Photo/IllutrationThe website for Internet Akachan (Baby) Post runs a notice about the termination of child adoption services on March 19. (Kana Yamada)

  • Photo/Illustraion

OSAKA--City authorities here decided not to grant a private online adoption agency a license on grounds it offered its services for profit and engaged in other unlawful activities.

The March 19 decision followed skepticism expressed by experts about the group's activities and is the first known case of a license being denied since the permit system was introduced a year ago.

Osaka-based nonprofit group Zenkoku Oyako Fukushi Shien Center (national center for welfare support center for parents and children) was obliged to cease operating the same day.

The center operated what is known as the “Internet Akachan (Baby) Post” system in 2014 and served as an intermediary between parents who cannot raise children due to financial and other problems and married couples keen to adopt a child.

To use the service, prospective clients were required to download an app at a monthly rate of 3,000 yen ($27).

Reports on the entity’s activities showed that it was involved in 53 adoptions between fiscal 2015 and fiscal 2017.

Genta Sakaguchi, speaking on behalf of the group, said parties interested in adoption paid between 1.5 million yen (13,400) and 2.5 million yen for a satisfactory outcome.

The figure included 500,000 yen to cover the center's expenses, as well as a sum given to the expectant mother to cover her living costs over several months before and after giving birth.

The adoption mediation law, which took force in April 2018, forbids adoption arrangement services for a profit.

Prior to the law, agencies were allowed to arrange adoptions simply by registering with local authorities.

The center was established before the law took effect, which meant it could continue with its activities on a transitional basis until a decision was taken by Osaka city on whether to grant it an operating license.

The law contains a clause on expenses that an arrangement agency can legally charge a married couple hoping to adopt a child.

This includes costs for a safe birth, raising the infant until it is ready to be handed over for adoption and transportation for an interview.

However, living expenses for the biological parents are expressly prohibited in the fees.

When Osaka city officials looked into the group's activities, they discovered that the center made it difficult for a biological mother to have change of heart about surrendering a child for adoption. In such cases, the center would demand the return of living expenses provided prior to and after giving birth.

Officials also determined that the center’s regional “branches” operated without authorization in their jurisdictions. They concluded that the center operated for profit in tandem with a company in which Sakaguchi has a stake.

Municipal authorities decided to deny the group a license as there appeared to be scant prospect of it improving its activities.

Sakaguchi vehemently denied that profit was the center's motivation.

“We were not providing services for a profit, although we used a commercial method to save children,” he said.

With its operations terminated, public child welfare centers will take over the cases handled by the center.

Data compiled by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare showed that 380 or so adoption cases were concluded by private agencies in fiscal 2014 and 2015.

There were 29 private intermediaries as of April 2018, when the license system started.

By the end of the same year, 18 had obtained a permit to operate.

Prior to the decision not to grant the license for the Zenkoku Oyako Fukushi Shien Center, skepticism had been voiced by experts about the integrity of the group's services.

Critics said giving money to a mother before giving birth amounted to putting a child up for adoption in return for cash. As such, they said biological mothers may find it hard to go back on a promise to put a child up for adoption.

One posting late last year on the Internet Baby Post read: “Maternal handbook obtained. The baby is due on Jan. 31. Will hand over after birth. When to be discharged from hospital will be negotiable. Living expenses needed for seven months of support, 174,000 yen each month.”

The fees for arranging that adoption totaled about 2.3 million yen.

Adoption becomes official when a family court approves.

If a biological mother changes her mind about giving up a child, she is free to do so before family court procedures start.

But those who have already accepted money are being discouraged from doing so even if they regret their previous decision, experts said.

In fact, a woman who sought adoption service from the center consulted with another agency about wanting to change her decision to give up a child.

Kiyoshi Miyajima, a professor of child welfare at Japan College of Social Work in Tokyo, maintains that using private groups to arrange adoptions poses potential problems.

“Placement bodies tend to give a priority to those who can pay and forget the principle of choosing the couple best for a child,” he said.

He also noted that children could later become traumatized if they learned that their adoption centered around the payment of money.