chief Antonio Guterres, and European, Arab and Israeli leaders. “Our hearts are with the people of France. America stands with our oldest ally in this fight,” Trump tweeted.
Thursday’s attack began at about 9 a.m. when Aouissaoui burst into the church in Avenue Jean Medecin, the French Riviera city’s main shopping street. He slit the throat of a church worker, beheaded an elderly woman, and badly wounded another woman.
The church official and the elderly woman died at the scene. The third victim escaped to a nearby cafe, where she died from her wounds.
Nice’s Mayor, Christian Estrosi, compared the attack to the beheading this month near Paris of teacher Samuel Paty, who had used cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a civics class.
The cartoons caused widespread offense in the Muslim world when they were published five years ago in a Danish newspaper and a French satirical magazine. Their re-emergence has led to anti-French protests in several Muslim-majority countries.