Friday, July 31, 2009

Gender Equality in Japan

"The U.N. watchdog panel on gender equality is poised to issue recommendations to Japan in which it will address this nation's delay in implementing policies to bring about equality between men and women.

"The government should humbly accept the findings of the expert U.N. panel known as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and lawmakers are urged to buckle down and begin implementing a wide range of gender equality measures.

"The pact that sets out the principles covering equality of the sexes--officially called the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women--was adopted by a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in 1979. Japan ratified the convention in 1985.

"Known as the women's rights version of the Bill of Rights, the convention stipulates the equality of women and men in political and public activities, calls for the prohibition of sexual exploitation of women and inequality in access to education and employment, as well as discrimination on the basis of sex in marital and family relations.

"Signatory countries to the convention, now numbering 186, are required to periodically undergo monitoring by CEDAW by submitting reports to the panel on measures taken to comply with their obligations under the treaty.

"CEDAW tracks the progress of parties to the treaty in rectifying inequalities and draws up recommendations to address shortcomings, prodding nations to take legislative and other remedial actions, including changing their social systems.

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"Japan severely criticized

"Last Thursday, CEDAW screened a report presented by the Japanese government at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

"The screening of Japan's records on elimination efforts of discrimination against women was the first in six years. Japan had previously been screened three times.

"CEDAW singled out various areas in which efforts by the Japanese government were considered to have fallen short of addressing problems linked to gender discrimination. Among them were a failure to conduct in-depth discussions on the need to revise the Civil Code--which leads to discriminatory treatment of children born outside of marriage in inheritance procedures--and a provision that stipulates married couples should have the same surname.

"The U.N. committee also took note of what it regards as Japan's retrogressive gender equality education and sex education, as well as a slow pace of improvement in women's social participation.

"The Japanese officials who replied to questioning at the CEDAW screening session were drawn from the Cabinet Office, the Justice Ministry and the Education, Science and Technology Ministry.

"Some of them were reportedly subject to such warnings from panel members as "not to repeat replies to the same effect" as those given by previous Japanese officials, or asked sternly to "provide explanations in more concrete terms."

"Yoko Osawa, a member of a Japanese nongovernmental body called mNet-Information Network for Amending the Civil Code, who sat in on the committee session, said, "Most members of the Japanese government delegation made a point of repeating prepared, boilerplate explanations of systems and laws in response to the various questions posed by the CEDAW members.

""Several CEDAW members pulled the translation headphones out of their ears, apparently because they were so disgusted," Osawa said.

"As lawyer Mikiko Otani, an expert in international human rights law, put it, "The way the Japanese officials responded to the panel members should be considered a reflection of their lack of knowledge of the U.N. treaty and also Japan's lack of a sense of responsibility as a signatory country to the treaty."

""I think Japan, a country that seeks to hold a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, should be ashamed of being subject to such criticism from the gender equality panel," she added.

"The pact for abolishing discrimination against women has led Japan to enact a number of laws, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Law in 1985 and laws requiring both boys and girls to take a homemaking course in middle school and high school, enacted in 1993 and 1994, respectively.

"Although CEDAW recommendations have no binding power, they nonetheless have been a catalyst for advancing gender equality, such as spurring this nation's legislation to bring about the Basic Law for a Gender-Equal Society in 1999 and the Domestic Violence Prevention Law in 2001.

"However, a mountain of issues remain unaddressed.

"Japan ranked 58th among 108 countries on the most recent U.N. index on women's social participation, one of the the lowest among industrially advanced nations.

"Highlighting the disparity between women and men in this nation, women account for less than 10 percent of the members of the House of Representatives, while women section chiefs in private sector companies stand at a mere 6.6 percent.

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"Optional Protocol left unratified

"Every one of this nation's lawmakers should be held responsible for failing to pay due attention to the international gender equality treaty and related U.N. recommendations that have resulted in delays in ending the disparities that disadvantage women.

