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Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008
Revised law removes barrier to nationality
The revised Nationality Law cleared the Diet Friday but only after lawmakers at the last minute managed to have a clause inserted to prevent what they claimed would be a surge in bogus paternal recognition cases.
The revised law cleared the Upper House with the nonbinding clause, which calls for applicants to submit pictures of offspring and fathers taken together to prevent false paternal recognition.
The resolution, which was revised from the version submitted by Lower House members, urges the Justice Ministry to report to the Diet every six months on its enforcement of the revised law.
A Lower House version of the clause has already stipulated the need to consider whether a scientific test is needed to prove the offspring-father relationship.
The revised Nationality Law will allow children born out of wedlock to a Japanese man and a foreign woman to obtain Japanese nationality even if the father acknowledges paternity after birth.
This is in line with a Supreme Court ruling on June 4 that a provision of the law on the status of such children is unconstitutional and violates the Constitution's Article 14, which stipulates equality under the law.
Before the revision, children could only receive Japanese nationality if the father admitted paternity during the mother's pregnancy, or if the couple married before the child turns 20.
"I am glad the revision cleared the Diet in a form that eliminates the discrimination," said Mizuho Fukushima, who heads the Social Democratic Party, one of the opposition parties.
The amendment, endorsed by the Cabinet in early November, was originally expected to swiftly clear the Diet without any opposition due to the Supreme Court ruling, as it was submitted by the government to correct the unconstitutional provision as soon as possible.
But just as the law was about to clear the Lower House, several lawmakers began raising concerns that the revision might lead to a surge in false paternal recognition cases and make it too easy too obtain Japanese nationality.
The revision includes a new penalty of up to a year in prison or a fine of up to ¥200,000 for those who make a false claim of nationality.
A Justice Ministry official said those who falsely recognize a child's paternity would also be guilty of forging the family registry, a crime that can draw a prison term of up to five years or a ¥500,000 fine.
Lawmakers headed by ex-trade minister Takeo Hiranuma pushed for the clause before the revised bill cleared the Lower House, claiming more deliberations were needed.
Many said they were not familiar with the details of the revision because they were busy preparing for a general election, which at the time was believed would take place just after Prime Minister Taro Aso took office in September.
They also said they were receiving hundreds of e-mails and petitions via fax from people who opposed the revision.
Because of the growing concern, the Upper House decided to take more time for discussions and also asked for opinions of unsworn witnesses, although some said these measures were still not sufficient.
Whether a DNA test should be applied to applicants was debated by lawmakers at length during the deliberations, including by Yasuo Tanaka, leader of New Party Nippon, who strongly advocated the need for such a test.
Other lawmakers said that since the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to discriminate against children based on whether their parents are married or not, it would be further discrimination to include DNA tests to the revision.
Fukushima of the SDP said it is important to prevent false recognition, but warned that if the debate focuses too much on that issue, it might shy away from cases of true recognition.
The Justice Ministry opposes the DNA test, claiming it would send the wrong signal by promoting the concept of a family based purely on biological ties.
In the nationality acquisition process, the ministry official said the ministry will carry out thorough and varied checks to prevent false recognition. For instance, it plans to ask how the couples met, why they applied for nationality and whether the fathers plan to support the children.