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Senior LDP politician's attack on male childrearing draws ire of single fathers

LDP Executive Acting Secretary-General Koichi Hagiuda (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A remark by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s strongman that men raising infants are "unwelcome" is drawing criticism from single fathers who feel the politician's words are senseless.

Koichi Hagiuda, 54, the LDP's executive acting secretary-general, told a gathering in the city of Miyazaki, "We speak of cool ideas such as a gender-equal society and men's childrearing, but they are unwelcome ideas for children," referring to care for children up to the age of 2. He added that children "need an environment where they can be together with their mothers."

Yoshinobu Murakami, 38, head of a national network of single fathers, says he does not think Hagiuda had malicious intentions, but "many people must have been hurt" by what he said. Himself a single father, Murakami points out that men "doing their best taking care of their children singlehandedly would feel, 'so kids need mothers after all.'"

Hagiuda added: "Getting clear statistics on this is not possible, but it goes without saying that children like moms better. If they say they like dads better when they are still 0 years old, they are a bit strange, I think." Murakami, however, argues that not only mothers but fathers, grandparents and foster parents can develop affectionate bonds with children. "It is a proven fact in psychiatric medicine," he adds.

In recent years, Murakami and his group have made policy proposals in a bid to change the current basic pension for bereaved families, which does not cover all single-father households. It is not only about money, says Murakami, adding that they are raising their voices because they think the system is a form of gender bias.

The basic pension for bereaved families was originally designed to support single-mother households that lost husbands, the traditional main income earner. The coverage was expanded in April 2014 to include some single-father households, but households that lost mothers before that remain excluded.

Hidetoshi Abe, a 58-year-old driver in the city of Higashimatsushima in Fukushima Prefecture, is one such single father. He lost his working wife to the tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 and was left with three kids -- now aged 14, 16 and 18 -- to raise. When he learned about the difference in pension coverage between single-mother and single-father households right after the quake, he was shocked.

"I felt strongly that it would have been better for me to die than my wife, considering the living standards of our children," says Abe.

He subsequently learned of the activities of Murakami's group and began to offer support as he thought that it does not make sense to differentiate between mothers and fathers when they are both working to raise their children.

Murakami is organizing an online signature-collection drive seeking complete pension coverage for single-father families, gathering some 40,000 signatures since 2014. He fears that Hagiuda's remark will adversely affect what his group has been doing. Abe says of the politician's words: "He says that, but we can't change the reality of not having a mother."

(Japanese original by Haruka Udagawa, General Digital News Center)

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