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Committee on the Rights of the Child examines the report of Japan

GENEVA (17 January 2019)  - The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined fourth and fifth periodic report of Japan on measures taken to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Introducing the report, Masato Ohtaka, Ambassador in Charge of United Nations Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, at the outset, recalled that 2019 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the adoption of the landmark Convention on the Rights of the Child and the twenty-fifth anniversary of its ratification by Japan, and stressed the significance of the Convention for children confronted with increasingly difficult situations, especially conflict, brutal violence and displacement around the globe. Japanese children today faced challenges such as bullying, abuse, sexual exploitation and poverty, while the rapidly aging society and the decreasing birth rate were a particularly urgent issue and should be called a national crisis.  To overcome those obstacles, Japan was spearheading efforts to establish a robust social system in which all generations, including children, could enjoy their peace of mind.  It was making a bold investment in children and families with small children who would play a vital role in Japan’s future, including by eliminating the waiting time for admission to childcare facilities, committing to making early childhood education free of charge by October 2019, and introducing, by April 2020, free tuition for higher education for those who truly needed such assistance.  Reform of the social security system into one that was oriented to all generations was being advanced and initiatives to ensure that all children could pursue their dreams regardless of their families’ financial circumstances were being implemented.  In June 2018, Japan had raised the age of legal marriage for both girls and boys to 18 years, and in 2013 it had made the share of inheritance of a child born out of wedlock the same as the share of inheritance of a child born in wedlock.  In conclusion, Mr. Ohtaka stressed that Japan would lead the promotion of the Sustainable Development Goals, with the empowerment of the next generations and women was one of its main policy pillars.

Japan was one of the strongest economies in the world, Committee Experts remarked at the beginning of the dialogue, noting with concern that because of the focus on economic competition, it did not seem to be as child-friendly as one would wish.  Current legislation was not based on children’s rights and did not incorporate the provisions of the Convention, so Japan should adopt a comprehensive law on children’s rights and a comprehensive childhood policy and strategy.  The regulation of parent-child relationships and the functioning of alternative care were of concern, Experts said, mentioning in particular custody law which did not allow shared custody and effectively prevented a child from keeping meaningful contacts with the non-custodial parent.  Experts raised concern about the high number of children removed from the family environment and the prohibition of children in institutions to keep contact with their parents; the highly competitive educational environment geared exclusively to high achievers; education for children with disabilities which was a far cry from inclusive education; and the fact that only three percent of health establishments carried the child-friendly label.  The Committee commended the maximum age of juvenile justice under 20, which was in line with the science on the adolescent brain, but expressed concern that – contradictorily – individuals as young as 18 at the time of the commission of an offense received the death penalty, and urged Japan to raise its age of criminal responsibility from 14 years.  The delegation was asked to explain how it dealt with the aftermath of the 2011 nuclear tragedy in Fukushima and its continued negative impact on children.

In concluding remarks, Kirsten Sandberg, Coordinator of the Committee’s Task Force on Japan, said there were still challenges in Japan, namely in the area of corporal punishment, discrimination and appreciation of diversity, listening to children’s views in individual cases and in policy-making, juvenile justice, and alternative care.  The concluding observations should be seen as a guidance on how to improve children’s rights in the country. 

Mr. Ohtaka in his concluding remarks, recognized the shared passion for the advancement of children’s rights and reassured the Committee that its comments and concluding observations would be listened to carefully.

The delegation of Japan consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cabinet Office, National Police Agency, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, and the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations Office at Geneva. 

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings will be available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 18 January at 3 p.m. to review the combined fourth to sixth periodic report of Bahrain (CRC/C/BHR/4-6).

Report

The Committee has before it the combined fourth to fifth periodic report of Japan (CRC/C/JPN/4-5).

