Diet passes bill granting Japanese nationality to children born out of wedlock


The Diet on Friday passed a bill to revise the Nationality Law, which had been blasted as unconstitutional and discriminatory against children of mixed couples born out of wedlock.

However, the discussions in the Diet did not go as smoothly as planned because of concerns over fake nationality claims and even some xenophobic messages from the public.

The revised law will allow children born to an unwed Japanese father and foreign mother to claim Japanese nationality if the father recognizes paternity. Under the old law, children whose fathers recognized paternity before birth were granted Japanese nationality. But those who were recognized after birth could not gain nationality unless their parents got married.

The Justice Ministry estimates that between 600 and 700 children a year will become eligible for Japanese nationality under the revised law, which will apply to children born after January 2003.

The bill passed by an overwhelming majority, with support from the ruling coalition, Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party.

Only three days of deliberations were enough to pass the legislation in both chambers of the Diet, thanks largely to an agreement reached between the LDP and Minshuto, the largest opposition party, to enact the revised law as soon as possible.

The government submitted the bill to the Diet in November, following a Supreme Court ruling in June that said a provision in the Nationality Law barring children born out of wedlock from attaining nationality was "unreasonably discriminatory and unconstitutional."

However, nine lawmakers from the opposition camp or independents voted against the bill, saying it lacked measures to prevent false nationality claims. Three LDP members abstained from voting.

Concerns about the bill started to intensify just before the Lower House unanimously passed the bill on Nov. 18.

About 100 lawmakers, mainly from the LDP, created a parliamentarian league calling for measures, such as DNA tests, to prevent false nationality claims.

The ruling party, eager to have the bill passed swiftly, warned members of the Lower House legal affairs committee that they would be replaced if they voted against the bill.

As a result, several members abstained from voting in the Lower House plenary session, and deliberations were completed in one day.

But after the bill was sent to the Upper House, objections were raised by members of Minshuto, which holds the most seats in the chamber. Some opposition lawmakers criticized the lack of debate on the bill in the Lower House.

Citizens opposed to the bill had inundated high-ranking officials and lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition camps with faxes and e-mail messages.

One Lower House member's office received enough faxes to create a 20-centimeter-high stack. Although most of the messages called for further revisions to stipulate DNA tests, at least one citizen, apparently concerned about the Japanese identity, said, "Japan will be overrun."

The Upper House committee devoted about seven hours over two days to deliberate the bill, about twice the amount of time in the Lower House.

The concerns over false claims stemmed from an increasing number of cases in which foreign nationals seeking to work in Japan for a long time arrange fake marriages with Japanese citizens to gain legal resident status.

Critics of the bill said that without the marriage requirement, some foreign women could pay Japanese men to falsely claim paternal recognition to acquire nationality for the children and obtain legal status for themselves to stay in the country.

To address the fears over false nationality claims, the ruling coalition and Minshuto submitted an additional resolution to the Upper House legal affairs committee. The resolution, which was adopted along with the bill on Friday, calls for the government to report on the application of the revised law every six months, as well as the need to introduce such measures as DNA tests to prevent abuse of the system.

In addition, the parties included a clause in the law that makes fake nationality claims punishable by a prison term of up to one year or a maximum fine of 200,000 yen.

Although crime experts say DNA tests could remove any doubts about paternity, Justice Ministry officials remain cautious about adopting the procedure, saying it could create a new form of discrimination against children of foreign parents. The Supreme Court's ruling in June recognized Japanese nationality for all 10 plaintiffs--children born out of wedlock to Filipino mothers and Japanese fathers.

Following the ruling, the Justice Ministry began work to lift the marriage requirement in the Nationality Law.

While the revised law could have an immediate effect of hundreds of children, it will also open the door for such children who live in their mother's countries.(IHT/Asahi: December 5,2008)