The Tokyo District Court said Tuesday that the way the daughter of an unmarried couple has been registered in their family registry infringed on their privacy because it clearly shows she was born out of wedlock.
But the court rejected the couple’s claim for damages and alteration of the registry.
Presiding Judge Hiroyuki Shibata said: “Considering the general public consciousness on such an issue, it is understandable that one would not want to make open the fact that a child is born out of wedlock. There is also no rationality in the way it is now written, that makes one see such information at a glance.
“It violates the rights of privacy,” he added.
But he denied that government authorities were to blame, saying, “Even if there was such a breach of rights, we cannot say that the accused failed to perform their duties and desultorily let it happen.”
The judge said the couple’s claim is illegitimate because the format of the family registry is determined by the law, which would need to be revised to fulfill their demands.
Sumiko Tanaka, 56, Noboru Fukukita, 56, and their 18-year-old daughter sued the justice minister and the mayor of Tokyo’s Nakano Ward in November 1999, demanding nullification of the daughter’s ward’s family registry record, which lists the daughter only as “female.” The plaintiffs had sought compensation of 4 million yen.
Under the Family Registration Law, children born to a legally married couple are registered depending on their sex and order in which they are born, such as “first son” and “second daughter.”
But children born to couples not officially married are registered simply as “male” or “female,” making it obvious they were born out of wedlock.
The plaintiffs said that because a copy of the family registry is required on a number of occasions — such as when entering a school or company — the listing exacerbates social discrimination against children born out of wedlock.
They said it violates their privacy and the Constitution, which states that everyone is equal, as well as U.N. conventions that deal with the rights of women and children.
Authorities have claimed that the listing was necessary to simplify the distribution of parents’ assets to offspring for inheritance. Under the Civil Code, children born out of wedlock are entitled to only half the amount allotted to a legitimate child.
The plaintiffs called this arguments groundless, saying that when property is distributed, the family registries of all parties involved are examined and that detailed accounts of each individual’s identity are provided in separate entries in the registry.
During a news conference following the court decision, the plaintiffs said they will immediately appeal. They said they cannot understand why the court would admit there was discrimination and then do nothing about it.
“The judge said there is no rationality in showing at a glance in the (family registry) listing that a child was born out of wedlock,” the mother said. “But he then stated it was nevertheless ‘not illegal.’ The logic didn’t make sense and I had to ask our attorney whether we won or lost” the case.
She said it was regrettable that the court did not take into account the recommendations of international organizations to halt such discriminatory practices.
The U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women made such a recommendation to Japan in July. Also, the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child issued its second recommendation to Japan in January, she said.
The plaintiffs had filed another lawsuit demanding the discriminatory entry be corrected in resident registrations papers in 1988. The Supreme Court rejected this claim, but it became one of the factors that in 1995 pushed the Home Affairs Ministry to unify listings in the residency registers as “child.”