Presentation of the Report

MASATO OHTAKA, Ambassador in Charge of United Nations Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, at the outset, recalled that 2019 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the adoption of the landmark Convention on the Rights of the Child and the twenty-fifth anniversary of its ratification by Japan, and stressed the significance of the Convention for children confronted with increasingly difficult situations, especially conflict, brutal violence and displacement around the globe.  Japanese children today faced challenges such as bullying, abuse, sexual exploitation and poverty, while the rapidly ageing society and decreasing birth rate were a particularly urgent issue and should be called a national crisis.  To overcome those obstacles, the Government of Japan was spearheading efforts to establish a robust social system in which all generations, including children, could enjoy their peace of mind.  It was making a bold investment in children and families with small children who would play a vital role in Japan’s future, including by eliminating the waiting time for admission to childcare facilities, committing to making early childhood education free of charge by October 2019, and introducing, by April 2020, free tuition for higher education for those who truly needed such assistance.  Furthermore, Japan would advance efforts over the coming three years to reform the social security system into one that was oriented to all generations. 

In order to tackle child poverty in a comprehensive manner, the Government of Japan was taking initiatives in many areas to realize a society in which all children could pursue their dreams regardless of their families’ financial circumstances, including by expanding child rearing allowances and scholarships.  Japan had adopted a law and policy to prevent bullying at the earliest stages in a comprehensive and effective way and was engaged in a range of other measures such as introducing surveillance guidelines for suicide due to bullying and non-attendance at school, enhancing moral education, and assigning more school counsellors and school social workers.  The Child Welfare Act and the Act on the Prevention of Child Abuse amended in June 2016 guaranteed the right of the child to healthy growth, development and self-reliance, while the implementation of the Urgent Comprehensive Plan to Strengthen the Prevention of Child Abuse was contributing to the creation of a society wherein children’s lives were protected.  Also, steps were being taken to enhance public awareness regarding the eradication of child sexual exploitation, and to support children and families to ensure the sound growth of children without victimization by sexual exploitation. 

With the historic revision of the Civil Code in June 2018, Japan had raised the age of legal marriage for both girls and boys to 18 years, while the 2013 revision of the Civil Code had made the share of inheritance of a child born out of wedlock the same as the share of inheritance of a child born in wedlock.  The Penal Code, revised in 2017, had reviewed the elements related to rape and had changed the stipulation that victims of rape be limited to women and girls.  Victims, including children, would no longer be required to file a criminal complaint in order for the offender to be prosecuted.  Since the last review in 2010, Japan had become a party to The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in 2014 and to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children in 2017, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Translational Organized Crime.  Also, Japan intended to lead the promotion of the Sustainable Development Goals, with the empowerment of the next generations and women as one of its main policy pillars.

Questions by the Country Rapporteur

KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Coordinator of the Committee’s Task Force on Japan, recalled the nuclear tragedy in Fukushima in 2011 and its continued negative impact on children, and noted that in Japan, one of the strongest economies of the world, children faced challenges that were rather different from children in other countries.  Because of its focus on economic competition, the country did not seem to be as child-friendly as one would wish.

Turning to the legal and policy framework, the Coordinator urged Japan to reconsider its position concerning the adoption of a comprehensive law on children’s rights, since the existing laws and regulations did not incorporate the Convention and were not based on children’s rights.  It should also adopt a comprehensive childhood policy and strategy.  The delegation was asked to explain the budgeting process and how children’s rights were therein integrated.  What plans were in place to improve data collection in the area of children’s rights? 

Ms. Sandberg recalled that the bill on establishing a new national human rights institution had been scrapped and asked for an update on the status of a national human rights institution.  Japan should also consider making the local children ombudspersons more independent and consider expanding them from the current 32 units to the whole country.  Could the delegation inform on the activities in the domain of business and human rights? 

Abusive corporal punishment was explicitly prohibited, while parents continued to be allowed to physically punish their children within the scope necessary for care and disciplinary education.  This meant that the law only prohibited abuse and not corporal punishment, which was still widely acceptable by the society.  What was being done to educate parents that the use of violence in upbringing of children was unacceptable and train them on non-violent child rearing?  What support and advice was available to parents to prevent abuse and neglect of children in families?  Were there any studies on the root causes of abuse and neglect in families, and in institutions?

