Japan's child poverty rate hits record high

Ririko Saito and her 11-year-old daughter Yumi eat dinner together, one of only two meals they have a day in an attempt to keep household costs low, at their apartment in Tokyo on May 14, 2014. Japan's child poverty rate has hit a record high, accord
Ririko Saito and her 11-year-old daughter Yumi eat dinner together, one of only two meals they have a day in an attempt to keep household costs low, at their apartment in Tokyo on May 14, 2014. Japan's child poverty rate has hit a record high, according to a government survey, prompting criticism that Tokyo was not doing enough to fix the problem. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's child poverty rate has hit a record high, according to a government survey, prompting criticism that Tokyo was not doing enough to fix the problem.

The Welfare Ministry report showed the child poverty rate rose to 16.3 per cent in 2012, the worst result since the survey started nearly three decades ago and one of the highest levels among the 34 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The rate measures the percentage of children living in households with an annual net income below the poverty line - 1.22 million yen (S$14,970) per person.

More than half of single-parent families were living below the poverty line, while nearly two-thirds of families with children felt their financial situation was bad or very bad, said the survey which was published Tuesday. The results highlight a growing wage gap in Japan which has long prided itself as an egalitarian society.

But a weak economy beset by deflation over the past two decades has ushered in a growing number of low-paid contract positions, largely filled by women.

The Welfare Ministry attributed the rise in child poverty to "declines in incomes of households with children in the economy still experiencing deflation".

Japan ranked sixth-highest in child poverty in the OECD after Mexico, Israel, Chile, the United States and Turkey.

"This didn't surprise me," said Ms Masato Hirayu, a child poverty activist.

"It is a natural result of the government's inertia in fixing the problem."