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Family courts to have authority to intervene in child abuse cases at early stage

The government is poised to establish a new child abuse prevention system to allow family courts to intervene in child abuse cases at an early stage before the situation deteriorates and requires children to be forcibly separated from their parents.

    The new system -- to be included under revisions to the Child Welfare Act and other related legislation that the government aims to submit at an ordinary Diet session scheduled to convene on Jan. 20 -- will target parents who do not follow guidance provided by child consultation centers. Based on petitions filed by child consultation centers, family courts will be able to issue advisories to prefectural governments to warn parents via local child consultation centers.

    Under the existing system, prefectural governors can instruct parents to follow advisories given by local child consultation centers, but some prefectural governments delegate authority to those centers. However, this proves ineffective in many cases, because parents tend to develop a sense of distrust towards child consultation center officials who intervene in family affairs. With the involvement of family courts as neutral parties, the government believes it will be easier for parents to accept instructions from child consultation centers.

    Japan's judiciary gets involved in child abuse cases where children need to be separated from their parents or when stripping parents of their custody rights. The revised Child Welfare Act, which was passed in the Diet last year, states that the central and local governments have a responsibility to support parents to raise their children at home. The planned system aims to promote this policy.

    When parents do not comply with instructions given by child consultation centers, children need to be relocated to an environment where they can be better taken care of. At the same time, it is difficult to determine whether parents and their children need to be separated, and misjudgment can sometimes lead to a worst-case scenario.

    The government had initially planned to allow family courts to directly give "orders" to parents, but many experts viewed judicial intervention in family affairs with caution. The government settled on allowing family courts to issue "advisories" via prefectural governments, but some welfare ministry officials are requesting more effective anti-child abuse measures.

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