Japan revamps child welfare, but tens of thousands still institutionalized

Tue Jun 28, 2016 1:07pm EDT
 
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By Chang-Ran Kim

TOKYO (Reuters) - A baby lies in a metal-bar cot drinking from a bottle perched on his pillow in a Tokyo orphanage. There's no one to hold and feed him or offer words of comfort.

The director of the institution, nurses scurrying busily around him, says he would like extra time and staff to pay more attention to the 70 babies and toddlers under his care, but it's not going to happen.

"I wish we could hold them in our arms, one by one," says Yoshio Imada. "Some people call this abuse. It's a difficult situation."

Japan last month passed a bill overhauling its 70-year-old Child Welfare Law, recognizing a child's right to grow up in a family setting. It is short on specific, immediate measures, but experts say it's a first step to making institutions a last resort, rather than the default position.

A staggering 85 percent of the 40,000 children who can't live with their parents in Japan are institutionalized, by far the highest ratio among rich countries and prompting repeated warnings from the United Nations. Even with the revised law, Japan's goal isn't lofty: family-based care for a third of those children by 2029.

The statistics raise the question: where can foster parents be found for tens of thousands of children in need?

    "We do the best we can but it's obvious that a one-on-one relationship that foster parents provide is better," says Kazumitsu Tsuru, who heads another infant institution in Tokyo.

"All children need someone who is dedicated only to them."   Continued...

 
Foster mother Asako Yoshinari and her 2-month-old foster baby boy are pictured at her home in Inzai, Chiba prefecture, Japan, June 24, 2016. Picture taken June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai