Helping immigrant children to flourish

Helping Immigrant Children To Flourish

Japan has been one of the world’s major destinations for Filipino migrant workers. For the most part, they can be found in low-paid jobs and they are quickly affected by down-turns in the Japanese economy.

For 20 years, the Ecumenical Learning Center for Children (ELCC), has served the educational needs of Filipino children living in Japan, despite the drastic changes in their daily lives and government policies concerning migration.

In 1998, the ELCC was established by the Nagoya Youth Center in the Anglican Diocese of Chubu Diocese to provide basic education for children of undocumented Filipino parents living in Japan, and as a place they could use and where Filipino identity could be assimilated among the children. These children were denied the right to education and were not given the opportunity to experience schooling even when they reached school age. The Japanese government recognises the Convention on the Rights of the Child and adopted a policy to accept foreign children, irrespective of their legal stay or residence status, in elementary and secondary schools and to extend to them free tuition as enjoyed by Japanese children, However, at the time, Nagoya City was among the local governments that refused to accept these children.

In 2002, the Nagoya City government decided to allow undocumented children to enter regular school, most likely as a result of the lobbying and campaigning activities of concerned groups and individuals. But despite this development, those parents who do not have proper visas are reluctant to send their children to school for fear of deportation when the authorities learn of their existence. They prefer to continue sending their children to the ELCC.

The years have passed and there have been significant changes in government policies on migration which directly affect the lives of foreign migrants, including the children. Many have been forcibly deported back to the Philippines due to a massive crackdown on illegal immigrants. Some were allowed to stay according to various categories. 

In addition to this, during the years that the ELCC has continued to serve the Filipino community, different patterns and situations have emerged which affect children. 

There are children who have been born and brought up in Japan, whose parents are both Filipino. They cannot speak Nihongo (the Japanese language) fluently and, most of the time, members of the family talk in their native language. They seldom watch local TV programmes but instead watch programmes from their native land through cable or the internet.

There are children who are Japanese nationals (Japanese father, Filipina mother). They have been sent to the Philippines and stayed there after the divorce of their parents. Mothers have to leave their children with their families in the Philippines in order to focus on their jobs in Japan and secure their families’ financial situation. The years spent in the Philippines mean they can no longer speak Nihongo when they return.

There are also “newcomer” children who were left in the Philippines by their mothers when they came and settled here in Japan. Once the mothers established their lives here, they brought their children to Japan so that they can live together.

All of these children have a major thing in common; they all want to stay and live in Japan, but have insufficient Nihongo. Although parents have the option of sending their children to regular school, some parents choose to send their children to the ELCC to prepare them for the next school year. The age range of “newcomer” children coming to Japan is wide, and the support the children need depends on their age. 

Although the ELCC was created to support the children of ‘overstayed’ Filipinos, the continually changing circumstances mean that there is still a need to continue and step-up its service to the less fortunate children who have been caught up and affected by different aspects of migration.

CONTACT: Nestor L Puno, email nyc.chubu@nskk.org . ELCC, 466-0804 Nagoya-shi, Showa-ku, Miyahigashi-cho 260, Japan