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Editorial: Measures needed in Japan to help Unification Church '2nd-generation' followers

Issues surrounding so-called "second-generation" followers of the Unification Church, whose parents are church members, have gained public attention in Japan. Cases of such children's rights being violated have been reported due to family breakups and other problems triggered by massive donations to the controversial religious group.

    On Sept. 28, a second-generation follower whose parents are both Unification Church members requested the Japanese government to come up with relief measures for people like her by establishing related laws, submitting some 70,000 signatures collected online.

    The issue of massive donations to the church came under the spotlight in the background of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's assassination.

    The Unification Church, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, claims that the group has made cumulative efforts to prevent large donations. The reality is, however, some of these children had no choice but to give up on their education after their parents used up the money intended for the family's living expenses and their children's education.

    Children's health and development in some cases are threatened. There are parents who are so involved in their religious activities that they end up neglecting their children. Some second-generation followers have been hurt mentally, after their parents banned them from choosing who to love on their own.

    During the government-sponsored telephone counseling, at least one second-generation church member said they've developed depression caused by the environment in which they grew up.

    Regarding parents' faith and human rights of their children, a separate religious group came under criticism after it was learned that their followers were abusing their children as physical discipline. These issues have been considered as "a family matter," and for a long time children have been in a position where they can't raise their voices.

    The reality also is that governments are not fully aware of the situation. They tend to be reluctant to get involved when it comes to cases concerning religion.

    According to the Japan Society for Cult Prevention and Recovery, a network made up of social psychologists and lawyers studying issues involving destructive cults, there have been cases where children who went to child consultation centers to seek help were told that the public institutions could not deal with religion-related issues and turned away.

    The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child considers a child as an entity to human rights and stipulates that their freedom of religion be respected. We must not overlook a situation in which the parent's religion is forced upon a child without consideration to their thought.

    In Japan, the government must first and foremost speed up efforts to understand the actual reality that these children face. It should also look into how child consultation centers and schools respond when they are approached by such children. Cooperation with the private sector is crucial to expand the support system for consultations.

    Adults must extend a helping hand so that no struggling child would be left isolated.

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