Turning to bullying, the Coordinator inquired about steps taken to make the school environment more open and tolerant and to teach children to appreciate diversity.  What channels were in place for children to report bullying and sexual abuse, all the while ensuring that victims were not stigmatized?

Japan had not yet endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, said Ms. Sandberg, wondering why it had not done so because Japan had welcomed these guidelines at the Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict in 2015.  What was Japan doing to ensure that schools were not being used for military purposes?

Questions by Committee Experts

Other Committee Experts welcomed the Civil Code reform in June 2018 that had raised the legal age of marriage to 18 for both girls and boys, and noting that the reform would enter into force three years later, asked what measures were in place to prevent child marriages until then.

Japan had stated that the law prohibited any form of discrimination and that it would not adopt a specific comprehensive anti-discrimination law, the Expert said, and asked when Japan would completely eliminate the concept of “illegitimate child” from laws and regulations, noting that the system of birth registration was still based on differentiation between children born within a marriage or not.  Furthermore, there was discrimination in practice towards ethnic minority children, children of non-Japanese, migrant children, and children with disabilities.

How was the best interest of the child being applied in different contexts?

The high suicide rate in Japan, particularly among adolescents, was a cause of great concern to the Committee.  What were the results of the measures taken to prevent suicide to date?  What measures were being adopted to reduce the number of child deaths in accidents?

Another Expert took note of the lack of legislation and regulation on statelessness and urged Japan to adopt relevant international instruments.  Would Japan expand its nationality law to ensure that children who could not obtain the nationality of their parents were automatically granted Japanese nationality?

Replies by the Delegation

With regard to the comprehensive implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a delegate explained that the Ministry for Foreign Affairs was responsible for the implementation while the Cabinet Office served as an overall coordinator.  At the moment, there were no plans to adopt a comprehensive law, but Japan made sure that the Convention’s provisions were covered in ongoing activities.  As for the reservations, studies were ongoing on the issue and also to identify how Japan could further improve the implementation of the Convention; for the time being, there was no intention to withdraw the reservations.  The best interest of the child was reflected in the national action programme pursuant to the law on development and support for children and youth.  All line ministries aligned their actions and measures with this programme, while the Cabinet Office acted as the overall coordinator. 

There were diverging opinions in the country concerning the mandate of the new national human rights institution; the debate was ongoing, all the while keeping in mind the Paris Principles.  In terms of cooperation with civil society, Japan participated in the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children, and was considering holding an event with the United Nations Children’s Fund to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention.  A roundtable to promote the Sustainable Development Goals had been set up, in which representatives of the Government, civil society, business, academia and international organizations took part. 

The very first plan on businesses and human rights was being formulated, and ideas and opinions from key stakeholders, civil society organizations included, had been collected, and the consultation with the public was now ongoing.  Data on the population, health, education and labour, etc. was systematically collected and published in the form of white papers on children and young people. 

All children, regardless of the family circumstances, had the right to support in education and employment.  Twenty-five indices had been developed to assess the situation of children in Japan, including on child poverty; in 2012, 16.3 per cent of children lived in relative poverty, and this rate had been reduced to 13.9 per cent in 2015 by over two per cent since 2012.  Tackling poverty among children was a national priority in which all the society was involved.

There was no legal definition of corporal punishment.  Parents had the responsibility to prioritize the best interest of the child in their disciplinary measures, and not punish the child beyond the scope needed to discipline.  Japan was working on eliminating corporal punishment in the society, which required a step by step approach, starting with educating families about the negative impact of corporal punishment on the body and brain of the child.  There were centres throughout the country to support families in non-violent disciplinary methods and techniques.  At school, the human rights of students must be respected and all students must be treated humanely and warmly, another delegate said, underlining that corporal punishment in schools was explicitly prohibited.  All use of corporal punishment against a student was sanctioned and disciplined.

