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Mother whose child failed to gain spot at day care sues local government

A woman suing the Mitaka Municipal Government holds her daughter, who has been unable to attend a licensed day care center for two consecutive years, in the Tokyo suburb of Mitaka. (Mainichi)

A 33-year-old woman living in the Tokyo suburb of Mitaka is suing the municipal government to cover part of the cost of putting her fourth child into an unlicensed day care center, which is more expensive than a licensed one, arguing that the municipal government has failed to fulfill its responsibility to provide child care.

The woman, who is representing herself in court, has four children with her husband. She failed to secure a spot at a licensed day care facility two years in a row for their youngest child, a girl. The woman is seeking compensation of 600,000 yen, the difference between what she has had to pay for her daughter to attend a non-licensed day care center, and the cost she would have paid if her daughter had attended a licensed facility.

According to the woman, her child did not make it into a licensed day care center in Mitaka in the spring of 2015. Because the girl's older brother had been accepted at the same day care center five years prior, the woman says she was stunned when she learned that her daughter had not passed the screening process. Competition for spots at day care facilities has intensified, because it is becoming more common in households with children for both parents to work.

Each municipality uses a point system to decide which children are in most need of a spot at a licensed day care center. In the case of the family in Mitaka, the woman's husband's full-time job gave them 40 points, but the woman was only able to garner 32 points because although she's a part-time college lecturer, she is in the process of getting her Ph.D. and was classified as a student. Since the couple's son had already attended the day care facility the family applied to, they were given another four points. But an official at the Mitaka Municipal Government office explained to the woman that it would be extremely difficult for her child to gain entrance to the day care center without both her parents working full time, and therefore scoring at least 80 points.

After she found out that her daughter had been denied entrance to the day care center, the woman scrambled to find a facility that would look after her child. She found an unlicensed facility, but not only was it more expensive, the duration of time it would care for her daughter was shorter than at licensed facilities. The woman got by by bringing her research home and cutting back on the number of days she taught classes, but her daughter once again failed to gain a spot at a licensed day care center for the term starting this spring.

It is not uncommon for couples in Tokyo who work full time to be unable to find day care for their children. Dissatisfied by the state of affairs, the woman filed her suit in February this year, arguing that the Mitaka Municipal Government should fulfill its responsibility under the Child Welfare Act to ensure that children can receive child care.

In July, the Tachikawa branch of the Tokyo District Court dismissed the case, saying "the municipal government has the responsibility to do its best, but is not required" to do what the woman sought. The court cited the increase in the number of spots at day care centers as proof that the municipal government was fulfilling its responsibility. However, the number of children waiting for spots at day care facilities has been increasing at a faster pace than the increase in the number of spots at day care centers has.

In Mitaka, the number of children who were unable to gain spots at day care facilities this past spring -- including those who were unable to get into facilities licensed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government -- rose for the fourth consecutive year, reaching 264. Children who were accepted at licensed facilities stayed at around 60 percent for the fifth year in a row, giving Mitaka the designation of a municipality needing emergency measures for children waiting for day care spots. The woman who filed the lawsuit doesn't feel that the Mitaka Municipal Government has done its best to rectify the situation.

This month, the first hearing of the appeal trial was held at the Tokyo High Court. Following the hearing, the woman said, "There is something wrong with the current situation, in which we're told that nothing can be done about the lack of day care facilities." She intends to continue raising awareness on the issue through the lawsuit.

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