Japan is not exactly a country of clear and open communication. That must be one reason why so few people here ever know about any given social problem. But the constant stream of news reports of women killing their babies makes this issue hard to ignore. It also makes me wonder why the Japanese government doesn’t shout from the roof tops what it only whispers now: “Bring us your child, anytime for any reason… no scolding and no risk.”
I have been very critical of Japan’s propensity to put babies in orphanages and leave them there for years without hope of adoption. I’ve also criticized the unwillingness of Japan to sever the parental rights of abusive parents. But on the other hand, there can be no other country that gives its citizens such a strong way of escape from child abuse, let alone infanticide.
If a mother in Japan feels she can’t take care of her baby or child, she need only go to her local government office. The government will allow her to put her child into an orphanage, short-term or long-term and walk away. She can visit the child regularly—or not—and also come back through the system and get her child back. The government may at most terminate parental rights temporarily if there is evidence of severe abuse.
While of course I don’t agree with this system, I think since the system exists, people need to know about it. Parents should know that the government will gladly take good care of their babies for them if they are unable to do so for any reason. And if a young girl under 18 is pregnant and wants to give birth but has no one to support her, the government will provide a place for her to live and cover all her expenses. There are also dorms, free health care and very generous welfare for single or desperate mothers of any age who are without resources.
I realize the government is setting up phone consultation services, but I have found that the most at-risk women are often not likely to seek out help. The incredible support system for mothers and children here needs to be simply and broadly communicated so that it becomes common knowledge. While knowledge isn’t going to stop some cases, I believe there are others who would take advantage of the system if they knew they would not be scolded and would not permanently lose their children. I have been impressed with how gently government workers here deal with at-risk women and go out of their way to be reassuring and helpful.
Of course, prevention of the problem would be best. For this, parents are key. Unfortunately, another communication problem in Japan is between parents and children. As someone involved in helping pregnant women, I can say from experience that Japanese parents in general do not talk to their children about sex, at all. There is an un-spoken understanding that young people will engage in sex, but parents don’t want to know about it. Further, while sex isn’t wrong, getting pregnant is unforgiveable. And even worse is getting pregnant and not taking care of it (via abortion) and causing the family embarrassment or trouble.
Abortion appears to be the primary means of birth control here, and I can attest to the emotional toll it is taking on so many. No one wants to enter adulthood with an abortion experience hanging over her head and weighing down her heart. Parents need to talk to their children frankly about sex and all that comes with it. And a main point needs to be that they want their daughters to always feel that they can come to them if they are pregnant and ask for help. Parents need to make sure daughters know that they are more important than the eyes of the neighbors.
It’s also been strange for me to see how many young women who come from middle class families engage in sex-related jobs. I have seen the toll this kind of work takes on the character of girls, not to mention the unwanted pregnancies and abused children that result. Somehow, Japanese young women need to see that taking money for sexual activity is not just one more acceptable option for making a living. Parents need to clearly teach their daughters that they are too valuable and precious to sell their bodies. The women are the ones who have to deal with the consequences long after the money is gone.
It seems obvious that, as the population dwindles and precious lives are left to die in the trash and public restrooms, fatally neglected and even violently killed, the Japanese government should launch a full-scale campaign about its desire and ability to save at-risk children. The system doesn’t need to be secretive with information only available to those with the motivation to seek it out.
And when mothers come to drop off their infants, I hope the government will ask if they are interested in giving their baby up for adoption. I believe a significant number of women would be interested if asked. Then, instead of swelling the orphanages, the many Japanese parents waiting to adopt could see their dream fulfilled.
In addition, parents need to be urged to take responsibility for the sexual education of their children instead of leaving it to the schools, pornographic manga, peers, etc. A little embarrassment isn’t a high price to pay to keep your daughter (and grandchild) from becoming another tragic statistic.
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