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James Shaw's Blog

Ashinaga Group Asia: Research and Advocacy


Matching action with data


A key part of Ashinaga’s work is understanding the academic and financial challenges orphaned students face. Our research then becomes the basis for the support we provide as well as what we campaign for.


Ashinaga’s research and activism was key in the formation of Japan’s 2014 Childhood Poverty Act, which looks to increase government support for children and guardians in one-parent households.


Although our research has primarily focused on Japan, we hope to expand to Sub-Saharan Africa as our activities develop in the region. We also aim to widen the remit of our research to include data about the difficulties faced by elementary and middle school children.


The primary findings of our research thus far are summarized below.


Our findings


Ashinaga high school students find it difficult to pursue their desired careers after graduating. This is mainly due to financial constraints that have left them no choice but to give up going on to higher education.


For example, the percentage of those going on to university or junior college is lower than the national average.


Although public high schools are free, and there is a reduced school fee system at private high schools, educational expenses are still high—especially because of low incomes.


No matter how hard I work, my hourly wage remains ¥730. If I continue to work like this, I wonder whether I will end up homeless.


(44-year-old from Hokkaido)


I’m not entitled to receive the survivor pension with my current wage. I feel sad about the fact that my income is lower than families on welfare, no matter how hard I work. I changed to a night-shift job because the income is better, but I still have almost no money left when my next payday comes. I am not a full-time employee, so I don’t receive bonuses. I feel very anxious about my situation, but there is nothing I can do about it.


(49-year-old from Kagoshima)


An opinion survey of guardians of high school students, conducted in November 2013, found that children who have lost parents are troubled economically and mentally.




Of those responding to the survey, 33% indicated that their circumstances had led to “changes in career path,” and 19% “gave up higher education” to subsidize their household.


Two-thirds fall into the category of having a “shortage of education,” and this increases to more than 70% for families with two or more children. To cover the cost of education, 48% are “reducing all expenses other than educational expenses” and 41% are “cutting into deposits and savings.” 25% are “depending on their children’s part-time jobs.” This increases to 35% in the greater Tokyo area.


39% of high school students wish to pursue higher education, 27% are job seekers, and 55% percent nationwide go on to higher education. However, the number of those going on to higher education is 16% lower for Ashinaga high school students.


40% of job-seeking students “wish to pursue higher education, but cannot due to financial reasons,” and 13% “have to subsidize their households.” The total number of job-seeking students who wish to pursue higher education is 53%, which sharply increased by 13 points compared with the last survey, two years ago.


Due to a shortage in education, 42% “cannot attend tutoring school,” 33% “changed career path,” and 19% “gave up higher education” to support their household or siblings.


Working poor


The number of “non-regular employees” reaches 60%, and 15% work in two or more places.


Of In addition, 70% of guardians seek to “extend the payment period of the survivor pension and child support allowance from high school graduation to a longer term.”




Mental health problems are serious for both parents and children. Children are affected mentally after a parent’s death and/or disability. The results show that 29% of children “refused to or were unwilling to go to school,” 28% showed “an increase in depressed facial expression,” 24% “met with a counselor or psychiatrist,” 23% “became mad asily,” 20% “became lethargic,” and 12% “were bullied.”


Similarly, 42% of guardians are “depressed, and not feeling better,” followed by 41% “always having a feeling of crushing uncertainty,” 25% showing “nervousness,” 19% found they were “taking great pains to do anything,” 17% had “feelings of unworthiness,” 16% of “hopelessness,” 15% exhibited “fidgeting and restlessness,” and 10% were “considering suicide or double suicide.”’


It is evident that the number of guardians who are depressed is increasing.




Children experience terrible loss when a parent dies. They lose not only their economic foundation, but their mental and cultural support as well. Sudden deaths from disaster or suicide are an even bigger shock. These children are faced with the fact that the presence of their loved ones is “fragile,” and normal life completely changes.


Children whose parents are fighting long-term illnesses, such as cancer, may experience the fear of death. On the other hand, some adults try to protect their children by not telling them they are ill. This results in death being sudden and more of a shock.


The number of suicides in Japan exceeds 30,000, and this has been the case since 1998. For children whose parents have committed suicide, the mental trauma is serious. In cases of suicide, along with the shock of sudden death, children suffer doubt. If the cause of death is unknown, children feel remorse. Thoughts such as, “they died because of me” or “I couldn’t help them” are common. Feeling disappointed and angry, and thinking “I was deserted” or “I wasn’t loved,” are also common.


In addition, they feel others watch to see how they respond to their parent’s death. Those who are told by their family and relatives to remain silent regarding their parent’s suicide are often pushed into isolation.