(Bloomberg) -- Japan is set to change a 19th-century law deciding the paternity of a child born after divorce, in a bid to reduce the number of babies who remain unregistered and face difficulty in accessing healthcare and education.
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The cabinet approved a bill Friday under which paternity will be awarded to the mother’s spouse at the time of the birth. The revised legislation, set to be presented to parliament for passage in the current session, will also end a ban on pregnant women remarrying within 100 days of divorce, ostensibly imposed to avoid disputes over paternity.
Under an 1898 Civil Code that’s still in force, a child born to a woman within 300 days of divorce is considered to be that of her former husband, even if she has remarried. Many women opt not to register their children rather than comply with the regulation, especially in cases of domestic abuse.
The country’s practice of registering its citizens under household units has hampered attempts by campaigners to gain the right for married couples to retain separate names, as well as to introduce same-sex marriage. By contrast, South Korea abandoned its household registration system in 2008 in favor of individual registration.
Japan consistently lags other developed countries in terms of gender equality. It was ranked 116th out of 146 countries in the annual Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum in July. It is one of 32 countries that maintain discriminatory restrictions on remarriage for women after divorce, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
According to Tomoshi Sakka, a lawyer who succeeded in getting the remarriage ban for women shortened to 100 days from six months in a 2015 Supreme Court ruling, the amendment also indicates a belated shift toward prioritizing the rights of children.
“This change in the law will help reduce the number of children who have no family register,” Sakka said. “They have finally realized that this law is for the children.”
Of about 800 unregistered people surveyed in August, the Ministry of Justice found 71% cited the paternity law as the reason, the Mainichi newspaper said. Children who are unregistered face hurdles in accessing public education, can’t get usual healthcare coverage and generally can’t get passports issued.
Registration and paternity rules are particularly important in Japan, where birth out of wedlock is rare and widely frowned-upon. About 2% of children are born to unmarried parents, while the average across OECD countries is 41%.
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