Japan's Saitama lawmakers withdraw draft on leaving children alone

A group of Saitama prefectural assembly lawmakers has withdrawn its contentious draft revisions to a child abuse prevention ordinance that would have banned leaving children unattended. The draft met fierce backlash from families, especially those with two working parents.

The draft, submitted by Liberal Democratic Party members in the prefecture next to Tokyo, would have strictly prohibited leaving children alone if they were in the third grade of elementary school or younger.

Aimed at ensuring children's safety

Even leaving children home alone when their guardians stepped out to take garbage bags to community collection spots would have been banned. The draft would also have forbidden allowing children to go to school unaccompanied.

The rules were reportedly aimed at preventing children from being left alone in dangerous settings, such as inside vehicles where they could die from heatstroke.

A group of LDP members of the Saitama prefectural assembly has withdrawn its contentious draft revisions to an ordinance that would have banned leaving children unattended.

However, a growing number of residents had been opposing the draft, as they believed its definition of children being left alone as "abuse" was too wide.

Higuchi Shizuka was among parents worried about the proposed rules. She runs a home nail salon while taking care of her three children -- a second-year elementary school student, a junior high school student and a high school student.

Higuchi limits the number of reservations she accepts to balance child-rearing and work, but she sometime allows her kids to visit their friends' homes after school.

"The draft would have forced me to quit my job," Higuchi said. "But quitting work would have meant being unable to earn a living. I think the assembly members should begin by studying how parents are raising their children."

Draft met with public opposition

A parent-teacher association in Saitama City collected signatures from more than 27,000 people opposed to the rule change.

Gunshima Noriyuki, the head of the Saitama City PTA Council, said that the draft revisions would have only imposed a burden on parents, and stressed that it would have forced many parents to lose income.

Saitama Governor Ono Motohiro on Tuesday also revealed that the prefectural government had received more than 1,000 complaints about the draft.

"The voices of people in the prefecture are extremely serious," Ono said. "I welcome the withdrawal."

Ono said that the LDP group members did not seek opinions from the prefectural leadership before submitting the draft, and that he wasn't given any explanation about its contents.

Saitama Governor Ono Motohiro says he welcomes withdrawal of the draft rule change that would have banned leaving children unattended.

Lawmaker apologizes for insufficient explanation

Tamura Takumi, the leader of the LDP's prefectural assembly group, on Tuesday announced that the group would retract its draft after considering various circumstances.

Tamura said he gave only an insufficient explanation about what specific situations would come under the definition of children being left alone.

"It's my responsibility that I just said yes or no when I was asked if such-and-such situations would constitute abuse," Tamura said.

He said he deeply regrets that concern and anxiety spread among people in the prefecture and other parts of the country due to his insufficient explanation.

LDP lawmaker Tamura Takumi announced withdrawal of the draft at a news conference in Saitama City on Tuesday.

Expert: Draft went too far

An expert on children's rights said that while he believes the draft had good intentions, it went too far and lacked necessary steps.

"I understand the idea of seeking to protect children from being left alone or abused," lawyer Ozaki Yasushi said. "But the draft's range of situations that would have been restricted was too broad. Restricting people's freedoms requires verification and discussion based on careful interviews, as well as situational assessments."

Lawyer Ozaki Yasushi is an expert on children's rights.