Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Asahi editorial: discrimination against illegitimate children

"Under Japan's Civil Code, children born out of wedlock are entitled to only half the inheritance of their legitimate counterparts if their parents die without making a will.

"Whether one is born legitimate or illegitimate is not one's choice. From the moment of birth, every child should be respected as a human being and treated fairly under the law.

"Yet, the Civil Code continues to discriminate against children born out of wedlock.

"The United Nations has repeatedly urged Japan to end this unfair practice, but Japan has yet to comply. This is hardly the way to go for any civilized, law-abiding nation, and it is only natural that some people have been battling this discrimination.

"But public opinion remains guarded on the issue. A survey conducted by the Cabinet Office in 2006 found that 41 percent of the respondents favored maintaining the status quo, 25 percent believed the discrimination should end, and 31 percent said they weren't sure.

"According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, children born out of wedlock account for more than 40 percent of all children in Britain and France, with the United States following close behind. In these countries, the concept of family is defined broadly, and common-law marriages are fairly standard.

"In Japan, on the other hand, illegitimate children account for a mere 2 percent of all children. A simple comparison with the above three countries cannot be made because of differences in how society perceives marriage and family. But this still does not mean Japan is justified in continuing to discriminate against out-of-wedlock children under the law.

"In 1996, the Justice Ministry's Legislative Council recommended revising the Civil Code to end the discrimination. The Democratic Party of Japan sponsored a bill to that effect when it was in the opposition camp.

"Although public opinion was not yet ready for the revision at the time, the powers that be bear a heavy responsibility for failing to act.

"We should also challenge the Supreme Court's repeated decisions to uphold the constitutionality of the treatment of out-of-wedlock children regarding inheritance.

"In 1995, the top court's Grand Bench ruled that since the Civil Code protects out-of-wedlock children by recognizing their right to a share of inheritance while respecting the rights of legitimate children, the treatment of out-of-wedlock children cannot be deemed unreasonably unfair.

"This was the majority opinion of 10 of the 15 Supreme Court justices. The remaining five justices argued that the treatment was grossly unconstitutional, noting that it violated Article 14 of the Constitution that provides for equality under the law.

"We find this minority opinion more persuasive. The Supreme Court has not changed its position since, but dissenting opinions continue to be voiced in inheritance-related cases involving out-of-wedlock children.

"The Civil Code has in effect been encouraging society to discriminate against children born out of wedlock. Surely it is the responsibility of the judiciary to rectify this and apply the law equally and fairly to all citizens.

"The Supreme Court must adjust to the present times and depart from its precedents.

"Justice Minister Keiko Chiba of the Yukio Hatoyama administration is willing to revise the Civil Code's discriminatory provision. We hope she will act without delay."

By Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 11/10/2009), Link to article (last visited 11/11/2009)


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Anonymous said...

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