Japan’s same-sex couples hope to welcome children, but prejudice remains a barrier

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Mari and Ayako (both aliases), a lesbian couple seeking to become adoptive parents, are seen with documents related to foster care in Kanagawa Prefecture on January 31, 2022. (Mainichi/Miyuki Fujisawa)

TOKYO — Word is spreading in Japan that becoming an adoptive parent is an option for members of sexual minorities, including LGBT people who want to raise children. The Mainichi Shimbun spoke with a lesbian couple who are considering fostering children.

Foster parents foster children who cannot live with their biological parents and who need social care due to abuse, poverty or other circumstances. The main requirements to become foster parents are that they have undergone foster parent training and that they must not be in financial difficulty. There is no requirement to be legally married and same-sex couples are not excluded.

Mari and Ayako (both aliases), a couple of women in their 50s living together in Kanagawa prefecture, south of Tokyo, met in their late 30s and have been together for about 15 years. Mari, who is older than Ayako, loves children, but considering her age and other factors, she didn’t think she would ever have one. Ayako, on the other hand, had a strong desire to have children.

Same-sex marriage isn’t legal in Japan, but Mari and Ayako decided they wanted to spend their lives together as partners, and a few years ago they held a wedding ceremony with their close family. They found out about the adoptive parents system at the end of 2020 when they came across information in a local government magazine.

They realized that maybe they could have a child after all. They immediately contacted the local government children’s counseling center. They walked in to hear about the system and told the staff they were a couple. They didn’t think being a same-sex couple was a barrier in the foster parenting course they had taken at a local children’s home.

However, in a meeting with an official of the children’s counseling center, they were told: “In reality, it is quite difficult to entrust a child to foster parents who are both working. As it is currently unrealistic for either of them to become a stay-at-home parent, the couple have halted the foster care process.

Mari said, “I hope I can do something for the next generation, even if I don’t give birth myself. There are many types of adoptive parents, and I hope I can be a reliable adult for a child. ”

Adoption is also an option for raising a child who is not related to you by blood. There are two types of adoption in Japan: “special adoption” and “regular adoption”.

Special adoptions are for children who cannot live with their biological parents due to abuse or other reasons, and once adopted, they are treated legally as the natural offspring of their adoptive parents. However, this type of adoption is only available to legally married couples, which means same-sex spouses and common-law spouses are not eligible.

Regular adoptions, on the other hand, are usually for relatives or close acquaintances to adopt young children.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, as of fiscal year 2020, approximately 42,000 children were living in institutions or with foster families across Japan because they could not live. with their biological parents. Just over 20% of them lived with foster families or relatives, indicating continued reliance on institutional care. In major Western countries, many children who cannot live with their birth parents are with foster parents, but the numbers are much lower in Japan, which also has a shortage of foster parents.






Shizuoka University professor Chiaki Shirai (Photo courtesy of the individual)

What do child counseling centers and other organizations think about including sexual minorities as foster parents? In February 2021, Chiaki Shirai, a professor of family sociology at Shizuoka University and an expert on the foster parent system, and her colleagues conducted a survey of child counseling centers and private adoption facilitation organizations in across Japan.

The results suggest that counseling centers favor legally married couples as foster parents. One of the centers replied: “Even in the best of times it is difficult to get consent from custodial parents to place their children in foster care. And there is prejudice against sexual minorities, so it is difficult to entrust them with children.”

On the other hand, Shirai noted that municipal systems recognizing same-sex partnerships as equivalent to marriage “are spreading across the country, and municipalities may begin to promote the placement of adoptive children with same-sex couples.”

According to Shirai, efforts are being made in some foreign countries to reach out to sexual minorities as foster and adoptive parents.

“Research and case studies overseas show that being raised by a sexual minority couple is not detrimental to a child. Sexual minorities can also be expected to be valuable caregivers Because children’s situations and experiences vary, we also need a diverse range of foster and adoptive parents,” she said.

(Japanese original by Miyuki Fujisawa, Digital News Center)

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