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Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Shielding kids from parental abuse
A revised civil law came into force on April 1 with a provision for suspending parental prerogatives for up to two years to protect children from parental violence or neglect. The revised civil law also makes clear that parental protection and education of children must be done for the sake of the children's interests.
It also limits parents' right to discipline their children to the extent needed for the sake of protection or education. It is hoped that the revised law will enhance the ability of child welfare facilities and local governments to help children who are experiencing difficulties with their parents.
Under the revised civil law, in cases in which parents' actions harm the interests of their children, a family court can suspend parental prerogatives for up to two years at the request of the children or their relatives, public prosecutors, heads of consultation offices for children and legally designated guardians of minors.
This will enable local governments and children's welfare facilities to protect children from dangers posed by their parents. Parental prerogatives can be restored when the family court deems parents no longer pose a threat to their children.
The Diet passed the revised civil law in May 2011. Behind the legislative move was a rise in the number of child abuse cases. In fiscal 2010, the number of cases in which consultations offices for children took action topped 50,000 for the first time.
Compared with the traditional provision of permanently revoking parental prerogatives, which was rarely invoked, the provision for temporary suspension of parental prerogatives is a step forward because it enables family courts to flexibly deal with difficult parent-child relationships.
In many past cases, parents took advantage of their parental prerogatives to prevent children' welfare facilities from taking action to protect children. Nonetheless, suspension of parental prerogatives should be a final measure after all other efforts to restore positive parent-child relations have failed. It will be important for children's welfare facilities, local governments and other parties concerned to develop their counseling skills and form a network to help children and their parents restore or develop positive relationships.