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Paternity issues also strain Japan-U.S. alliance

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KOBE – For the past four years, I have served as a pro bono adviser to a women’s rights organization based in Okinawa Prefecture, where I lived for eight years. The nonprofit organization was established in 2007 to provide counseling to women in matters of marriage, divorce, domestic violence and child support. It received 11 consultation requests in its first year, but the numbers have quadrupled in recent years, including several in mainland Japan.

In those involving pregnancy or children, the consultations include ninchi, the recognition of paternity (and the cooperation in determining it through DNA tests when paternity is initially denied); kokuseki, the acquisition of citizenship so the child has those inherent rights; and yoikuhi, financial support to raise the child. Tracking down the fugitive father or deadbeat dad is necessary, too, and requires a lot of time. I sometimes feel as if we have become paternity policemen.

These latter issues not only involve Japanese men and foreign men, but also especially those in the U.S. military assigned to Japan. This is the dark side of some exchanges — an ignored, unwanted or abused child, forgotten responsibilities, a shattered mother and a hole left not only in their lives but in the Japan-U.S. relationship.

In this case, there are in effect two bureaucracies to be battled — the Japanese side and the U.S. one. Okinawa Prefecture, unfortunately, has a high rate of child poverty and has little in the way of support services despite the endless flow of money from the central government. There are also social stigmas attached to children born out of wedlock, and of mixed ethnicity, and especially those who do not know who their father is or have a relationship with him.

In some cases, the mother has also lost hope and is unable to cope, and the child falls between the cracks. A vicious cycle of poverty and neglect sets in, further burdening the welfare system. Unfortunately, the Foreign Ministry and its Okinawa Liaison Office headed by a full ambassador does nothing to help.

Turning to the U.S.........

© The Japan Times