Saturday, July 9, 2011

Disaster Highlights Plight of Japanese Orphans

Time reports that Japan may not be able to take care of their own in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami:
When concerned foreigners began contacting Japanese agencies about adopting children orphaned by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, they were told, "No, thank you. We can take care of our own." Though Japanese families occasionally adopt males to continue the family line, adoption is relatively rare here. Relative wealth, good social services and a shrinking population generally keep the numbers of orphans low.

In the aftermath of the disaster, however, there are growing concerns that the country is not, in fact, caring for its own. About 200 children lost both parents and an additional 1,200 lost one parent to the earthquake or tsunami. Most of the orphans are now living with relatives, however, with unemployment at 90% in some areas orphanages may become the only option. It is very difficult, however, to get kids out of these welfare institutions and into permanent homes.
Regardless, I think it is too soon to be talking international adoption.  In the immediate aftermath of such epic loss, the last thing children need is to lose everything familiar to them. 

And what this article describes is not an inability to handle 200 quake orphans, but a different understanding in Japan about institutional care for children.  They describe poor parents putting children in orphanages, but still considering them their children, part of their bloodline, expected to care for them in their old age.  These children are not "orphans," since they have living parents who have some intention to parent them at some point. 

Yes, I think families are better for kids than institutions, and that's generally the attitude of the Western world.  But we see a different attitude in many parts of the world, where orphanages are a temporary solution to poverty, a place for children to be fed and educated when the parents can't afford to do so; these children are not orphans, and adoption isn't the solution to their plight.  The problem is that often Westerners feel that we can adopt children in orphanages, regardless of whether they are orphans or not.


Sharon said...

While I agree that children with living parents who love them and want to parent them shouldn't be placed for adoption, I think it's dangerous to see reliance on institutional care as some kind of cultural difference that must be accepted. A child in an institution is a child at risk of developmental delay, abuse at the hands of staff and other inmates, increased exposure to illness etc. It troubles me greatly that the push to make intl adoptions more ethical etc seldom extends to a commitment to international aid and support to keep original families together. Simply stopping intl adoption doesn't bring about a happy ending.

I'm not saying this is your attitude, Malinda, but there definitely is the feeling out there that living in an orphanage in your own country is better than going abroad. Living in an orphanage is NEVER good. My kids were old enough at placement to remember and describe their experiences in institutional care, and they were traumatic, even though these were "good" orphanages. If they'd had living relatives able to visit them in the orphanage, they still would've been living in a stressful, damaging environment. The domestic and international support needs to be there to get children in families, either the bio family or adoptive.

Anonymous said...


Are you really calling children at an orphanage "inmates"? What have they done that is illegal to earn this term of endearment from you?

Sharon said...

Hi Anonymous,

I didn't mean to sound disrespectful of children in orphanages by calling them inmates...but having spent considerable time in orphanages, I've too often seen a jail-like atmosphere prevail, although this varies a lot from institution to institution and country to country. I think my word choice was more reflective of my feelings about the living environment, certainly not the kids. I think if you visit my blog, you'll see that I spend a lot of time advocating for children's rights and child welfare. Please leave your name if you decide to stop by.

Sharon said...

And just one more thing, Anon...your comment sent me to the dictionary just to be sure I'd used "inmate" correctly, and it is defined as "a person confined, as in a hospital or prison."

Anonymous said...

You say, "Most of the orphans are now living with relatives." How is that NOT taking care of their own?

Anonymous said...

There will never be any significant number of adoptions by white Americans of Japanese children. No matter how difficult the situation is for Japan.

Americans can not understand how adoption is seen in Japanese culture. The two cultures are too far a part on this issue to come to an international understanding.

Japanese children shoud stay in Japan. The governement is well equipted to take care of it's own children.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure the government is equipped and I'm not referencing financial. It seems in this particular situation aid to the families so they can keep the children w/ relatives would be more beneficial. However, the Japanese government would have to be willing to ask help and accept the help from other countries for this purpose-- and I'm not sure that they are willing to do this...

Anonymous said...

Plus did no one else catch the inference that some of these childrn are being placed into orphanages for the forseeable future but are still expected to support their families in their older age??? Are they then commodities? *shudder* I mean really...all else aside: place them in institutionalized care yet still expect familial care in return? Ugh!

Anonymous said...

That is an integral part of Japanese society. That children will care of their elders no matter how those elders treat the children.

In order to understand the adoptionprocess,or lack of, in Japan you have to understand Japanese society. It goes far deeper than most American can see on the surface.

Japan has not changes it's cultural view of adoption for thousands of years. Why now?

Japan does not need the rest of the world to help take care of it's children by adopting them.
Americans just want to get their hands on some available children since other sources are running dry.