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37,100 teens across Japan providing nursing care to family member: Mainichi analysis

A man who cared for his grandmother, a dementia patient, since he was a primary school sixth grader is seen in Tokyo on March 16, 2020. He says shopping for her at a local supermarket was one of his daily chores. (Mainichi/Yuki Miyatake)

TOKYO -- There were some 37,100 people aged 15-19 working or going to school at the same time as providing home care to a sick or incapacitated family member across Japan as of 2017, a Mainichi Shimbun analysis of national statistics has found.

The study is the first of its kind to investigate how many teen caregivers there are in the country. The study also uncovered cases where the caregiver, lacking community or government support, has become badly isolated from society.

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications' 2017 Employment Status Survey, there were an estimated 210,100 people aged 15 to 29 in Japan that year caring for a family member. Based on Article 34 of the Statistics Act allowing for private use of public statistics, the Mainichi commissioned the independent National Statistics Center to generate a data set made up only of carers aged 15-19.

The data revealed the 37,100 people in this age group caring for a family member. Of those, some 80% (around 30,700 people) were going to school at the same time as providing care. Among these students, about 4,900 were both going to school and working.

The study found at least 12,700 teens were providing care four or more days per week, significantly more than the some 9,800 who were doing so one to three days per week. Those taking care of someone four-plus days per week included just over 30% of those subjects who said they were also going to school. The internal affairs ministry survey only covered people aged 15 and up, but numbers of young carers aged 14 and under have also been confirmed in other surveys by local governments and researchers, implying the true number of children looking after someone at home is higher than the statistical breakdown suggests.

According to Carers Japan, an organization supporting young carers, the large number of teens looking after family members is due in part to Japan's aging population and low birth rate plus the increase in single-parent households. Furthermore, if care goes beyond simply helping out to intensive caregiving for long periods, this can impact these teenagers' physical and psychological health as well as cause them to miss or be late to school often, harming their educational performance and future prospects.

(Japanese original by Taiji Mukohata and Hiroyuki Tanaka, Special Reports Department)

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