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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

HOTLINE TO NAGATACHO

Belt up — protect our children


By GERRY MCLELLAN
Nagoya

To the ministry of education,

My son will begin kindergarten in April of this year and I am very much concerned for his safety.

My wife and I have been inundated with demands about the things we must buy, and the things we need to do, from the school. Some verge on the ridiculous and include instruction on the length the string around his bento box must adhere to, as well as the kind of crayons we are required to buy.

We had to hand over a one-time, nonrefundable deposit, and now have to pay monthly fees and fork out a large sum of money for his uniform and gym wear. Although I believe the price of his school wear to be grossly inflated, I understand that education is big business and money has to be made.

However, I am appalled to note that little children are transported back and forth in little school buses that have no seat belts. Furthermore, the seats on the buses have no head rests or neck support. If the driver has to brake suddenly, this might result in severe whiplash neck injuries and even fatalities. The kids might also smash their teeth on the seat in front.

If the bus is forced off the road and overturns, the children inside, without the protection of seat belts, will almost certainly sustain fatal injuries. It doesn't take much imagination to realize the consequences of such an accident. With proper restraints, however, the damage caused by such an accident would be greatly reduced.

Kids have to be strapped into special seats in their parents' cars. Why are they permitted to risk their lives on the way to and from school each and every day? Obviously, money is more important to the schools, not to mention the contents and color of a lunch box, than the safety of the children they teach.

I have been behind some of these school buses, and the drivers do sometimes drive very fast indeed — more intent, it seems, on getting the kids to school on time than worrying about their well-being. We all know the reason why the train crash happened in Amagasaki, Hyogo Pref., in 2005: The driver had a schedule to meet and was running late. Trying to meet his schedule resulted in him taking unnecessary risks with passengers' lives. School bus drivers, it seems, are taking similar risks to get children to school on time.

In many other countries, the idea of seating very young children in buses without proper protection is unthinkable. In some, it is illegal.

How many kids have to die before something is done to protect them? If one school has the moral integrity to set an example, I'm sure others will follow. If enough people feel the same way as I do about their children, I think we should begin a campaign to force you, the government, to do something to protect our little children.

If you have children, I'm sure that you feel the same way as I do. Much money is wasted on unimportant things. Nothing deserves more urgent attention than safeguarding our children.

I realize that upgrading school buses is expensive, but we already pay a great deal of money to the kindergartens. If the government passes a law immediately, and promises to pay half the costs, I'm sure the schools have enough money to finance this relatively simple, yet potentially life-saving, refit to the buses.

Spring vacation is about to begin. Why don't we start the new school year secure in the knowledge that our children will be safe on their way to school?

Let's protect our children.

Submissions to Hotline to Nagatacho should address issues that affect your life in Japan or be in response to government policies. Please imagine you are actually writing to a government official — be it a local school board head or the prime minister himself — to bring attention to an important matter. Send submissions for Hotline to Nagatacho of between 500 and 600 words to community@japantimes.co.jp


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