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Editorial: Revisions to paternity clause in Japan's Civil Code must put children first

A panel of the Justice Ministry's Legislative Council has proposed revisions to a stipulation in Japan's Civil Code which states a child born within 300 days of the mother's divorce is presumed to be fathered by her ex-spouse. The revisions, which would make an exception to this rule, are intended to address the problem of children being left unregistered.

    Over a decade has passed since the plight of such children emerged as a social problem, and the law should be amended quickly.

    Due to the 300-day stipulation, some women who have given birth soon after divorce to children fathered by their new partners have not registered their new babies, leaving them without a family register.

    A total of 3,393 people in Japan are known to have been left without family registers over the years. Even today, there are 901 such people, and 73% of these cases stem from the 300-day rule. If a person does not have a family register, they are unable to receive administrative services. Some have even been unable to attend school.

    Under the draft revision, the 300-day clause would remain, but if the mother is remarried at the time of the birth, then the child could be regarded as being fathered by her current husband as an exception. A clause that bans women from remarrying within 100 days of a divorce will also be abolished.

    Currently, however, only the woman's husband can deny paternity through court proceedings. Because of this, when a woman who leaves an abusive husband gives birth to a child fathered by a new partner, she can have trouble asking her ex-spouse to cooperate in court proceedings. The system can lead to women not registering births to avoid the child being recognized as the ex-husband's. In light of this, the proposed revisions grant the child and the mother the right to file to deny paternity.

    But even if the law is revised, outstanding issues remain. There are many women who are unable to marry their new partners after getting a divorce. In such circumstances, the exception to the 300-day rule does not apply to them, and the problem remains unsolved.

    The system of presuming a child has been fathered by the woman's former spouse within 300 days of her divorce is a vestige of Japan's Meiji period (1868-1912). It was established to stabilize father-child relations immediately after birth, and avoid having children being in an unstable position.

    However, advancements in DNA analysis have made it easier to establish blood relations. And views on marriage and the constitution of families have diversified. Japan should consider whether the 300-day rule is even necessary today. Forming the background to this issue is the family register system, and some in our society have advocated for that to be revised as well.

    We cannot have a situation where children are left at a disadvantage due to circumstances at the time of their birth. Japan should quickly introduce revisions to ensure no more children are left without family registers.

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