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Editorial: Effective and swift measures to prevent unpaid child support needed in Japan

A debate over possible legal amendments to prevent outstanding child support payments in Japan will soon begin, as Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa has indicated that she is set to consult the ministry's Legislative Council on the issue.

    According to a 2016 survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, of an estimated 1.23 million single-mother households, only 24% were receiving child support payments.

    Even when living apart, parents have a duty to safeguard the everyday lives of their children. Evading payments arbitrarily is inexcusable.

    The poverty rate of single-parent households is nearly 50%. In particular, single-mother households, which comprise the majority of single-parent households, are in dire financial straits. On average, such mothers' annual income earned from labor is only 2 million yen (about $19,100).

    The situation has gotten even worse under the novel coronavirus pandemic. A survey by an organization providing assistance to single-parent families found that nearly 70% of such families have seen or are expected to see their incomes fall.

    Unpaid child support is in part a factor that puts families in strained circumstances. A system in which child support is paid appropriately must be implemented as quickly as possible.

    First, payment must be agreed upon by both parties at the time of divorce. We must change the current situation in which at least half of single-mother families do not have an agreement in place with the children's fathers on child support payments.

    A Justice Ministry expert panel has recommended that the right to demand child support be clearly written into the Civil Code, so that it can be referred to when making arrangements upon divorce. The panel also sought that a system be introduced that allows for compulsory seizure if the parent raising the child reports the outstanding child support payments to a government body. From the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), there has even been a proposal to make it impossible to divorce as a general rule if child support payment arrangements are not agreed upon by both parties.

    However, in more than a few cases, discussions are not possible between the parties involved at the time of divorce due to domestic violence and other factors. Measures to alleviate the burden on people in such circumstances, through such efforts as simplifying required procedures at the courts, are necessary.

    Measures to prevent parents from falling behind on their child support payments are necessary as well. It is not easy for a single parent to take legal action against another parent who refuses to pay.

    In the U.S. and Europe, systems are in place so that the government or other administrative bodies pay child support, and those who have fallen behind in their payments reimburse those government agencies later, or such bodies can forcibly collect the money from those who owe child support. Japan should proceed with deliberations on implementing such a system.

    Creating a framework in which people can consult with legal experts is indispensable. And for such services to be accessible to the layperson, assistance from national and municipal governments are crucial.

    Up until now, Japan has lacked public commitment for support and raising children in cases of divorce. There is a need to lay down a framework that puts children's interests first, after making the duties of the parents clear.

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