Jiji Press TOKYO (Jiji Press) — The number of children waiting to be accepted into nurseries in Japan came to a record low of 16,772 as of April 1 this year, down by 3,123 from a year before, the welfare ministry said Friday.
The fall reflected increased capacities at nurseries and other care facilities for children, according to the ministry. It is still uncertain, however, whether the government’s target of bringing down the number to zero by the March 2021 end of fiscal 2020 will be attained, observers said.
The number of applications for entry to nurseries is growing as the employment rate among women aged between 25 and 44 rose to 76.5 percent from 70.8 percent over the past five years.
But the 2019 number of children on the waiting lists dropped thanks to an increase in nurseries, mainly in urban areas. Of the total, children aged between zero and two accounted for 87.9 percent.
There are expectations that children on the waiting lists will increase after the start of the government’s program to make nursery and kindergarten services free of charge next month. But an official of the ministry said that the impact of the program will not be large, noting that its coverage of children aged up to two will be limited to those from households exempted from residential tax payments while all preschoolers aged three or over will be eligible for the initiative.
By region, urban areas had many children on waiting lists. Children on waiting lists in Tokyo and Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures in the Kanto region and Osaka and Hyogo prefectures in the Kinki region, which are densely populated, as well as major cities in other areas accounted for about 60 percent of the nationwide total.
Of the nation’s 1,741 municipalities, 1,299, or about three-fourths, by contrast had no children on waiting lists.
But the gap between the urban and nonurban areas has been shrinking thanks to an improvement in the situation in metropolitan regions, according to the ministry.
The ministry also said it now expects that nursery capacities across the nation can be increased to accommodate 297,000 more children by the end of fiscal 2020. Of the total, capacities for 237,000 children will be prepared by local governments and the rest, for 60,000 children, by companies, according to the ministry.
The government has set the target of additionally securing nursery capacities for some 320,000 children by the end of fiscal 2020. It believes that the goal can be achieved partly through accelerated efforts by local governments.Speech