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[Statement] The protection of and future decisions on the children who have lost their parents in the earthquake

On 24 April 2011, HRN issued a statement regarding the protection of children who lost their parents in the earthquake.

About 80 children have reportedly lost their parents to the Tohoku Kanto Earthquake. Human Rights Now (HRN), an international human rights NGO, would like to offer our heartfelt condolences to the victims. We are publishing this opinion paper to protect the human rights of the children whose parents have died or are missing, with a view to protecting their best interests in the future.
1    The protection of children
 Children whose parents have died or are missing due to disasters are especially vulnerable. Special carers are needed to ensure that the children are provided with basic necessities such as food, healthcare, mental health care, sanitation, education, and accommodation, and to protect them from violence and abuse. HRN requests that local governments and people who are working at shelters supply adequate information and take sufficient measures to provide the goods and services needed by those children.
2   The provision of information about support methods
  The children's right to equal access to financial, monetary and legal support must be guaranteed. Information should be provided regarding support policies, financial support and other victim's rights, Children must be given sufficient information so they can understand their situation and exercise their rights.  
  Children whose families are lost or missing must able to obtain monetary benefits, such as condolence money and compensation from the government, and must be able to exercise their right to claim insurance money, support money related to moving and living expenses, the right of property ownership and their rights of inheritance of their parents' property.
3   Child care and decisions regarding their future
Concerning the present care of children who have lost their parents and decisions for their future, the best interests of the children (the Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child) must be guaranteed above all.  

The "Inter Agency Guiding Principle on Unaccompanied and Separated Children" and "Operational Guidelines on the protection of persons in situations of natural disasters" by the International Red Cross and UNICEF specify in detail important points regarding the treatment of children who have been separated from their parents. 
Based on such well-established principles, HRN calls on the Japanese Government to formulate support policies for these children taking into consideration the following points:
a. Regarding an immediate policy for the children whose parents are missing, they should receive mental health care to the greatest possible extent in the area where they have been born and raised. They should also receive information regarding the provisional measures being taken, and regarding their own protection and rights.

b. It should be a last resort to send those children to shelters. It is desirable to promote the system of foster parents and adoption within the local area in where they were raised, or amongst their own kin. The opinions of the child should be considered when choosing foster or adoptive parents. Support systems in the local community should be considered.    

c. The best interests of the child should be given top priority when deciding anything regarding the child. The child should be given sufficient opportunity to express his or her opinions. The child's opinions should be respected in proportion to their age. A system should be established whereby guardians, agents and specialists, who are supportive of children's rights, cooperate in decisions regarding the rights of the child.
d. Adoption should be considered only after all other means have been attempted for a given period, and unification with their family cannot be realized.
e. Regarding foster parents, adoption or shelters etc., the rights of the child should be monitored continuously and periodically.

4   The need to respect the child's opinions when establishing a support system
 When determining the future of a child based on the support measures mentioned above, the child must have the opportunity to express their opinions, and those opinions must be respected.
The Article 12 of The Convention of the Child stipulates that:

1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
2. For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.

  Sufficient information about their options must be given to the child in order for them to express their opinions.  
  HRN requests that the Japanese central government and local governments establish support systems in which sufficient information is provided to all the children whose parents have died or are missing, each child can express his/her opinion, and the child's opinions regarding the future are respected and all of their rights fully exercised.