Every child has different potentials and different dreams but the same big future.”

So goes this year’s slogan for Child Welfare Week, which begins Thursday, Children’s Day.

A female middle school student coined this bright and hopeful catchphrase. Each and every child has different potentials. We hope that every child will grow up happily, while pursuing his or her own dreams.

But can we adults confidently say, “You bet!” to the message conveyed in this slogan? It can hardly be said that every child is now in an environment where he or she can feel certain of having “the same big future.”

The most worrisome problem afflicting children is an increase in the cases of child abuse. The number of such cases sought for advices at children’s welfare centers of prefectural governments and of those ordinance-designated major cities topped 26,000 in fiscal 2003, up 12 percent from the previous year.

Expand safety net

A survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry showed that among child abuse cases that resulted in death, 20 percent of those deaths were not prevented by child welfare centers as the centers, despite their having been informed of cases of child abuse, were unable to provide family counseling to the extent necessary.

In light of this situation, the Child Welfare Law was revised in April, making municipal governments of cities, towns and villages responsible for providing counseling services to prevent child abuse.

Municipal governments have implemented measures to support families, such as providing child care classes for parents and offering financial assistance to families in need. They should also include measures to prevent child abuse in their services to support families, thus having child abuse dealt with by local communities.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has also eased requirements for becoming a child welfare officer, the number of which is small, enabling nurses and teachers to be appointed as officers.

Tackle NEET problem

With personal relations based on territorial connections and blood relations becoming less and less common, “meddling” in the lives of troubled and isolated families by local administrative offices will become ever more important. It is an urgent task to beef up cooperation within local communities and develop necessary manpower for such efforts.

Looking at children’s near future, the problem of young people categorized as NEETs (not in education, employment or training) should not be left unattended, either.

According to a Cabinet Office survey, as many as 850,000 people aged 15 to 34 are NEETs.

Why aren’t they trying to make use of their abilities? What discourages these young people from trying to fulfill their own potential? Concerned authorities should analyze the factors behind this phenomenon and work out measures so as not to let today’s children become tomorrow’s NEETs.

As part of educational programs at primary and middle schools, children should be given more opportunities to take a look at various jobs, by improving programs in which students tour workplaces and gain hands-on experience of working. We should teach children more often at school and at home that every job has meaning and pride.

What is needed in society to have each and every child grow up with a belief in their “big future”? Children’s Day is also the day when adults should ponder this question.