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Editorial: Slandering children in poverty cruel and counterproductive

Public broadcaster NHK recently aired a segment about a high school girl from a single parent household who had to abandon her plans to go to a vocational school because her family didn't have enough money. After the program, messages slandering the young woman flooded the internet, with users declaring, "She's not impoverished," and, "Her story is fabricated," among other comments.

    Japan as a whole must do its utmost to resolve child poverty. As such, it is deplorable that so many people would attack a high school student for daring to talk about her own poverty. First and foremost, it is important to understand the real situation of child poverty.

    The NHK program reported that the girl lives in a room without air conditioning, and practices typing on a disconnected keyboard her family bought for her because the household cannot afford a computer to go with it.

    However, many people posted online saying, "The girl has so much anime stuff in her room," "She has tweeted she had spent more than 1,000 yen on a lunch," and, "She went to a movie." Someone slandered the student over her appearance while another even uploaded a photo of her home.

    Even Satsuki Katayama, a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) member of the House of Councillors, has tweeted that the girl could have bought a used computer if she had not bought movie tickets, anime goods or had an expensive lunch.

    Japan's relative poverty rate was 16.1 percent as of 2012, quite high for a developed country. Relative poverty refers to those whose annual household income is less than half the national median, or 1.22 million yen in 2012. Many of those in relative poverty have homes and enough food, but they often have difficulty securing a good upbringing environment for their children. As such, children in families in relative poverty are at risk of being economically and socially isolated.

    Many children from families in relative poverty are forced to forgo the more expensive school extracurricular activities, school trips, or going on to institutions of higher education. Many of them often sacrifice money for meals and their education to buy smartphones, because without access to social networking services they could be cut off from their friends and classmates.

    Various countries are trying to redistribute income through taxation and social insurance programs in an effort to narrow income gaps. Critics have pointed out, however, that redistribution efforts in Japan have not produced positive effects on younger generations.

    The poverty rate is remarkably high among families with a single parent without regular employment.

    There are many parents in families in relative poverty who have multiple jobs and thus no time to look after their children. These children, whose ego has not sufficiently developed, will grow up without building a foundation for future self-reliance. It is unreasonable to require such children to be entirely true to their own responsibilities.

    It is wrong to criticize children in poverty the same way as people who make false welfare claims. Such criticism could discourage these children from speaking out about the situation they face, as a result of which they could become isolated from the rest of society and pushed further into poverty.

    It is necessary to understand what children in poverty face in their lives. Japan must not be a desolate society in which poor children are neglected and isolated.

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