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Editorial: Civil Code must be reformed to reduce people without family registers to zero

The number of people in Japan who are without family registries because their parents did not submit their birth notifications to authorities totals 830, at least according to the Ministry of Justice as of June. Of those, the avoidance of submitting birth certificates for some 80 percent is believed to be due to the "presumption of child in wedlock" clause in the Civil Code.

The Civil Code working group within the Legislative Council of the Justice Ministry has set out to revise the "presumption of child in wedlock" clause.

The working group will use as reference a revision proposal presented by a Justice Ministry expert team, comprising two major points.

Under current stipulations of the Civil Code, it is assumed that the father of a child conceived while a couple is married is the husband. Even if a child is born within 300 days after a divorce, the child's father is assumed to be the ex-husband. The revision proposal adds an exception to this rule stipulating that if the woman is remarried at the time the child is born, the child is assumed to be that of the new husband.

Furthermore, the current regulations only give the right to rebut the presumption of legitimacy to the current husband, but the proposal expands the right to both the child and the wife.

It is unknown how viable the exception to the assumption of wedlock rule will be. A lifestyle in which people live with their partners without getting married is no longer rare. However, the exception fails to apply to women who live with their new partners without getting married after divorce.

The expansion of the right to rebut legitimacy, however, looks as though it will lead to fewer people without family registers.

Under current rules and regulations, if a wife who is separated from her husband conceives a child with another man, she must obtain the cooperation of her husband to override the presumption of legitimacy. However, in cases in which the reason for the separation is domestic violence or other unfavorable situations, it is not an easy task to acquire cooperation from the other party, leading to children whose birth notifications were never submitted.

If children and wives themselves could file allegations rebutting paternity, there would be no need to seek cooperation from husbands. However, if the husband is guilty of domestic violence, children and wives would need to muster up the courage to make claims against him, which is still not that easy.

The assumption of legitimacy is a clause that has remained since the Meiji era, the purpose of which was to establish a father-child relationship as soon as possible so as not to put the child in an unstable position.

The revision proposal claims that it is important to keep this aspect of the clause while revising multiple other rules, in order to solve the problem of people without family registers. However, there remain concerns about whether the method is sufficient to completely resolve the issue at hand.

As a general rule, one cannot obtain a certificate of residence or a passport, or receive various kinds of public services without a family register. This is absurd. We should be aiming for a revision that brings the number of people with no family registries to zero.

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