Awareness was indispensable in the fight against bullying, stressed the delegation, outlining the steps involved in the investigation of bullying acts and identification and assistance to victims.  In terms of the children helpline, a total of 12,975 mini SOS letters had been received from children in 2017, which had been followed by over 16,000 consultations.    

The Safe Schools Declaration was getting a lot of attention in Japan and had even been discussed in Parliament.  In the case of Japan, the constitution did not allow Self Defense Forces to go overseas for combat operations and, although supporting the basic objective of the Safe Schools Declaration, Japan did not intend to actually express its direct support to the declaration itself. 

A ministerial conference to combat crime in April 2017 had discussed the sexual exploitation of children, an issue that was addressed in cooperation with the private sector.  The June 2018 revision of the Civil Code which had raised the age of marriage for girls from 16 to 18 would come into force on 1 April 2022; until then, a girl aged 16 and above could marry.  The rules of the family registration system had been revised in 2014, removing the distinction between children based on whether they were born in wedlock or not, but there were at the moment no initiatives to remove the concept of “illegitimate child” from the legislation, which overwhelmingly supported legal marriage rather than cohabitation. 

Questions by Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, Committee Experts expressed concern as to how the law regulated parent-child relationships and how alternative care functioned.  Would Japan revise the rule that did not allow divorced parents to share custody and so allow the child to keep meaningful contact with the non-custodial parent?  According to the law, a divorce of the married couple also represented an effective “divorce” of one of the parents from the child, to the extent that it was possible for the custodial parent to put the child up for adoption without the consent of the other parent.

The Committee was concerned about the high number of children removed from the family environment – were there child removal guidelines, and was there support available to parents to avoid and prevent the removal of the child?  How were children heard in such matters and where were they placed upon the removal from the family?  Why were the children in institutions not allowed to stay in contact with their parents?

Could the delegation clarify what was considered as international adoption in Japan?

The law on education had been amended and special education had been converted to education for children with disabilities, but this policy was a far cry from inclusive education.  What was being done to promote inclusive education, including to provide sufficient human and financial resources?  How could children with disabilities access specialized health services and what was being done to raise awareness about the rights of persons with disabilities in order to fight discrimination and prejudice?

Only three per cent of health establishments carried the United Nations Children’s Fund label of child-friendly, the Experts said, raising concern about the increase of HIV prevalence rates among adolescents and youth and the use of drugs.  What were the criteria for assigning a child to mental health facilities and what was being done to help the children impacted by the Fukushima disaster?

With regard to the highly competitive educational environment, the delegation was asked whether Japan was satisfied with it and whether any studies had been made to ascertain how suited it was to children who were not high achievers.

A group of children of concern were juveniles in conflict with the law as it seemed possible to send them arbitrarily to juvenile rehabilitation homes.  Could the delegation explain the functioning of the Family Court?  About 20 years ago, Japan had lowered the minimum age for criminal punishment from 16 to 14 as it had been concerned about crimes committed by 14 and 15 year-old children; did it now have the data about crime rates – which were dropping overall – and could it raise the minimum age for criminal punishment to 16 years of age again?

The Committee commended Japan for having the maximum age of juvenile justice at 20 which was in line with the science on the adolescent brain, but was concerned about the system of the death penalty where the minimum age was 18.  In fact, several young people aged 18 and 19 had been sentenced to death - could the delegation explain the contradiction? 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that Japan had been providing information to residents, including children, on activities taken to deal with the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident, including guidelines that had been issued to schools on how to provide safety and security for children and notices on acceptable levels of radiation.  A website was regularly updated with information on radiation levels, and a comprehensive radiation monitoring plan had been issued on 2 August 2011.  Prior to the lifting of evacuation orders, public meetings had been held to explain to the residents the radiation levels. 

