Monday, 26 October 2015

The Curious Case of Kumamoto

Photo from this site
In Kumamoto, it is easier to abandon your baby than your dog.
I do not know how to feel about that.
Of course abandoning a dog should be discouraged, I'm not critical of that. It's an awful thing to do, and all too common in Japan. I think it is great Kumamoto City is trying to discourage people who bring dogs to the pound:
When an owner brings in a pet, they don’t take it in easily like most centres. They ask them to remember the time they’ve spent with their dog or cat, and ask them if they’ve really tried seriously to find a new owner. One staff member explains, “We don’t want to give local people a bad impression. But we do want the people who come to us to get rid of their animals to leave feeling bad about it. Sometimes we might even be able to change their minds.
“We don’t mind being hated. Even if it comes to tears, we need to ask the owners to think about what they are doing.” Sometimes there are disputes, but if the staff persevere they’re sometimes successful at persuading the owner to take their pet back home with them and give them another chance.
One time a man in his 60s brought in his corgi, saying, “He chews everything, I can’t keep him.” The dog’s original owner, his son, had moved abroad and the dog was nothing but a nuisance to his new guardian. The man was of the opinion that “if the dog does something bad, it’s natural to punish him.” In response, the staff asked him, “Isn’t it your son who’s taught him it’s OK to chew things? If it’s your son’s fault, why should this dog pay for it with his life?”
On the other hand, it jumped out to me immediately that Kumamoto also hosts Japan's "baby hatch", a box into which parents can anonymously abandon their child. Usually these babies cannot be adopted or even in most cases fostered, because consent cannot be obtained from anonymous parents.

This post has been sitting in my draft folder for nearly two years. I don't know what to conclude about the topic and didn't want to do ANOTHER post that just trailed off. In the end, though, I realised I may never figure out how to "conclude", so I'm just going to leave it here and back away slowly. 

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  1. I guess one difference is the outcome for the abandoned: if you drive into the woods, open the door and throw your dog out, and drive away, he'll probably live. Not well, but survive without human care. If you do the same with an unwanted newborn, the outcome is likely to be different. Baby hatches may increase the likelihood of survival if parents in that desperate a state feel they have a totally anonymous option.

    1. That’s exactly the “I don’t know what to think” part! I’m usually in favour of harm minimisation and when I first read criticisms that the baby hatch could encourage abandonment I scoffed. Japan is infamous for infanticide and the majority of murdered children and killed within 24 hours of birth. If the hatch provides an alternative, I thought, how can that be bad? What I didn’t realise at the time was how many other options there already were. There’s no penalty and no shaming to discharge yourself from hospital after birth and leave the baby behind. There’re no abandonment laws preventing parents from leaving a child at an orphanage and never coming back. There are NPOs offering adoptions at birth meaning there is no permanent record of the baby’s existence on the mother’s family register. So why is the hatch needed? It simply provides anonymity which disadvantages the child, and my guess is that anyone using it would otherwise have taken one of the existing routes rather than committing infanticide. After all, no matter how desperate, killing a baby is just not in the normal range of responses. I have no way of knowing for sure, but my hunch is that mental illness (not to stigmatize people with mental illnesses as baby killers, I mean something like postnatal psychosis) plays more of a role than anything else and consequently providing another rational alternative doesn’t necessarily help. If we look at the well-known phenomenon of locker killings, in which babies are locked in train station lockers and left to die, for example, there are clearly other options even for spur-of-the-moment abandonment. The locker could at the very least be left open, the baby could be left in a parked stroller or on a bench~ there are so many possibilities that it is hard to see how these murders could stem from a lack of options. So on the one hand I think all the hatch does is allow parents to hide their embarrassment by abandoning their babies anonymously instead of in person, at great cost to the child. On the other hand, if I’m wrong and even one baby were saved because of the hatch… Yeah. I don’t know.

  2. Japanese law... Nothing but curses are forming to finish that sentence. Obviously the appropriate legal response to a child put in the adoption box is presumption of consent to adopt, after a limited waiting period of weeks (to account for second thoughts or custody-issues). Likewise with the children abandoned for long periods in orphanages by parents who do not relinquish their rights, though that waiting period could be limited to a year. The fact that neither of these has been solved shows how little Japanese society and its legal system can bring itself to care. Shameful.

    1. As a human being I find the disinterest of society at large in the plight of vulnerable children unconscionable. As someone who studied public policy back in the day, I find it outright bizarre that in the midst of a demographic crisis that already has past the point where Japan cannot continue to exist in its present form, the government still doesn’t act to protect children purely as an act of self-interest. It’s both shameful and stupid!


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