National

Attorney group to offer free advice to ID-less 'mukoseki' citizens

by Atsushi Kodera

Staff Writer

Japan’s attorneys are planning a wide-scale effort to advise people trapped in mukoseki status who are deprived of basic government services because they do not appear on family registries and thus lack legal identity.

In response to a government request, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations will conduct a free, daylong toll-free advice session Wednesday, followed by a wider nationwide response through its regional bar association network.

For the Wednesday session, which will be provided from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., callers with issues related to lack of family registration status will be connected to attorneys in their area who can advise them.

People without a family registry are ineligible for passports and driver’s licenses, as well as such basic but critical services as public health insurance and national pension benefits. In addition, their lack of a legally valid identity leaves them open to a multitude of other potential problems.

As of Oct. 10, there were 677 such people, 123 of them adults, based on cases reported to the Justice Ministry.

A baby can fall into mukoseki limbo upon birth if it is fathered by the new partner of a woman who had divorced in the past 300 days. This can happen if she decides not to log the child’s birth in her family registry to circumvent a Civil Code law that deems a baby born in that period as the legal offspring of her former husband. Reluctance to contact a husband who was abusive can also contribute to such a debilitating decision.

Critics blame the so-called 300-day rule for aggravating the situation.

“The Justice Ministry figure is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Masae Ido, a former Lower House lawmaker who heads a mukoseki support group. She said there must be at least 10,000 people languishing in a mukoseki limbo, based on Supreme Court statistics.

“The government should try to grasp the exact number of people who are in a mukoseki status and find out about why they remain in such a legal limbo,” she said.