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International Symposium on "Children's Welfare and their Rights"

Japanese

On October 14, a symposium titled "Children's Welfare and their Rights" was held in Okayama. In fact, CRN played a key role--it co-sponsored the symposium together with the Japanese Society of Child Science. Four presentations were given, including three by speakers from abroad, principally on the subject of children's rights.

The symposium focused on two approaches to children's rights that are in constant contradiction or mutually exclusive. One considers what is in the best interests of children while the other gives primacy to their right to self-judgment or decision-making.

Up to now, there has been a tendency to prioritize adult decision-making over the opinions (feelings) of children themselves because adults are regarded as "knowing more" and "capable for sound judgment." In today's society, however, the view is shifting toward one that increasingly gives weight to the right of children to make decisions themselves.

This sort of explanation may not seem to convey anything particularly new to anyone, including myself, but as I listened to the symposium presenters, I understood that these mutually exclusive tendencies raised major issues in a number of areas, including the family, school, local community, workplace, and international society. Let me present a specific example of such a contradiction that was brought up in the symposium.


When parents divorce, which parent should get custody of the child?

While divorce may be unfortunate, it is commonplace in countries where women are more independent. According to Ms.Jenny Driscoll, one of the presenters from the U.K., the divorce rate there is high, but I was surprised to hear that it is over 30% even in Japan,*1 where I thought it would be low. As adults, parents have their own reasons to divorce, but for children, it is different. In Japan, most children who still need to live with a parent will have to choose between them. Even though they are still considered children, sixteen-year olds may be capable of making such a choice, however difficult. On the other hand, when children are three or four years old, the decision will have to be made by the judge of the Family Court, for example. Although this seems irrational, we understand that this is what must be done. But what if the child is not sixteen, but twelve? Or eleven...?

It is here that the problem arises: What is in the best interests of the child? What is his or her right of self-determination? The child may choose the father, but in most cases in Japan, the mother is given custody. For someone like myself who thinks like a doctor and is accustomed to relatively simple choices, such as which medicine to use, this is a very difficult issue.

The United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child, which sets forth the rights of children, establishes the basic principles that define this difficult issue. Japan has ratified the treaty, but not yet revised any laws and regulations in line with it. Nor has it been ratified in the United States, which I thought to be the world leader in human rights issues, etc.

For CRN, which pursues the well-being of children, the symposium made us realize once again the prime importance of children's rights.


*1: This is the ratio of the number of divorces to the number of married couples.
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Sakakihara_Yoichi.bmp Yoichi Sakakihara
M.D., Ph.D., Professor, Graduate School of Humanities and Sciences, Ochanomizu University; Director of Child Research Net, President of Japanese Society of Child Science. Specializes in pediatric neurology, developmental neurology, in particular, treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Asperger's syndrome and other developmental disorders, and neuroscience. Born in 1951. Graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, the University of Tokyo in 1976 and taught as an instructor in the Department of the Pediatrics before assuming current post.
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