Adopting New Attitudes in Japan
Article courtesy of the K@W list as usual. Again here’s another article on the rising number of public baby cradles cropping up around the world. How do you feel about these baby cradles? –G.S.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
When a newborn baby girl was left in Japan’s controversial “baby hatch”
last week, the child’s life may have been saved, but her chances of
finding new parents are slim due to a cultural aversion to adoption in
The baby is one of four tots – one of them three years old – so far left
at the “stork’s cradle” baby hatch at the Catholic-run Jikei Hospital in
Kumamoto, southern Japan.
A small door in the outside wall of the hospital opens to reveal a tiny
bed inside, allowing parents to leave their child safely and
anonymously. Once they do, an alarm goes off to alert hospital staff to
the new arrival.
Similar facilities exist in Germany, where babies are offered for
adoption after an eight-week period during which birth parents can
change their minds.
But the many vocal critics of the first “baby hatch” in Japan are afraid
it may encourage parents to opt out of their responsibilities. And legal
barriers and prejudice against adoption in Japan may mean that children
abandoned in the “baby hatch” will be raised in institutions rather than
by adopted parents.
“There is a feeling that it is somehow natural for children who can’t
live with their parents to be in an institution,” said Masaki Takakura,
a journalist and author of a book on adoption.
“This is a hangover from the postwar years, when children whose parents
had died were rounded up and sent to orphanages.”
Local officials will not comment on specific cases, but if Japanese
courts do not define the “baby hatch” children as officially
“abandoned,” they may be left in children’s homes for years,
theoretically awaiting the return of their birth parents.
The vast majority of the 30,000 children in Japan’s children’s homes –
which are struggling to cope with increasing numbers of abused
youngsters – will stay put until they are old enough to work.
Research shows growing up in an institution often leads to disadvantages
in emotional development as well as education and employment, which is
why many say attitudes toward adoption need to be changed in Japan.
“I used to have a very negative image of adoption and I think a lot of
other people do too,” said 38-year-old housewife Tomoyo Suzuki, adding
that her thinking changed after she went to a seminar about it. She and
her husband went on to adopt two babies now aged three and one.
“I think a lot of people are concerned about blood ties.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – who criticized the “baby hatch” for
encouraging parents to opt out of their responsibilities – and his wife
Akie themselves rejected the idea of adopting.
Last year Akie went public with her fertility problems and said her
husband had suggested they adopt. “I could not accept this and was not
confident about bringing up an adoptee properly, so it did not happen,”
she told a Japanese magazine.
Those who do adopt often move house immediately afterwards to cover up
their child’s origins, said Kazuko Yokota of Motherly Network, a
volunteer group that supports women coping with unexpected pregnancies
and arranges adoptions.
“Children in need of adoption have been stigmatized by notions of pure
and impure or good and bad blood,” Peter Hayes of Britain’s Sunderland
University and Toshie Habu wrote in their book Adoption in Japan.
For much of Japan’s history, adoption has therefore remained within the
extended family, with childless couples often taking in a nephew or
other relative to carry on their family name or business, rather than
because the child was in need of care.
“Special adoption,” of needy nonrelatives was not introduced until 1989
and only a few hundred cases are approved each year.
The difference lies not only in the shortage of willing parents, but
also the small number of available babies, many say.
When women give birth they must enter the child’s name on their family
register, a powerful incentive for single women to end a pregnancy or
even abandon a newborn rather than risk its being discovered by a
potential employer or future husband.
“We have campaigned at least for minors to be able to leave this
information off their registers, but we have been told it won’t happen,”
said Yokota of Motherly Network.