"A legislator-sponsored bill calling for a revision of the Civil Code in response to CEDAW recommendations has been repeatedly presented to the Diet. But the bill that would delete provisions that discriminate against women has been scrapped every time without in-depth deliberation.

"Japan's failure to ratify the Optional Protocol on the convention on the elimination of discrimination against women also is being questioned by the international community.

"The protocol stipulates that a mechanism should be put in place that would allow individual women who have exhausted legal and other avenues available within Japan to report directly to CEDAW to ask them to inquire into alleged human rights violations against them.

"As Japan has been repeatedly urged to ratify the protocol, government ministries and agencies concerned have been studying the wisdom of doing so.

"However, with many politicians expressing wariness about signing a protocol they say might come into conflict with the principle of independence of the nation's judiciary, no earnest discussions have yet to take place in the political arena.

"Following the latest screening by CEDAW, a new set of recommendations will be issued as early as late August, around the time new members of the lower house have been elected in the coming general election.

"Judging from the way CEDAW carried out the screening of the Japanese government-submitted report, its recommendations will most likely be pretty tough.

"This country should be humble in accepting the forthcoming recommendations and both the government and legislature should be ready to tackle the task of adopting and enforcing gender equality policies in a way considered worthy of a full member of the international community."

By Mihoko Tsukino (Yomiuri Shimbun, 7/30/2009), Link to article (last visited 7/31/2009)

Age of Majority in Japan

"A subcommittee of the Justice Ministry's Legislative Council has recommended that the legal age of adulthood in Japan be lowered from 20 to 18.

"The subcommittee concluded in a final recommendation on Wednesday that it was appropriate to lower the age to 18, adding that it was also desirable to lower the voting age to 18 through a revision to the Public Offices Election Law.

"It also recommended that the legal minimum age for marriage -- currently 18 for males and 16 for females -- should be aligned at 18 for both males and females.

"The advisory panel pointed out the need for considerations in line with the change, including enhancing measures to counter a feared rise in young people falling victim to consumer-related problems. It avoided proposing a date for the change, saying the issue should be left up to the Diet.

"If the Civil Code is revised to lower the age of adulthood, it will affect 191 other laws that make reference to age, including the Public Offices Election Law and the Juvenile Law, and a revision could greatly affect the lives of the public.

"The subcommittee's report said that lowering the legal age of adulthood would allow young people to participate in society at an earlier stage, and give them heightened awareness as adults. It added that such a revision would be significant in that it would legally enable 18- and 19-year-olds to make decisions about using money themselves, and expressed hope that treatment of such young people as adults would enliven them and society.

"At the same time, the subcommittee judged that it was necessary to introduce measures to encourage young people to become independent, as there remained fears of consumer damage sparked by expensive credit card contracts and pyramid sales, and concerns that young people who found it difficult to become independent would become impoverished. The panel made reference to the establishment of a consumer agency, the revision of school curriculum guidelines to include consumer education, and this month's passing of a law to support the upbringing of children and youths, which includes support measures for NEETs -- people not in employment, education or training -- and for youths who have withdrawn from society. It said that the Civil Code should be revised once such measures have filtered through society, and concluded, "It is the Diet that can make an appropriate decision" on the timing of the change.

"The national referendum law states that in principle the age for voting is 18 and above. Additional clauses of the law say lowering the age of adulthood in the Civil Code and Public Offices Election Law should be held in consideration until 2010, and that the voting age be kept at 20 until legal measures are in place."

By Mainichi Shimbun (7/30/2009), Link to article (last visited 7/31/2009)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"Law schools must put quality before quantity

"To ensure our judicial system functions in a manner that can retain the public's trust, capable judges, prosecutors and lawyers must be nurtured. With this in mind, we find it inevitable for some law schools to be closed if they cannot fulfill their duties as facilities for training in this profession.

"The number of applicants for the nation's 74 law schools for the 2009 academic year fell 25 percent from the previous year, marking the first time applications have fallen below 30,000.

