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Critics view 'family education' bill as step toward revision of Constitution's Article 24

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is considering submitting to the ordinary session of the Diet in 2017 a bill that would require central and local governments to offer assistance in family education, which some see as a possible stepping stone toward changing Article 24 of the current Constitution that guarantees the dignity of the individual.

The bill, if passed, would hold public authorities responsible in supporting family education, but such a move can also be interpreted as authorities' interference in family affairs. This is especially so when referenced against the LDP's draft for the amendment of the Constitution, which stipulates that the Japanese people "form a nation where families and the whole society support each other."

A rough draft of the bill explains that there is an urgent need to support family education, as the trend toward nuclear families progresses and ties between families and local communities grow tenuous. It also stipulates that "family education should nurture people who possess the qualifications to form the state and society." According to the bill, the minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology would lay down a "basic policy for family education support," according to which local municipalities would establish their own basic policies. Community residents would then be required to make efforts to cooperate with the state and local municipalities' "family education" policies.

Deliberation of the bill was begun by a project team within the LDP Research Commission for Promotion of Healthy Development of Youths in the fall of 2014. "Communities are overflowing with families dealing with difficult problems. These problems are tied to children's lives, and neither the state nor local governments can pretend not to notice," said House of Councillors lawmaker Michiko Ueno, secretary-general of the commission as well as the project team, and a former parliamentary secretary for education. "Parents who fail to educate their children in their homes are not fulfilling their responsibilities, and are obviously violating the (Basic Act on Education). We must rectify this situation with a new support law."

Sakura Uchikoshi, who served as secretary-general for the legal team for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought against the central government regarding the right to keep pre-marriage surnames after marriage, believes that such a "family education law" is a strategic move toward revising Article 24 of the Constitution.

"In prewar Japan, there was an 'ie' family system in which the head of the household wielded power over the family, and the wife had no legal rights. Article 24 of the postwar Constitution did away with the 'ie' system and made the individual the foundation," Uchikoshi explained. She criticized the bill, saying, "It orders parents and guardians to nurture human resources who will serve the state. The bill and the LDP's draft amendment of the Constitution have in common the kind of thinking that the family constitutes a foundational unit for serving the state."

Shuhei Ninomiya, a professor of family law at Ritsumeikan University, is also critical of the bill, with Article 24 of the Constitution in mind. "The bill has a dangerous chance of fixing gender and family roles," he said. "What the people are seeking from the state in living their lives is a social security policy that includes the establishment and improvement of daycare centers and nursing facilities, as well as improvements in labor conditions that support various lifestyles and family relationships. If the law were to dictate what families should look like and how they should function, we run the risk of interfering with women's forays into the workforce and the enrichment of social security."

April 2012 saw the launch of Oyagaku suishin giin renmei -- a non-partisan Diet caucus to promote "oyagaku" (parental education) -- with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe serving as its chairman. The group deliberated legislation similar in spirit to the family education bill that is now being considered. "Oyagaku," which was originally proposed by Shiro Takahashi, an education professor at Meisei University, emphasizes traditional childrearing. However, the ideology, which claims that traditional childrearing practices can prevent developmental disabilities, has faced severe backlash.

According to upper house lawmaker Ueno and others who have been involved in the issue, the possibility of the non-partisan Diet caucus submitting a bill has been left unaddressed after the Abe administration took back the reins of government in December 2012. When contacted by the Mainichi Shimbun about the possibility of a new bill, professor Takahashi simply said, "It has nothing to do with me."

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