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Japan: mixed marriages leave some children 'stateless'

Many Japanese women who are married to foreigners are falling to register their marriages so that their children can become Japanese citizens. While children of Japanese fathers and foreign mothers are accepted as citizens, those with foreign-born fathers and Japanese mothers are treated differently.

One way out is for the Japanese mothers to say they do not know who the father is, and they can successfully make the claim if the marriage is not registered. So often a mother waits until all her children have established Japanese citizenship and then registers her mixed marriage.

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One politician has led a longtime battle against the discrimiantory laws. Takako Doi, a member of the opposition benches in the Japanese Diet, has attempted to introduce amendments to the Nationality Act since 1977.

So far she has failed, but she predicts that changes will occur in the 1980s. In the meantime she believes she has accomplished something because the most conservative politicians in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are now asking, "Is it really true there still remains this old-fashioned law?"

Miss Doi says the problems reflect the past when all children in Japan were considered to be the emperor's, and so their blood had to be pure. (Although Japan now has a population of 600,000 Koreans and a large Chinese population, the Japanese government has made it difficult for these groups to gain citizenship.)

Just how many Japanese women are failing to legalize their marriages is not known. After a newspaper published an article about her work, Miss Doi says she spent all day and night answering three telephone lines.

Because of the Japanese citizenship laws, many children of mixed marriages are legally stateless.

For example, a group of children on US military bases in Japan are covered by neither Japan's nationality law or US immigration-nationality laws. They are born of marriages between American men and Japanese women, and the marriages were registered in Japan. The US Embassy has turned away their birth certificates because their young fathers were unable to meet American residency qualifications, which require that they live in the US at least 10 years, five years after the age of 14.

Consequently, these children are treated by Japan as Americans when, in fact, they are not American.

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"Stateless is the same as not having family registration in Japanese society, " says Yasutaka Oshiro, executive director of the International Social Assistance of Okinawa Inc.

He says that without family registration it is difficult to marry, get education, employment, a passport, or even a driving license.

One way around the problem, Miss Doi notes, is a world trend to give women equal rights that transmit their nationality to their children. Steps were taken by France in 1973, West Germany in 1974, followed by Switzerland in 1978, and Sweden and Denmark in 1979.

However, she accuses Japan not only of being reluctant to follow the trend but of violating both the international covenants of human rights and a provision of a United Nations convention requiring the elimination of all forces of discrimination against women.

To improve the situation, she has drawn up an amendment to the Japanese nationality law that entitles a child to citizenship when father "or mother" is Japanese.

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