Nationality Law tweak lacks DNA test: critics

by Kazuaki Nagata

With the revised Nationality Law expected to clear the Diet soon, some ruling party lawmakers are at the last minute claiming the amendment may spark problems, such as possibly creating a “black market” in false paternal recognition.

However, it seems too late in the day for them to block passage, because the revised bill cleared the Lower House last week and the Upper House Justice Committee is entering the last stage of deliberations and is expected to vote as early as next week.

The amendment will allow children born out of wedlock to Japanese men and foreign women to obtain Japanese nationality if the father acknowledges paternity after the birth.

The revision 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, because it states the children can only receive Japanese nationality if the father admits paternity during the mother’s pregnancy, or if the couple get married before the child turns 20.

The government reportedly wants to swiftly pass the revision to correct this unconstitutional provision, but the opposing lawmakers claim the revision, which was brought to the Diet earlier this month, needs to be thoroughly discussed.

“If a law like this is misused, what will happen to the Japanese identity?” asked Takeo Hiranuma, a former trade minister widely considered a hardcore hawk, at an emergency meeting with 13 Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers last week to discuss issues arising from the revision.

Since the revision does not require any scientific evidence to prove a biological family link, many are now arguing that some kind of scientific proof, such as a DNA test, should be applied. Hiranuma criticized the revision for granting Japanese nationality without evidence, providing the father admits paternity.

It is rare for lawmakers to raise a bill’s technical problems after it has already been approved by both ruling parties and Cabinet members.

Many admitted it is their own fault that they did not become aware of the details of the revision until only recently, but claimed they were busy in the past few months preparing for the next general election, which, it had been widely assumed, would be held this fall.

One reason that made them act at this late stage was what they claim is the public questioning the amendment. Some lawmakers said there have been hundreds of comments written in their blogs, mostly warning of the potential problems the revision may bring.

“The comments will keep increasing and would go crazy if the revision clears the Diet,” said LDP Lower House member Toru Toida, who has been getting hundreds of comments in his blog.

If the revision clears the Diet, then “people would claim that the Diet is not doing a proper job,” Toida said.

The lawmakers’ concerns arose when the bill was scheduled to clear the Lower House on Nov. 18 after just three hours of deliberations.

On Nov. 17, Hiranuma and the other LDP lawmakers met and agreed more time was needed before a vote.

The revision cleared the Lower House as scheduled, but the group managed to attach an additional resolution submitted jointly by the ruling parties and from some of the opposition camp who have raised doubts about the revision.

The additional resolution contains four suggestions, including applying a scientific method to prove paternity.

The lawmakers opposed to the revision have also compared the revision with the cases of other countries. In a meeting last week, Hideki Makihara, an LDP Lower House member, pointed out the case of Germany, which revised its nationality law in 1998 and experienced the problem of false recognition, saying the situation is similar and Japan is likely to follow the same path.

But Yasuhiro Okuda, a Chuo University Law School professor, said the German and Japanese cases are not similar.

He pointed out that in Japan there are two checks before Japanese nationality is granted, as two separate documents must be submitted — one to recognize paternity and another to acquire nationality. In Germany, however, only a document of paternal recognition is required, he added.

This is a considerable difference, Okuda said, as applicants in Japan will have to go through various checks at legal affairs bureaus when they file to acquire nationality.

Therefore, the increase in false paternity recognition in Germany is not comparable with the case of Japan, where it would be difficult to forge all the necessary documents, Okuda said.

An official at the Justice Ministry also said the checks will be strict so it won’t be easy to forge the recognition.

Okuda also said that while the focus is being placed on false and fraudulent recognitions, the emphasis should instead be on the protection of true recognitions.