On 19 October 2012 the “Citizens’ Council for the Assistance for Children and Nuclear Disaster Victims Act" held a public meeting at the House of Councillors in Tokyo.
The purpose of the meeting was to:
- increase support for non-governmental recuperation programmes for children in radiation contaminated areas.
- promote development of school based recuperation schemes.
Many recuperation programmes have been started by citizens’ groups all over Japan since the onset of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, in order to give children living in radiation contaminated areas opportunities to detox in uncontaminated areas, and to enjoy the outdoors free from radiation exposure.
The meeting was timely as the Ministry of Reconstruction was stipulating policies that would underpin enforcement of the Assistance for Children and Nuclear Disaster Victims Act* (see below), and the 2013-14 annual state budget and national education policies for 2013-14 were being discussed at that time.
*The Assistance for Children and nuclear Disaster Victims Act became a law in June 2012. It is a fundamental law designed to assist children and adults who have been affected by the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe. It grants evacuees rights to provision of transport, housing, education, employment and public services, regardless of whether evacuation has been compulsory or voluntary. The act also ensures appropriate medical care, education, food safety and measures to minimise and recuperate from radiation exposure, for both evacuees and non-evacuees. In addition, children separated from close family members due to radiation related evacuation are to be compensated.
The meeting was well attended. 140 members of the public packed the 80-capacity room, with many standing, reflecting the high level of public interest in the potential impact of radiation exposure on health and recuperation programmes to reduce health damage. Relevant government officials and several MPs who voted for the Assistance for Children and Nuclear Disaster Victims Act were also present.
The meeting first discussed recuperation programmes in general. They are organised mainly during summer vacations throughout Japan, giving children precious opportunities to play more safely outdoors. However, there is much uncertainly about future of the schemes as most are run by not-for-profit organisations with little or no financial security. In fact, many of them entirely depend on donations and the goodwill of volunteers who run the schemes. There is a wide variation in the content and quality of the services, for example in terms of safety and childcare. Unequal access to recuperation programmes is also a serious problem.
Next, a pioneer school-based recuperation program organised by the city of Date, Fukushima Prefecture, was introduced. In this scheme, a whole class of school children went to the host school in an uncontaminated area and continued with their curriculum. The teachers and the principal moved with the children. The advantages were manifold. Children became more independent, developed social skills and learned to regulate their everyday life, while retaining the security of being with classmates. The programme also benefited pupils and teachers from the host school. The children were stimulated by, and learned from, their counterparts. Cooperation amongst teachers from the two schools led to enhancement of their educational skills.
Testimonies of the meeting
During the meeting, Mr Yuda, Head of Date Education Board, described the positive educational outcomes of the school-based recuperation scheme and expressed official support and commitment to its continuation. Mr Shishido, Headmaster of Tomino Elementary School, reported how the pupils enjoyed the experience, illustrating the stark contrast between the children wearing dosimeters and masks when coming to school in Date and the joyous way the same children rolled around on the lawn at the host school during recuperation.
Mothers from Fukushima spoke, appealing for equal recuperation opportunity for all children in contaminated areas. Teenagers from Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, described how they had enjoyed the programme they took part in. Citizens who regularly organise recuperation programmes reported the evaluation of their provisions. Mr Hashimoto, Director of NPO Regional Exchange Centre, who coordinated the scheme between Tomino Elementary and the host school in Niigata Prefecture, praised the teachers. "The teachers from both schools worked so hard together, and the results were wonderful. I admire their abilities and thank them so much."
The whole 90-minute meeting at the House of Councillors was filled with energy by the participants. The atmosphere of the meeting reflected the strength of their feeling and resolution. Many were extremely anxious about radiation, but were doing their very best in their roles and duties in the face of great adversity.
The Assistance Act as the drive for classroom recuperation
The two officials, Mr Nunomura from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science & Technology, and Mr Mizuno from the Ministry of Reconstruction, responded to the citizens with sincerity. They seemed to have a genuine desire to assist children.
The MPs present were those who fought for the Assistance for Children and Nuclear Disaster Victims Act. They also strongly support the integration of individual and school-based recuperation programmes into the Act.
The Assistance for Children and Nuclear Disaster Victims Act is a quest for people's "right to be free from radiation exposure". It was becoming an urgent necessity that a cross-party group of MPs should discuss the development of policies underpinning the Act. (This was eventually formed on 23rd January 2013 with 88 cross-party MPs as at 1st February 2013.)
There is no safe radiation dose. The health risk from low dose radiation outside the official evacuation zone is not zero even though the doses may be lower than those within the evacuation zone. We must win the right to evacuate from radiation contamination. Even if one chooses to live in contaminated areas, the right to receive regular medical checkups to facilitate early treatment, as well as the right to recuperation to prevent accumulation of internal radiation must be granted. Choices to evacuate should be made without duress either from the local community or beyond without reduction of an individual's rights and options.
This is a test for our democracy. The power of sovereignty resides with us, the people. Our demands are nothing less than the exercise of our human rights. The Act will be a cornerstone for safeguarding the human rights of victims of complex, multi-factor disasters such as the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, and the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. It should become a foundation for future disaster laws in Asia and the rest of the world.
Our overriding priority is to save children. Now is the time for every adult to stand up and fight for them.
Written by Hiroyuki Yoshino Fukushima Network for Saving Children from Radiation, Rest and Recuperation Department
This article is an extract from Dec 2012 issue of “Tangara”, monthly newsletter of Fukushima Network