Japan was fully engaged in the reconstruction and revitalization of the Fukushima Prefecture and was providing support to those wishing to return and rebuild their communities.  Subsidies were also being provided to the Fukushima Citizen Health Management Fund.  Fukushima Prefecture was conducting prefectural health research projects utilizing this fund. Specifically, these research projects included the basic research based on the behavioral research to grasp the external exposure dose of all citizens in Fukushima Prefecture; and a thyroid test for all citizens who were generally 18 years old or younger at the time of the nuclear accident.  Around 380,000 people were eligible for the thyroid test.  Potential health hazards were being addressed.  Safe spaces had been created where children could freely discuss psychical and psychological impacts of the accidents, while mental health support in schools had been strengthened.  In terms of evacuees who could not return, the Government organized exchange meetings and public relation activities, in order to maintain their communities.

With regard to discrimination against minorities, the delegation said that in 2016, a law had been introduced to eliminate discrimination against the Burakumin.  A lot of awareness raising activities on the human rights of “South Korean” and “North Korean” residents were ongoing, while the Hate Speech Elimination Act declared that discriminatory behaviour and language towards foreign nationals would not be tolerated.  Awareness raising activities on the rights of sexual minorities were being undertaken as well.  As for the Ainu people, an office in the Cabinet Secretariat was dedicated to Ainu affairs.  There were many foreign national high schools in Japan which enjoyed the same rights as Japanese schools to receive tuition support as long as they met the set education standards.  Korean national schools did not meet those standards, therefore did not qualify for the high school tuition support.

Additional funds were being allocated to ensure a sufficient number of specialized education assistants for children with disabilities.  Children with developmental disabilities had the right to be included in mainstream education, which meant that teachers had to be trained in the learning needs of such children.  As of the 2019 fiscal year, all new teachers received such training in special education.

The objective of the Juvenile Act was to promote the healthy development of a juvenile.  It set out the procedure to deal with juvenile delinquency, the purpose of which was not to penalize and punish but to rehabilitate and support.  Juveniles could be confined to juvenile training schools, which were not seen as places of detention because their purpose was entirely different.  For juveniles under the age of 18 at the time of the commission of an offense punishable by the death penalty, the sentence would be commuted to a life imprisonment with a possibility of parole.  The Juvenile Act also defined that juveniles under the age of 20 who received life imprisonment sentences were entitled to parole after having served seven years, while for adults this period was 10 years.

All decisions related to the removal of a child from the family environment were taken by the Child Guidance Centre, which listened to both the child and the family.  In case of a diverging opinion between the Centre and the family, the final decision would be made by the Family Court.  The law had set the right of the child to be heard and express her or his views at the age of 15, and there were appropriate channels to hear younger children.  Japan did not intend to change the law to provide for the right of younger children to be heard.  The right to vote had been lowered to 18 years of age by a legal reform in 2014, which had also lifted a restriction to political activities in high schools.

The situation in schools was not as severe as it had been, a delegate said, noting that 98 per cent of junior high school students graduated and went on to senior high school.  A more comprehensive university entry assessment would take effect from 2020, moving away from academic records and achievements alone.

A possibility of joint custody was currently under discussion.  Since divorced parents sometimes would not reach an agreement concerning the care of a child in a timely manner, and it might cause adverse results in terms of the best interest of the child, more thorough discussion was needed for the implementation of joint custody.

Concerning the protection of stateless children, the delegation explained that a child born in Japan to stateless parents was given Japanese nationality, while a stateless child who was born in Japan residing for over three years in the country could access the facilitated naturalization process. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

Committee Experts, in follow-up questions, addressed the Optional Protocols and asked about the outcomes of the specialized plans to fight trafficking in children, and whether the recruitment of children in armed conflicts would be expressly criminalized.

KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Coordinator of the Committee’s Task Force on Japan, asked whether the Penal Code would penalize anyone who used their authority or power to violate children’s rights and abuse the children, considering that currently only guardians were sanctioned.  The delegation was asked to explain how its coal production was aligned with the climate change responsibility, including towards the younger generations.  How were children, and their views and needs, integrated in disaster preparedness and mitigation plans?  The Coordinator pointed to a correlation between poverty and child removal from the family environment and asked about the support available to poor parents.  Could the delegation explain the criminalization of pornography and the efforts to increase sanctioning of child online prostitution and pornography?

