336 children adopted overseas from Japan over 9-year period

At least 336 children were adopted from Japan by residents of other countries during about nine years from 2011 to 2019, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned. More than 65% of them were infants under the age of 1.

International adoptions have been said to be problematic because children could be involved in human trafficking, and it may become difficult for children to obtain information about their origins. International adoptions are on the decline worldwide, but it has been revealed that many children from Japan have left the country for that purpose.

The Yomiuri Shimbun compiled the number of children adopted by residents of other countries based on statistics from the U.S. State Department and data from member countries of the Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention. The convention aims to ensure transparency in international adoptions, and member nations have made public their statistics on adoption by country of origin through the convention’s secretariat, the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH, see below).

The Japanese government does not tally the number of children who leave the country through international adoptions.

According to the Yomiuri’s tally, a total of five countries — the United States, Canada, France, Italy and Belgium — have accepted children from Japan through adoption over about nine years from 2011. The United States was the most common destination, with 172 children having entered through adoption, followed by Canada with 160 children. These two countries alone accounted for 98% of the total.

France accepted two children, while Belgium and Italy accepted one each.

In terms of age, 225 of the children were infants under the age of 1, accounting for 66% of the total. Eighty-three children were between 1 and 4 years old, six were 5 to 9 years old, and 11 were over 10 years old. Of the 225 infants, information on gender was available for 127 — 68 boys and 59 girls.

International adoptions have been handled in Japan by private adoption agencies. To protect children from harm, the adoption agency law, which came into effect in April 2018, stipulates that adoptions should be conducted in Japan in principle.

The law also requires adoption agencies to be licensed by local governments, such as prefectural governments. Previously, they were only required to register with local governments.

The number of international adoptions was in the range of 30 to 40 per year from 2011 to 2015, but it rose sharply to 55 in 2016 and 63 in 2017, before declining to 33 in 2018 and 8 in 2019.

Baby Life, a Tokyo-based private agency that abruptly ceased operations in July last year and later closed its business, was also involved in many international adoptions and may have handled a significant number of the 336 children who went overseas.

According to the Tokyo metropolitan government, of the 307 adoptions that Baby Life arranged from fiscal 2012 to 2018, 174 of the adoptive parents were foreign nationals, comprising 68 Americans and 106 Canadians.

Detailed investigation necessary

“The central and local governments should take responsibility for confirming the current status of children after international adoptions,” said Prof. Yasuhiro Okuda of Chuo University, who is an expert on international adoptions.

“It is problematic that the government is not aware of the departure of these children from the country, and it is necessary to conduct a detailed investigation of international adoptions during this period,” Okuda said.


The Hague Conference on Private International Law is an international organization with its secretariat in The Hague, the Netherlands, that aims to formulate uniform international rules for private persons, including the treatment of children in the event of the breakdown of an international marriage. A total of 88 countries and regions, including Japan, are members.