The Diet on Friday passed a revision to increase the upper age limit at which a child can be adopted under a special system that allows ties to their biological parents to be severed.
Formerly, children’s ties to their biological parents could only be cut before the age of 6, but under the revised law children 14 and younger are now eligible.
The special adoption program is aimed at providing a stable, nurturing environment for children who cannot be raised by their biological parents because of economic difficulties or a history of abuse in the home.
Unlike regular adoptions where legal connections with biological parents are retained, the special program allows the children to be legally registered to their adoptive parents, with the previous ties erased.
Before the changes, various systemic factors made it difficult for adopted children’s ties to their biological parents to be cut. The new rules aim to rectify the problem and help children feel an increased sense of belonging with their new families.
The revision to the Civil Code expanded the scope of children subject to the program, with elementary and junior high school students living in foster homes now eligible. The amendment will take effect within one year of promulgation.
Children aged 15 to 17 can also be subject to the special program if they lived with their prospective adoptive parents before the age of 15 and agree to be adopted.
“The raised age limit for children who can be adopted (under the system) would give them a better chance of being nurtured in a healthy home atmosphere,” said Hiroyasu Hayashi, professor of social welfare at Japan Women’s University.
“It would also have a positive effect in their psychological development, with children having a stronger sense of self-affirmation and belonging to their adoptive family,” he added.
“Developing a parent-child relationship becomes difficult when a child is older,” Hayashi said, pointing to the need to provide support measures after adoptions, such as counseling.
The special program maintains the minimum age for at least one of the adoptive parents at 25. Some experts have voiced concern with the changes as children adopted under the system could be closer in age to their adoptive parents compared to the previous situation.
The legal revision also divided the current procedure to adopt children under the special program into two steps — with the first stage examining the need for adoption in view of abuse and biological parents’ consent and the second checking whether foster parents are suited to raise adopted children.
The amendment stipulated biological parents cannot pull out of an agreement if two weeks have passed since they gave their first-stage consent. Previously, they could cancel the adoption at any time.
The revision to the procedure is aimed at easing the burden on adopted children and their adoptive parents. It is also expected to lead to a reduction in the number of cases in which biological parents leave children at foster homes even after canceling an adoption agreement.