There were more than 100,000 children with disabilities in special education facilities, another Expert remarked, which was contrary to the Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education and the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which stressed the right to inclusive education.  What did Japan intend to do concerning the deinstitutionalization of over 17,000 children with disabilities currently in institutions and what resources were being allocated for the process?

The Committee was concerned about the growing number of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, often without using adequate diagnostic guidelines, and that the leading form of therapy was the use of psychostimulant drugs which were extremely harmful to children’s health.  In fact, Japan was the world’s third largest market for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder pharmaceuticals, and a growing proportion of the users were children.  Were non-pharmaceutical therapies and treatments available?

An Expert pointed to a contradiction whereby only children above the age of 15 had the right to be heard and voice opinion, and at the same time, criminal responsibility had been set at the age of 14.

Replies by the Delegation

Addressing the question on whether the radiation level in Fukushima was low enough or not, the delegation said, “Yes, they are.” This was a kind of question the Government was very much determined to address. There was a lot of misunderstanding around the world about this.

The Board of Education decided where children with disabilities would be enrolled, on the basis of the level and type of disability, specialized assistance needed, and the ability of the education system in that region to provide that assistance.  The child and his or her parent or guardian were also heard.  The delegation emphasized the need to improve teacher training and the availability of specialized assistance, and to undertake targeted research.

The Act on Regulation and Punishment of Acts Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Protection of Children prohibited the production and possession of so-called image videos and erotic images of persons clothed in an erotic way that met the requirement of Article 2 (3)(iii) of the Act.  Sexual exploitation online was on the increase and police forces were working hard to minimize the damage, and there were efforts to promote the use of filtering on the Internet in order to prevent the child from looking at inappropriate materials.  There was a vigorous crackdown on the practices and manifestations of the “JK business” (the practice of compensated dating with adolescent girls), which would continue.

There was no institution of joint custody in Japan, but it was nevertheless still possible for a non-custodial parent to continue to maintain a relationship with the child.  Often, the visitation rights were discussed during the divorce proceedings.

Children born in a marriage were registered as the child of the husband, while those born within 300 days from the time of divorce were assumed to be the husband’s child, who was then entered into the family register as the father.  The mother of the child born within 300 days following the divorce had the option not to register the birth of the child, which Japan recognized was problematic.

Japan’s action in the area of child poverty was guided by a firm belief that the future of the child should not depend on the family’s environment.  Currently, 13.9 per cent of children lived in relative poverty, down from 16.3 per cent in 2012.  The law and policy on child poverty had been adopted in 2013, under which comprehensive assistance, including education and livelihood support, child rearing allowance and scholarships, was being provided to poor families.  Child rearing allowances for families with multiple children had been doubled, the scholarship programme expanded, and support to single parent families had been increased. 

Japan was the frontrunner in the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol and remained committed to ensuring a clean environment, including by reducing its CO2 emissions by 26 per cent by 2030.  As regard to export of coal-fired technology, Japan helped countries that needed to use coal-fired technology with better technology to reduce harmful emissions.

Concluding Remarks

KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Coordinator of the Committee’s Task Force on Japan, concluded by thanking the delegation for the open and constructive dialogue.  There were still challenges in Japan, namely in the area of corporal punishment, discrimination and appreciation of diversity, listening to children’s views in individual cases and in policy-making, juvenile justice, and alternative care.  The Committee’s concluding observations should be seen as guidance as to how to improve children’s rights in Japan. 

MASATO OHTAKA, Ambassador in Charge of United Nations Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, in his concluding remarks, recognized the shared passion for the advancement of children’s rights and reassured the Committee that its comments and concluding observations would be listened to carefully.  The Committee’s role was to encourage States parties to advance the rights of the child, he said, thanking the Experts for acknowledging the advances made in the past nine years.   

RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson, in her closing, referred to Japanese social and cultural values, and noted that for children, sometimes it was hard to accept the values and traditions of their grandparents.

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