"Out of the total, the ratio of total applicants to successful applicants fell below 2- to-1 at 42 schools. One law school saw only five applicants enrolled despite its initial intake quota set at 30.

"The entrance exam process for law schools for the 2010 academic year will soon go into full swing, but it seems the number of applicants will remain low. Law schools were introduced in 2004 as a key pillar of judicial system reform, but they likely have reached a turning point earlier than expected.

"All law school graduates are eligible to take the national bar examination, for which the pass rate was initially predicted to be about 70 to 80 percent. However, the actual pass rate has fallen far short of this mark, as indicated by last year's figure at a mere 33 percent.

"There is no doubt that the decline in the number of applicants can be attributed to the fact that entering law schools does not necessarily provide students with a passport to professional careers in law.

"Vicious circle

"Law schools are required to teach students the basics of the legal profession, giving them a good grounding in legal theory and practice, instead of placing undue weight on preparations for the bar exam.

"If law schools cannot attract high-quality applicants, they will have no choice but to accept less capable students. Under such circumstances, students with less-than-satisfactory aptitude would have to take the bar exam without acquiring sufficient legal skills and knowledge and end up failing the test in what amounts to a vicious circle.

"The Central Council for Education has asked law schools whose ratio of total applicants to successful applicants falls below 2-to-1 to cut the number of students allowed to enroll. So far, about 50 law schools have decided to cut their intake quotas. Given the need to ensure the quality of students, these schools had every reason to do so.

"The root cause of this vicious circle is that there are too many law schools in the nation. There will a further tendency among applicants to shun law schools that cannot produce good results. Therefore, some law schools will unavoidably go under and be forced out of this professional discipline. The government should actively promote the reorganization and integration of law schools.

"Quotas to be raised

"The government plans to increase the number of successful applicants for the bar exam from about 2,000 in 2008 to 3,000 in 2010. This plan should be firmly kept in place as a way of addressing the uneven distribution of lawyers across the nation, brought about largely by the concentration of lawyers in urban areas, as well as other problems.

"An important task to be tackled in doing so is to halt the declining quality of successful applicants.

"Every law school should be required to provide quality curriculums for the selected few. In the 2011 academic year, a preliminary examination system will be introduced that will ensure that even those who do not graduate from law school can still take the bar exam if they pass a preliminary exam. If a high number of students choose to take the preliminary test, the very reason for law schools existing will be called into question."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (Editorial, 7/26/2009), Link to article (last visited 7/28/2009)

Monday, July 13, 2009

"Controversial child organ transplant bill voted into law

"A controversial bill amending the Law on Organ Transplantation that defines brain death as the legal death of a person was passed into law Monday afternoon.

"The bill was one of three bills to be voted on by House of Councillors members, and was passed by a majority of 138 to 82. Under the amendments, provisions of the organ transplant law that forbid organ donations by children under 15 will be repealed, opening the way for organ transplants between children. The new law also marks the first time that brain death has been recognized as the legal death of a person in Japan.

"During deliberations on the successful bill, the bill's sponsor explained that the brain death provisions of the amendments would apply only to instances of organ donation, not to the definition of legal death generally.

"Under current organ transplantation laws, those under 15 cannot donate organs, and children in need of an organ transplant must have the procedure done overseas. However, the World Health Organization is encouraging nations to focus on domestic transplants. Since the current transplant law came into effect in 1997, there have been only 81 organ transplants from brain dead donors, and the amendment passed Monday -- allowing children to donate organs and defining brain death as legal death for organ donors -- aims to greatly expand organ donations.

"The successful transplant law amendments passed the House of Representatives on June 18 with some 60 percent of members in favor, and were sent to the Upper House for final approval. However, there were many Upper House members who took the position that, while it was certainly necessary to expand organ donations in Japan, broader social consent to redefine legal death was lacking, and members from both in and outside the government presented an amendment to the bill that would have retained the current definition of brain death.

