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More than 50,000 'hidden kids' on day care waiting lists

The number of so-called ''hidden children'' on waiting lists to enter day care and other child care facilities reached 50,801 across Japan this year, up 5,903 or 13 percent from the previous year, according to a survey of selected municipalities by the Mainichi Shimbun.

    The Mainichi polled 156 cities, wards, towns and villages in Japan, including ordinance-designated cites and Tokyo's 23 wards, and received responses from 152 of them. The number of children officially on waiting lists totaled 17,661 as of April 1 this year, down 833 or 5 percent from last year.

    The Mainichi poll covered the 156 cities where the number of children on waiting lists totaled at least 50 as of April 1 last year. The cities of Suita and Hirakata in Osaka Prefecture and Amagasaki in Hyogo Prefecture did not respond to the Mainichi poll. The city of Fukushima was excluded from the Mainichi survey because it did not mention the number of children on waiting lists this year.

    According to the poll, 73 cities, wards and towns, or nearly half of the municipalities, reported drops in the number of children on waiting lists. Twenty-eight cities, wards and towns, including the city of Kumamoto where there were 397 children on waiting lists last year, had no child on waiting lists this year. The combined enrollment capacity at nurseries and other facilities came to 1,199,698 this year, an increase of 62,624 from last year.

    However, there were children who were not listed as those on waiting lists even if they could not enter sanctioned day care facilities. The parents and guardians of these children -- dubbed hidden children on waiting lists -- are deeply frustrated with the reality. The Mainichi calculated the number of such hidden children by deducting the number of children who were admitted to such child care facilities and those on waiting lists from the number of applicants for sanctioned nurseries and other centers.

    The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry spells out requirements which can be excluded from the definition of children on the waiting list. They include children at nurseries independently sanctioned by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and other local governments as well as those at non-sanctioned child care facilities whose standards are lower than sanctioned nurseries.

    Children on waiting lists are also considered hidden children when their parents or guardians stopped looking for a job or were on child care leave. But it is up to municipalities to confirm if parents or guardians have ceased seeking employment and to determine the status of child care leave.

    The surge in the number of hidden children on waiting lists reflects the desires on the part of local governments to make the number of children on waiting lists lower than the real numbers. As the number of applicants increases, there is a gap between child care facilities desired by parents and available facilities. The ministry put the number of hidden children on waiting lists at about 60,000 across Japan as of April 1 last year.

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