Despite radical differences in the number of children adopted in comparison to Western countries (compare Australia’s 90% and Canada’s 83% adoption rates with Japan’s 1%), it would be wrong to assume that this is strictly a cultural phenomenon.

A study conducted by Human Rights Watch sought to delve deeper into the systemic failure of Japan’s adoption system. Government red tape, the casual institutionalization of children with “problems”, the shady business practices of orphanage managers, inadequate training for foster parents, and an overall lack of social awareness all add up to a system that fails the children most in need.

The Government

In 2021, there were 693 adoptions registered in Japan. In the UK, there were 2,960. There are a number of factors that contribute to this low figure, but a substantial obstacle is the Japanese government’s deference to the wishes of the biological parents. In Japan, biological parents retain legal custody of their son or daughter, even if they have abandoned them, and although the child may be placed in the care of the state, the birth parents have the ultimate say over the child’s future, and they usually choose to send their children to an orphanage, or institution, rather than to a foster or adoptive family. In an interview with Human Rights Watch, one care worker at a childcare institution in Tsukuba said, “In Japan, the interest of the parents is seen as more important than the interests of the child.”

Until the government addresses this issue, the numbers will continue to make for depressing reading.

Children with “problems”

In 2011, the Japanese government put in place the Foster Parents Placement Guidelines, which state that child guidance centres must consider foster care for children before institutional care. However, this rule is constantly ignored by permitting exceptions. The most egregious is that a child is allowed …continue reading