"However, core supporters of the bill were adamant that to change the brain death provisions of the bill would render the legislation "meaningless," and, along with many other Upper House members who labeled the latest amended bill "insufficient," rejected it in favor of the original revision. Nevertheless, the bill's sponsor felt compelled to address opponents' concerns that the bill would lead to a widening tendency to withdraw treatment after brain death in all cases, emphasizing that the brain death provisions were "not to be applied beyond the scope of the Law on Organ Transplantation."

"Controversial sections of the legislation included provisions allowing a deceased person's family to approve of organ donations even in cases where it is unknown whether the deceased intended to do so, as if it is discovered that the deceased did not want to donate their organs after they have been removed. Furthermore, the difficulty of determining brain death in children versus adults was also an issue during the debate.

"An amendment to the original bill was rejected by a vote of 135 to 72. A move to keep the current law in place for now while creating a one year commission to study child brain death and the implementation of children's organ transplants was not put to a vote.

"Other than the Japanese Communist Party -- which supported the one year commission proposal -- all the parties allowed their members to vote freely according to their personal views on life and death."

By Mainichi Shimbun (7/13/2009), Link to article (last visited 7/13/2009)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"Revising child porn law

"In Japan, people unfamiliar with child pornography may simply condense the issue into one concerning indecent images of boys and girls.

"But a brief search on the Internet can quickly reveal the abhorrent nature of the crime. Countless "crime scene photos" of children being sexually abused and stripped of their human dignity are available online. The children in those images may never heal from their emotional scars.

"One source of their anguish is not knowing if the images are still circulating and to what extent. Perhaps someone is viewing these photos right now--and maybe the viewer could recognize the victim.

"The Law Banning Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, which was enforced in 1999, prohibits the production or distribution of child porn images. In addition, the law criminalizes possession of such images for the purpose of distribution.

"But privacy concerns have prevented any legal action against simple possession of child porn or downloading images from the Internet for personal use.

"During the decade since the creation of the law, the environment surrounding child porn has changed drastically with advanced Internet technologies.

"File exchange software allows one to gain a huge number of pictures in an instant. And images uploaded onto the Net are nearly impossible to completely remove.

"Although the damage continues to expand, the current law is insufficient to effectively crack down on offenders.

"We cannot allow the victimized children to continue suffering. Simple possession of child porn must be restricted as soon as possible. Compared with other countries, Japan has been slow to act. Among the Group of Eight industrialized nations, the only other country apart from Japan that does not forbid simple possession is Russia.

"In the current ordinary Diet session, deliberation of revision bills tabled by both the ruling and opposition parties has begun.

"The ruling coalition's bill proposes to punish those who possess child porn images "for the purpose of fulfilling sexual curiosity."

"On the other hand, the bill of opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) intends to punish those who actively obtain child porn images, either repeatedly or in exchange for money.

"Minshuto's bill requires more strict conditions than simple possession to establish a crime out of concerns over wanton abuse of the law by the authorities.

"Minshuto's concerns are well-founded. It would be going too far for authorities to crack down on those who just happened to have child porn images sent to them by e-mail without their consent or if they stumbled across such images on the Internet.

"We urge both the ruling and opposition parties to seriously debate how to prevent abuse of the law and reach an agreement to put effective legal restrictions in place.

"Minshuto's bill also includes stronger and more substantial measures to protect the victimized children. The importance of this cannot be stressed enough, particularly in cases of constant, repeated abuse. Investigative authorities must increase their efforts to identify and rescue the children who appear in pornographic images.

"At the same time, medical research of pedophile behavior is also necessary. A number of countries abroad restrict child pornographic expressions found in artworks, like animation and computer graphics. The move is based on the idea of halting the tendency to treat children as sex objects.

"This restriction risks violating freedom of expression. Because this issue should be debated carefully, it should be separated from the current revision process."

By Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 6/29/2009), Link to article (last visited 7/1/2009)