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CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA — Cultural values and the lack of children with a true orphan status make adopting Japanese children a rare occurrence, said a retired Okinawa social worker.

The Japanese culture values blood ties, an attitude that largely discourages child adoption, said Masayo Hirata, who as a social worker spent decades working for children’s welfare.

“In Japan, and especially here on Okinawa, even a child who lives in [an orphanage] is considered responsible to carry on his or her family line,” she said.

Even children who have lost both parents usually have relatives who demand the child remain within their family to assume “responsibility to keeping the family line and [to] properly worship ancestors,” she said.

Abortion also limits the number of unwanted babies, Hirata said. “Abortion is easy, inexpensive and even legal,” she said, adding that if a woman decides to have a baby, she usually is determined to raise the baby under any circumstances.

Shirley Smith, an American who volunteers with a Christian ministry here that works with unwed and teen mothers, also has encountered this attitude, she said.

Her ministry’s emphasis, she said, is placing adoptable Japanese children in Christian Japanese homes.

Smith said in the six years she’s worked with the ministry, it has placed Japanese children with about five American families.

According to its Web site, the U.S. State Department issued just 82 visas for Japanese orphans adopted abroad from 1996 to 2000.


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