”If I kill myself, what will become of my child?” emailed a distraught single mother late one night to a journalist who had covered her plight.
The plight is dire but not unique, writes investigative reporter Daisuke Suzuki in Shukan Asahi (May 8). It involves single mothers turning to prostitution out of sheer economic desperation.
There are 1.23 million single-mother households in Japan, Health and Labor Ministry statistics show. Their average annual income, government benefits included, is 2.11 million yen -- 40% of the overall household average. A revised welfare law shrank entitlements in 2002. The current recession is choking off employment opportunities. For the 28-year-old woman Suzuki calls “Ruriko Kumata,” prostitution seems her only means of survival. Her email suggests she wonders if it’s worth it.
Suzuki first met Ruriko on a “deaikei” (encounter/dating) website he started trolling to investigate a rumor that many of the come-ons were posted by single mothers in their 30s and 40s. Of the 50 women he contacted for his research, 20 were single mothers. He interviewed 15 of them. Ruriko, living in Shizuoka Prefecture, is one. Her posting reads, “If you can meet me tomorrow, please reply.” Her price is 20,000 yen plus the hotel bill. “I’m 28 and on the plump side. People tell me I’m nice.”
She wakes up at 7 a.m., Suzuki writes in Shukan Asahi, and reaches immediately for the cell phone at her pillow. How many messages came in overnight? Ten as a rule, more or less. Before she checks them, she sends off a “good morning note” to her child at a child care facility in a nearby town.
Most of the messages, if you’re on the brink of despair to begin with, are hardly encouraging. “Twenty-eight and you’re asking 20,000 yen plus? Are you crazy?” “No lying about your age, now!” “Drop dead.”
One man seems interested; she taps out a message confirming her availability, and drags herself out of bed.
She has been married and divorced twice, she tells Suzuki. Both her husbands were abusive. She sought refuge with her mother, but relations grew strained, and Ruriko fled with the child.
She registered with several temp employment agencies, but keeping a job has always been a problem for her -- owing, she says, to severe menstrual cramps that require her to take time off.
Two years ago, she placed the child in a facility. Unemployed for the past year, she has survived on unemployment insurance benefits supplemented by 30,000 yen-a-month allowances from her father and her first ex-husband (not the child’s father). But her father is about to retire and her ex, pinched by the depression, has served notice he can no longer help her.
“Honestly, I’m better off dead,” says Ruriko. “That’s what I think whenever the child comes home and I serve bread crusts I get at a pet store and gruel from dumplings I buy at the 100-yen shop.”
Hers is a sadder case than most -- but, writes Suzuki, “data show that 85% of single mothers are in fact working. Even so, their jobs don’t lift them up out of poverty.”© Japan Today