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Ten years after it adopted a United Nations convention on children’s rights, Japan still has a long way to go in terms of protecting these rights, according to participants at a Tokyo symposium this week.

The symposium, which took place Monday at United Nations University in Shibuya Ward, was held to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Japan’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It was sponsored by UNICEF and the Foreign Ministry, and was attended by scholars, politicians, lawyers, journalists and representatives of international and nongovernmental organizations.

The convention, adopted by the U.N. in November 1989, has been ratified by all but two countries — the United States and Somalia.

The Diet approved it March 29, 1994.

Various policies and measures have been implemented since its official ratification a month later, but Japan is facing a rise in reported cases of child abuse, bullying at schools and “enjo kosai” — compensated dating — involving minors.

In a keynote speech, Marta Santos-Pais, director of the UNICEF Innocenti Research Center, stated that, while an anniversary is a time for celebration, it is also a time for reflecting on areas in which progress has not been made.

“As mothers, teachers, or judges, we must always think of what needs to happen for the rights of children,” she said.

Santos-Pais, a Portuguese national, said this is also an opportunity for Japan to spearhead the promotion of children’s rights in Asia.

“The House of Representatives is now debating the eradication of sexual exploitation of children. This is an area where Japan can show its political leadership, as it is an important issue for other countries of the region as well,” she said.

She added that Japan can also become a model for Asia by introducing an ombudsman system to monitor children’s rights independently from government authorities.

This system is being adopted in Norway and other countries, she said.

Some participants were skeptical that Japan would be able to take on such a role; others were more optimistic.

Lower House member Seiko Noda of the Liberal Democratic Party said the Japanese people and government have always exhibited a very poor awareness of issues such as the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography.

“There are still many adults who indulge in child prostitution under such euphemisms as compensated dating and the Lolita complex. The LDP is just beginning to realize what human rights mean. . . . We are going to do something about it,” she said.

Shigehiro Takahashi, a professor at the Japan College of Social Work who has extensively researched children’s rights in Toronto, said that while Japan is well behind Canada in this field, many municipalities in Japan are introducing measures to improve the situation.

“In Canada, kids living in group homes or with foster parents are given a booklet that explains their rights, and Osaka Prefecture introduced a similar booklet after I reported about it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures recently established an administrative system to hear children’s complaints about their rights and relay their opinions to the proper authorities, he said.

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