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Some parents trying to receive virus relief aid for children at Japan foster care homes

The head representative of a foster care facility in the Kanto region of eastern Japan is seen checking documents regarding virus relief handouts for children at the facility on May 22, 2020. (Photo partially modified) (Mainichi/Atsuko Suzuki)

MAEBASHI -- Cases have emerged where parents of children at foster care facilities in Japan are demanding their child's 100,000-yen handout distributed by the national government as relief aid amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Officials at foster care facilities are taking countermeasures by refusing to hand over the aid to parents and managing it in an individual bank account under the child's name due to potential risks of parents misspending the money. Even with such measures taken, it is feared that parents may still withdraw the money once the child moves out of the facility. Experts are searching for a systematic way to protect such children's assets.

"Can I receive the cash handout given to my child?" asked one mother of a child admitted to a foster care facility in the Kanto region of eastern Japan, during a phone call in late April. The call was made immediately after the payment of the virus relief aid was announced. A male employee explained to the mother, "This is money designated for the child. It will either be used or saved after asking the child how they wish to proceed." The mother then apparently said discontentedly, "Leave the whole amount untouched until my child leaves there."

An employee of a foster care home in the northern part of the Kanto region also reported receiving a phone call from a parent of a child staying there, asking for their virus relief money. The employee revealed, "When I refused to hand over the money, the parent yelled that for normal households, allowances given to children belong to the parents." According to a child consultation center in Gunma Prefecture, there have been cases where parents seek to take their children back clearly with the objective of obtaining the relief money, while there have also been children who give out their money to parents in hopes of helping them.

Foster care facilities are home to children who cannot be brought up by their families due to abuse, poverty, or other issues. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications issued administrative messages to local governments requesting that virus relief benefits be paid directly to children in foster care facilities even if their parents apply for the aid. In regular cases, the facility will apply for the aid on behalf of the child and the money will be transferred to the individual savings account of the child managed by the facility. This is done to prevent parents from misspending their children's money on themselves.

According to numerous foster care-related sources, there have been a string of cases of monthly child allowances, disaster aid given out after the Great East Japan Earthquake, and money earned by children themselves through part-time work being immediately used up on the parent's leisure expenses once the child returned to their family. There has also been an instance where a high school student gave up their wish of pursuing their studies after their parent used money that they saved up little by little from part-time work earnings and child allowances.

Under the Civil Code, the right to manage a child's property belongs to the parent, and parents can use their youngster's money on the pretense of using it towards their child's living expenses. Yasuko Hirabe, professor at Saga University and an expert on social security laws, stated that although there are adjudications by family courts regarding the termination of parental authority and loss of property administration rights, the procedure for filing a petition is a burden and the selection of a new guardian appointed for minors to manage their assets on behalf of custodial parents tends to stagnate. Therefore, such court functions are said to not be utilized to their fullest.

Professor Hirabe raised concern over the aspect of "economic abuse" not being currently included in the four definitive categories of child abuse in Japan, which are emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect, as this "leaves unaddressed the inappropriate child care environment where parents use their children's money for their own convenience." She also suggests setting up a system for children to be able to withdraw their money on their own, once they reach adulthood, from a savings account in which benefits from the national government among other allowances are deposited.

The Tokyo Bar Association has set up a hotline for inquiries regarding children's rights (in Japanese), which can be reached at 03-3503-0110. It is available from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

(Japanese original by Atsuko Suzuki, Maebashi Bureau)

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