The granting of citizenship to a Japanese couple’s twins born to a U.S. surrogate mother last fall has been put on hold due to legal obstacles, the couple said Thursday.

The couple, who live in the Kansai region, said the Justice Ministry has yet to accept the notification of the birth of the twin boys on the grounds that it “cannot determine that there is a parent-child relationship” between the couple and the babies. The twins have been living in Japan since spring as U.S. citizens.

Although the government has been promoting legislation for fertility treatment, a health ministry panel in April compiled a final report recommending that surrogate births and the brokering of such births be banned. But experts said loopholes remain in the report, such as the fact that it fails to fully address cases in which the treatment takes place overseas.

The 55-year-old wife and her 53-year-old husband tried several fertility treatments to no avail, and in 2000 decided to seek the help of a company in California that arranges surrogate births.

According to the couple, eggs from an Asian-American woman were implanted in the womb of the surrogate mother, an American woman, via in vitro fertilization with the husband’s sperm. The twins were born in California last autumn.

By California law, the woman who signed the contract for the surrogate mother can become the child’s legal mother. State courts also ruled that the man was the twins’ father.

The couple obtained U.S. birth certificates for the twins, and submitted them, together with their application to register the babies’ births, to a Japanese consulate in the United States.

But the consulate refused to accept the application on grounds that the woman was too old, citing a circular issued by the Justice Ministry in 1961 that births by women aged 50 or over need to be confirmed.

The consulate is still discussing with the Justice Ministry how to deal with the case, the couple said.

“The Justice Ministry is trying to find a way to accept the birth registration,” the man said. “Disadvantages such as the need to keep renewing residency permits and problems involving school registration can occur (if the situation is not cleared up), so I hope the matter is settled as quickly as possible.”

Tsuguaki Hori of the Justice Ministry’s Civil Affairs Bureau explained that under the existing legal framework, the government could not accept the birth registration as long as it was clear that the Japanese woman had not given birth to the twins.

For the twins to gain Japanese nationality, the couple would have to get a new birth certificate that shows the American woman is their mother, adopt the babies and then take the necessary steps to have them become naturalized Japanese citizens, he said.

Experts say that at least 50 Japanese couples have had children through surrogate births overseas. According to Yuki Sumi, representative of the Japan Office of the Nevada Center for Reproductive Medicine, registration of the births of such children has been accepted based on birth certificates from the foreign country.

It just happened that this particular case came to light because of the woman’s age.

While measures have been taken to reduce the disadvantages of non-Japanese children on the education and welfare front, such as ensuring their eligibility for compulsory education, some experts say there are still drawbacks, including their ineligibility to vote.

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