Now-defunct Japan adoption agency matched 174 children with foreign nationals in 7 years

More than half of roughly 300 children adopted through the Tokyo-based agency Baby Life, which suddenly suspended its operations last July, were matched with foreign nationals, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

Adoptions are supposed to take place domestically in principle, but the Tokyo metropolitan government believes most of the foreign nationals were living overseas, and many of the children are likely to have been taken abroad.

According to the metropolitan government, 174 out of the 307 children matched with adoptive families by Baby Life from fiscal 2012 to 2018 were put with foreign nationals — 68 with Americans and 106 with Canadians. The metropolitan government initially said 298 children were matched in the seven-year-period, but it concluded there were nine more after examining the situation.

The United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Japan has ratified, stipulates that “inter-country adoption may be considered as an alternative means of child’s care, if the child cannot be placed in a foster or an adoptive family or cannot in any suitable manner be cared for in the child’s country of origin.” Domestic adoption is prioritized to protect children from potential harm.

In 2012, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry revised its notice to local governments, asking them to inform private adoption agencies of the principle of domestic matches when instructing the agencies. Japan’s adoption agency law, which was passed in December 2016 and came into effect in April 2018, stipulates that domestic matches should be conducted “to the greatest extent possible.”

At Baby Life, the number of international adoptions with foreign adoptive families increased from fiscal 2012. The number was 54 cases in fiscal 2016 and 49 in fiscal 2017, exceeding 70% of all adoptions handled by Baby Life in both years. The number dropped to nine in fiscal 2018 when the adoption agency law came into effect, and all matches became domestic after Baby Life applied to the Tokyo metropolitan government for authorization in September 2018.

A lawyer who used to be a Baby Life board member told The Yomiuri Shimbun, “Not many adoptive families in Japan were attracted [to the agency] because its fees were higher than other agencies.”

The welfare ministry asked adoption agencies to disclose the nationality of adoptive families and fees received for each adoption up through fiscal 2015. The ministry started to collect this information again from fiscal 2018.

Data was not collected from Baby Life, however, because it was not yet authorized. Details of its operations from fiscal 2016 are unknown, and the agency was dissolved this month.