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Support systems for unexpected pregnancies enhanced nationwide

The first meeting of the Nationwide Pregnancy SOS Network Liaison Council was held this year in November in the city of Niigata's Chuo Ward. (Mainichi)
A guidebook that provides information on how to respond to cases of unplanned pregnancies. (Mainichi)

In an effort to strengthen the services provided to women facing unexpected pregnancies and childbirth, consultation groups across the country have strengthened their networks -- and organizers of an overarching liaison council have compiled a handbook including wide-ranging information on resources and support methods in this regard.

    The publication -- which is titled "Guidebook for providing SOS pregnancy consultations" and was issued by The Nippon Foundation -- has been distributed to counselors working in the field around the country.

    A total of around 30 consultation services presently exist nationwide that are equipped with professionals working in the area of unforeseen pregnancies. Some of the services have been directly established by local governments, while others are run by midwives' associations or nonprofit organizations after having been contracted by the municipalities.

    An organization known as the Nationwide Pregnancy SOS Network Liaison Council was established this year in April. Its goal was to bring together nationwide consultation centers in order to share information and provide enhanced support that transcends the borders demarcated by individual local governments, as well as increase the number of consultation centers working to address related issues.

    The nationwide council is primarily run by five individuals who work as midwives, doctors and former directors of child consultation centers. One of them is Yukiko Tajiri, who formerly provided consultation services at Jikei Hospital in the city of Kumamoto, which runs the "cradle of storks" baby hatch where parents can drop off infants for whom they are unable to provide care.

    The pregnancy SOS guidebook, which was released this year in November, was one of the network's first initiatives. The publication is printed on A4-sized paper, and is divided into the following three sections: 1) Creating a framework for dealing with emergency pregnancy-related consultations, 2) Knowledge of social welfare: assisting those who are pregnant and living in poverty, and 3) Learning from past case studies.

    The publication introduces various case studies and methods for providing assistance, including the provision of public assistance for those who are facing economic hardship and are unable to afford pregnancy medical examinations or childbirth expenses, as well as other types of cases such as those involving youth pregnancy, domestic violence-related injuries and sexual abuse, among others.

    According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, there were a total of 546 abuse-related fatalities between July 2003 and March 2013 involving children aged 17 or younger, among whom 111 were under one month of age. Among these, 90 percent of the perpetrators were the infants' mothers -- and 70 percent reported that their pregnancies had been unplanned.

    In 2011, the ministry sent out a memorandum to local governments nationwide asking them to enhance the seamless provision of consultation services encompassing issues ranging from pregnancy through childcare. In reality, however, the existing system remains far from adequate.

    Tajiri, who assisted with writing the guidebook, points out with regard to its content, "I hope that it will help increase the quality of the counseling staff who are offering assistance."

    Inquiries regarding the publication may be directed toward the Nippon Foundation at tokubetsu_youshi@ps.nippon-foundation.or.jp

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