Friday, February 19, 2010

"Limiting parental rights

"Child welfare institutions and foster families caring for children who were abused by their parents often face a serious stumbling block.

"When they attempt to carry out procedures or sign contracts meant to benefit an abused child, the child's parents have the right to block such actions, and many do.

"For example, some parents refuse to give consent to medical treatments and hospitalization for their children. Or they don't agree to let their children be transferred to classes for children with disabilities.

"In severe cases, parental child abuse leads to a child's death. Last month, Fukuoka prefectural police arrested the parents of a 7-month-old child on suspicion of murder. The baby died after the parents apparently refused to allow medical treatment to be performed.

"Parental rights are legally defined as the obligations borne by parents to rear their children. They concern such matters as education, supervision, asset management and legal representation.

"For children in foster care because of abuse or other reasons, the Child Welfare Law allows directors of children's institutions and foster parents to make decisions about a child's life on behalf of the child.

"But parental intentions are often given precedence when it comes to education, career and assets. In too many cases, for example, parents withdraw money from their child's bank accounts without permission.

"Justice Minister Keiko Chiba has asked her ministry's Legislative Council to work on revising the Civil Law to prevent parents from abusing their parental rights. The council's task is to work out a system to restrict parental rights when the parents are abusing the child, temporarily handing control to the heads of welfare institutions and foster parents.

"The government plans to submit a revision bill to next year's regular Diet session.

"The current law allows a family court to declare parental rights terminated when the parents have abused those rights. But this punitive action is only taken in severe cases. That is because the court decision is recorded on the family register and deprives parents of all parental rights indefinitely.

"In many cases, concerned parties, including the heads of child consultation centers, hesitate to take such a drastic step.

"One solution would be to suspend parental rights only temporarily in cases where the lives and future of the child are threatened, allowing a reversal of the suspension to take place if the situation improves. That would better protect the child's safety and make it easier to rebuild the parent-child relationship at a later date. We hope the revisions will establish such a system.

"But the involvement of the courts is essential to prevent related administrative organizations from suspending parental rights for an unnecessarily long period.

"In its report released in January, a Justice Ministry study group proposed setting in the law an upper limit on the term of a suspension and allowing a family court to decide the suspension period. This proposal is worth serious consideration.

"Decisions on restoring parental rights should be made carefully and according to strict criteria, such as clear improvement in the parents' behavior.

"One worthwhile idea would be to empower the family court to order abusive parents to receive counseling from experts. The court would then decide when and whether to restore parental rights and the necessary support after observing the parents' attitudes during such counseling.

"An effective system should be established to monitor and support both parents and children to protect the children from repeated abuse.

"The current provisions concerning parental rights in the Civil Law were formulated during the Meiji Era (1868-1912) and are based on outdated views about the family. In one good example, the law gives parents the legal right to discipline their children. This provision can be used in court trials to justify child abuse. Scrapping this outdated provision should be a top priority in revising the law.

"The guiding principle behind changing the law should be that parental rights must be exercised only in a child's best interests."

Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 2/18/2010), Link to article (last visited 2/19/2010)


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