Editorial: Efficient and swift measures to forestall unpaid baby assist wanted in Japan

A debate on possible legislative changes to prevent outstanding child support payments in Japan will soon begin as Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa has announced that she will be consulting the ministry’s legislative council on the matter.

According to a 2016 survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Affairs of an estimated 1.23 million households with only one mother, only 24% received child support payments.

Even if parents live separately, they are obliged to protect their children’s everyday lives. The arbitrary evasion of payments is inexcusable.

The poverty rate for single parents is almost 50%. In particular, single-parent households, which make up the majority of single-parent households, are in financial distress. The average annual labor income for these mothers is only 2 million yen (about $ 19,100).

The situation has worsened even further under the novel coronavirus pandemic. A survey by an organization that supports single parents found that nearly 70% of these families have seen or are expecting a drop in their income.

Unpaid child support is, in part, a factor that puts families in strain. A system in which child benefit is paid appropriately needs to be implemented as soon as possible.

First, payment must be agreed by both parties at the time of the divorce. We need to change the current situation, where at least half of single families have not reached an agreement with the fathers of the children on child support payments.

An expert panel from the Justice Department has recommended that the right to claim child benefit be clearly included in the Civil Code so that it can be referred to in divorce agreements. The panel also requested the introduction of a system that would allow for compulsory seizure when the parent raising the child reports outstanding child support payments to a government agency. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has even suggested that divorce is usually impossible unless both parties make agreements on child support payments.

However, in more than a few cases, domestic violence and other factors prevent conversations between the parties involved at the time of the divorce. Measures are needed to reduce the burden on people in such circumstances, for example by simplifying the necessary procedures in court.

Measures are also needed to prevent parents from defaulting on child support payments. It is not easy for a single parent to take legal action against another parent who refuses to pay.

The U.S. and Europe have systems in place for the government or other administrative agencies to pay child support, and those who are late in their payments later reimburse those government agencies, or such bodies may receive the money from those who owe children, forcibly move in support. Japan should consider introducing such a system.

It is essential to create a framework in which people can consult with legal experts. And in order for such services to be accessible to laypeople, support from national and local governments is vital.

So far, Japan has no public commitment to support and educate children in the event of divorce. A framework needs to be established that puts children’s interests first, after parents’ responsibilities have been clarified.

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