Extracts from The Asahi
April 8 2022
TOKYO — About one in 15 sixth graders at public schools across Japan, or 6.5%, are caring for their family members while attending school, a survey released by the national government on April 7 has shown.
It is the government’s first fact-finding investigation of its kind targeting sixth graders, following similar surveys covering junior high and high school students looking after their family members, whose results were earlier released. The latest survey outcome indicates that a certain proportion of younger children are struggling with family care, as is the case with junior high and high school students facing a similar plight.
The government also carried out a similar survey on university students, and has found that the burden of family care has led to their concerns about access to higher education and job opportunities.
The government has been investigating the status of children under 18 who are providing care for family members, known as “young carers,” as their kin suffer from sickness, have a disability or are elderly.
The survey targeting sixth graders was conducted at 350 schools across the country in January. Survey slips, in which answers were given anonymously, were collected by post from 9,759 children. While earlier surveys covering junior high and high school students in the 2020 academic year showed that 5.7% of second-year students at public junior high schools and 4.1% of second-year students at public high schools’ full-time courses were found to be young carers, the latest survey results indicate that the proportion of such children is higher among sixth graders, at 6.5%.
In the most recent survey, however, the government withheld from providing specific examples of young carers, out of concern for the possibility that children may get confused reading about such cases. Therefore, the cases categorized as young carers in the survey outcome may include “domestic help” that carries no extra burden, possibly pushing up the percentage larger than the actual figure.
In responding to a question about whom the children were looking after, to which multiple answers were permitted, the largest proportion, at 71%, said “siblings,” followed by “mother” at 19.8%, “father” at 13.2%, “grandmother” at 10.3% and “grandfather” at 5.5%.
When asked about the reasons for caring for family members, with multiple answers allowed, among those who cited “siblings” as their subject of family care, 73.9% of respondents said it was because their siblings were young. Those children are apparently looking after their younger brothers or sisters while engaging in household chores, among other tasks.
Among those who said they are taking care of their parents, the largest group, at 33.3%, said they weren’t sure why they were looking after them, followed by 19.6% who said they had “other reasons” and 15.2% who didn’t give an answer. The results suggest that it is difficult for children to understand the disease or disability of their family members. Meanwhile, 10.9% said their parents were poor at Japanese, indicating that children were interpreting for their parents whose mother tongue is not Japanese. Some 8.7% and 8% of children said they were looking after their parents because of their mental disorder or physical disability, respectively.