Boy without a country gains Japanese citizenship

January 28, 1995|By Thomas Easton | Thomas Easton,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

TOKYO -- A 4-year-old boy yesterday overcame Japan's notorious obstacles to citizenship, prevailing before the Supreme Court in a landmark case on the rights of the country's growing legion of stateless children -- many of them orphans.

"Thank you very much," mumbled Andrew Rees in both English and Japanese to a packed room of reporters at the courthouse.

The new Japanese citizen-elect celebrated at McDonald's with William and Roberta Rees, the two American missionaries who adopted him after he was abandoned at a hospital.

Formal citizenship will be bestowed upon him at a ceremony next week in the city of Nagano, where the family lives.

The child's quest to become a Japanese citizen has attracted tremendous publicity because of the harsh light it has cast on Japan's laws, morals and responsibilities. His mother is among the increasing number of women from poor Asian nations who come to Japan to work in its illicit sex industry. His father is likely a Japanese client.

Thousands of children resulting from similar circumstances are thought to have been born in Japan during the past five years, and now live here with no rights of citizenship, including 'N education and health care. Japan's strict laws provide legal recognition only to the recognized children of citizens.

There is, however, an exception providing citizenship for those whose parents are unknown. The government has been reluctant to apply this provision, particularly if a parent is suspected of being foreign.

Andrew's mother fled the hospital where he was born soon after delivery. Her hospital admissions record, and a corresponding document filed previously with Japanese immigration authorities, suggested a name and a Filipino nationality, but the documents included small inconsistencies and errors.

At the request of several Japanese lawyers in search of a test case, the Rees family agreed to allow Andrew to become the subject of a lawsuit to force the use of the unknown parent clause. A district court ruled in their favor, but an appeals court reversed the ruling, deciding there was enough evidence to suggest that the mother's existence was known, even if her whereabouts were not.

The Supreme Court sided with Andrew, carefully limiting the scope of the ruling by basing it on the lack of information on Andrew's mother.

"We got the best verdict possible, it opens the door for other cases for other children," said Mr. Rees.

Many cases using the Supreme Court's decision as a precedent are expected to be filed soon.

Japan's Ministry of Justice has vowed to carry out the spirit of lTC the court's ruling, suggesting that others may soon receive citizenship without having to use the court system.

Nevertheless, skepticism remains. "Everything tends to be done a case by case basis; we'll have to wait and see if there is a real change," said Takashi Sakata, head of the Red Cross Orphanage that currently cares for several of these children.

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