TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan on Friday passed a bill to grant citizenship to more children born out of wedlock to foreign women and Japanese men, in a change that has sparked calls from lawmakers for DNA testing to prevent fraud.
The fuss over the amendment, which could affect thousands of children, underscores Japan's sensitivity over homogeneity, seen as a barrier to immigration that could help the country ease the problems of its aging population.
Under the new law, children of Japanese fathers and non-Japanese mothers may apply for nationality at any time before the age of 20, provided their father has acknowledged them, the Justice Ministry said.
Previously, the father had to claim the child before birth, or marry the mother before the child reached the age of 20, to enable him or her to become Japanese.
That rule was effectively overturned in June when the Supreme Court ruled in a case brought by 10 Japanese-Filipino children living in Japan that it was unconstitutional to limit nationality to those whose parents were married.
Since the late 1970s, thousands of Filipino women have moved to Japan to work as entertainers. Many have had children with Japanese men.
Several lawmakers have expressed concern about the possibility of fraudulent paternity claims. The new law stipulates fines or prison sentences in such cases and contains a clause obliging the government to look into the feasibility of DNA testing.
"If a law like this is misused, what will happen to the Japanese identity?" the English-language daily Japan Times quoted right-wing lawmaker Takeo Hiranuma as saying last month.
One expert said that it would be difficult to prove the reliability of DNA tests, but that there was unlikely to be a flood of fraudulent applications.
"I don't think there will be a huge increase," said lawyer Hironori Kondo, who represented some of the children in the Supreme Court case. "There are already cases of fake marriage, where the children can then get citizenship just on the basis of paperwork. This won't make it any easier."
Since the Supreme Court ruling, about 130 children have applied for citizenship ahead of the passage of the bill. The Justice Ministry estimates the change could affect hundreds of children every year.
Japan did not grant nationality to children of Japanese women and foreign fathers until 1985, but this is now a matter of course.
Reporting by Isabel Reynolds; Editing by Bill Tarrant