Editorial: Measures Needed in Japan to Help ‘2nd Generation’ Unification Church Followers

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The issues surrounding the so-called “second generation” followers of the Unification Church, whose parents are members of the Church, have drawn public attention in Japan. Cases of violation of the rights of these children have been reported due to family breakdowns and other issues triggered by massive donations to the controversial religious group.

On September 28, a second-generation devotee whose parents are both members of the Unification Church asked the Japanese government to come up with relief measures for people like her by establishing related laws, submitting some 70 000 signatures collected online.

The issue of mass donations to the church has come to the fore in the context of the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The Unification Church, officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, says the group has made cumulative efforts to prevent large donations. The reality, however, is that some of these children had no choice but to drop out of school after their parents ran out of money for family expenses and their children’s education.

The health and development of children are in some cases threatened. There are parents who are so involved in their religious activities that they end up neglecting their children. Some second generation followers have been mentally hurt, after their parents forbade them to choose who to love on their own.

During the government-sponsored telephone consultation, at least one second-generation church member said he developed depression caused by the environment he grew up in.

When it comes to the faith of parents and the basic rights of their children, a separate religious group has come under fire after it learned that their followers were abusing their children as a form of physical discipline. These issues were seen as “a family affair”, and for a long time children were in a position where they could not make their voices heard.

The reality is also that governments are not fully aware of the situation. They tend to be reluctant to get involved when it comes to matters concerning religion.

According to the Japan Society for Cult Prevention and Recovery, a network of social psychologists and lawyers who study issues related to destructive cults, there have been cases where children who have gone to children’s counseling centers to asking for help were told that public institutions could not deal with issues related to religion and turned away.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child considers the child as a human rights entity and stipulates that their freedom of religion must be respected. We must not overlook a situation in which the religion of the parent is imposed on a child regardless of his thinking.

In Japan, the government must first and foremost accelerate its efforts to understand the real reality these children face. It should also consider how child counseling centers and schools react when approached by such children. Cooperation with the private sector is crucial to expand the consultation support system.

Adults should reach out so that no troubled child is left alone.

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