Japan eyes higher age cap to promote special child adoption system

Justice Ministry has decided to raise the age ceiling on the special child adoption system to give more de facto orphans opportunities to grow up in a home-like environment, informed sources said Sunday.

Currently, children whose real parents are unable to raise them can become the legal children of others if they are under 6 years old.

But the ministry hopes that older children, such as those in elementary school, can be adopted and leave the orphanages and foster families they were placed with because of economic problems, violence or other reasons, the sources said.

Based on the decision, a panel set up by the ministry in July will come up with a report early next year. The ministry will make its proposal to the Legislative Council, which advises the justice minister, upon receiving the report. The government will decide whether to revise the Civil Code after studying the council’s recommendations.

As for the new special adoption age limit, the ministry is examining the two options of 17 and 15, because the child welfare law regards those under 18 as children while the Civil Code respects decisions by people 15 and older.

But given opinions that it may be difficult to establish sound relations between older children and new parents, the ministry will carefully decide on the new limit, the sources said.

The welfare ministry’s statistics show that some 45,000 children need guardians because their parents have become unable to take care of them. Of the total, about 30,000 children are at least 6 years old and have been placed with foster families and orphanages. There have been cases in which attempts to adopt such older children ended in failure due to the age ceiling.

In 2016, only 495 successful special adoption cases were reported.

Last August, the welfare ministry’s group of experts set the target of increasing the figure to at least 1,000 within five years.

Also according to the sources, the ministry plans to ask the council to recommend that chiefs of child counseling centers be allowed to request special adoptions for the sake of those who intend to become new parents, to reduce the burden of going through cumbersome administrative and legal procedures.

Furthermore, the ministry looks to limit the real parents’ right to cancel adoptions they agreed on until Family Court decisions are made.

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