• Japan’s top court to rule on old family laws


    TOKYO: Japan’s top court will rule this week on a pair of 19th century family laws that critics blast as sexist and out of touch.

    The Supreme Court will weigh in on the legality of a six-month ban on women remarrying after divorce and another law that requires spouses to have the same surname, in a highly anticipated decision set for Wednesday.

    The court will decide whether to uphold, amend or strike down the controversial legislation, which dates back to an era of starkly different social mores.

    The half-year remarriage ban is linked to complex rules over the timing of a child’s birth after divorce — designed to determine whether a child belonged to the ex-husband or the new spouse’s family in an era before DNA testing.

    The surname rule is a throwback to Japan’s feudal family system, in which all women and children came under the control of the head of household — traditionally a man.

    “Even if the feudal family system is long gone, many people still have the image of a woman marrying into the husband’s household,” said Waseda University law professor Masayuki Tanamura.

    That system was abolished in 1948, part of broad reforms pushed by the post-World War II US occupation, but Japan’s civil code maintained the two articles — which will go before the court this week.

    Activists say the laws are a continued reflection of the country’s male-dominated society more than a century after they came into effect.

    Judicial tango

    Mother and activist Masae Ido knows firsthand the implications of the half-year ban on remarriage.

    “These laws mean a woman remains under a man’s sexual control even after divorce,” Ido, 50, told AFP.

    Some western countries have also had similar laws. France, for example, in 2004 abolished a requirement that women wait 300 days before remarrying.

    The situation in Japan has left some people — possibly tens of thousands — in a state of legal limbo because they end up unregistered in either family, which can make it tough to get a permanent job or receive social services.



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