|Still from the Documentary Shared Below|
The documentary above features a 23 year old woman named Chihiro who is facing an unwanted pregnancy resulting from "dangerous" work she is required to do in the brothel where she is, in effect, an indentured labourer. Like many young women, she became caught up in a situation where she was told she had a large debt that she could only afford to pay off by working in the associated brothel. By the time she realised she was pregnant the possibility of an abortion had passed. Unable to end the pregnancy but also unable to work, she relies on Baby Pocket, an NPO that provides housing and food for women who agree to have their babies adopted through the organisation. Raised by a single mother, who worked "without a break" to support three children, Chihiro always looked after her little sister and they would think of excuses to visit the supermarket where their mother worked and cue at her register just to get the chance to see her. With a debt of 20,000,000 yen waiting for her, all Chihiro wants to do is have the baby quickly and get back to work. She thinks she'll be able to work again within "two months" of an unmedicated vaginal birth.
We're getting to the part of the documentary I found really traumatic, just so you are warned. Following the birth of her son, Chihiro is not permitted to hold him. She is briefly allowed to see him through the glass window on the nursery before being wheeled away. The agency staff member is coming the other way with a camera to record the baby for his adoption profile and quickly ducks into a doorway to hide as the documentary follows Chihiro's disappearing figure. Baby Pocket say it is "too hard" for mothers to bond with their babies before giving them up for adoption. They, of course, get to decide because these women are utterly powerless and alone. Mothers are allowed to hold their babies once, AFTER signing the adoption paperwork. From about 33 minutes into the video it's just awful. I don't know what the exact details of the agreement are but Hayes and Habu's Adoption in Japan: Comparing Policies for Children in Need similar arrangements with an unnamed agency are described. The agency in the book uses the housing and food provided during pregnancy as a tool to enforce the surrender of babies, insisting on an instant repayment of all the provided costs if the mother changes her mind. For a woman like Chihiro, already burdened with a massive debt and no access to legal help (both this insistence on immediate repayment and the debt that landed her in the brothel in the first place are almost certainly illegal), this would probably seem insurmountable. Please let me say again, I do not know what Baby Pocket's policy is regarding mothers who want to keep their babies.
Unable to nurse, cuddle or interact at all with her son during her hospital stay (usually a week in Japan), Chihiro talks to him through the glass at night when no one else is around. She apologises to him because all the other babies are with their mothers and only he remains in the nursery alone. When the paper work is signed and she gets to hold him he settles into sleep immediately and smiles. Chihiro breaks down. It took me three views to get through because I couldn't keep watching and I'm crying now having to think about it. She holds him until she has to let him go. This woman's body has been used by others for her entire adult life. Her baby was the result of her use by others, and then his existence too became a way of using her. Although technically adoption for profit is illegal in Japan, there are plenty of loop holes including NPOs "hiring" child care companies to look after babies between their birth and adoption. Money paid to these companies (registered to the same address and with the same director as the NPO) is then outside of the financial regulations the NPO faces and the cost can be passed to the adoptive parents with a profit resulting for the agency (I mean, ahem, the TOTALLY UNRELATED COMPANY). You can read more about dubious adoption agency practices by clicking here.
Chihiro says at the end of the documentary that she wants to quit working as a prostitute. "It'll be painful," she says, "but nothing could be more painful than this." Realistically, with no support or back up, will she be able to escape? I'm hopeful but not optimistic.
The Yomiuri Shimbun did some reporting about agencies using adoption to turn a profit and the response from international adoptive parents was disappointing to say the least. Unsurprisingly, the most "profitable" agency is one which sends babies to North America. The routine institutionalisation of children in Japan is unacceptable and adoption is part of the solution, but it is a very small part and must never, ever be at the expense of vulnerable women who are given no advice about other options.
*I can't remember where I saw the interview, unfortunately I just closed the window in a mood of horror without recording the location. If anyone is familiar with the interview I would like to be able to properly link to it, so please let me know.