New government figures suggest that Germany is lacking over 220,000 daycare or pre-kindergarten places for children under three. As of August next year, parents will be legally entitled to a spot for their tots.
Germany's Federal Statistics Office said on Tuesday that the country's current daycare or pre-kindergarten childcare offerings fell 222,000 places short of total coverage.
Early in March, 558,000 children under three years of age were in some form of daycare; the government is aiming for a capacity of 780,000 by August 2013. That's when a new law is due to come into force guaranteeing parents a daycare place for their children.
The director of the Federal Statistics Office, Karl Müller, said that this target was looking increasingly forlorn.
"Growth over the next 18 months would have to eclipse the total improvements made over the past four years," Müller said.
The figures vary from region to region, and the German Association of Local Governments said that some areas would not meet the 2013 goal.
"In a string of municipalities the legal right will be fulfilled by summer 2013, but despite all our best efforts, gaps will remain in some parts of some cities," the association's leader, Stephan Articus, told reporters in Berlin.
Sobering, but not shaken
Family Minister Kristina Schröder, a rising star in Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet, called Tuesday's figures "sobering" and "surprisingly low." Schröder added, though, that they were already six months old - saying that public pressure for progress had multiplied in the mean time.
Schröder also said the plans to give parents a legal right to a daycare spot "will not be shaken," saying the rule would help speed expansion.
Critics of the government's plans have urged a rethink on the new law, saying it could trigger a wave of lawsuits from parents unable to find a pre-kindergarten spot. Even if the government target of 780,000 places were reached, that would still only cover 39 percent of the under-three-year-olds in the country.
Another government proposal is to offer a special stipend, called "Betreuungsgeld," to parents who choose to care for their youngsters themselves. Opposition parties have criticized this possibility, with leading Social Democrat Manuela Schwesig calling it "a consolation for those parents who can't find a daycare spot for their child." Schwesig agued the government should put the money towards providing the childcare instead.
msh/mz (AFP, epd, dpa)