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Wed, May 03, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Critics attack loss of benefits for illegitimate children

UNFAIRLY DEPRIVEDParents who fail to register the birth of a child deny them the ability to apply later in life for health and education benefits that they would otherwise have enjoyed

By Liu Shao-hu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Critics said yesterday that illegitimate children in Taiwan who are being unfairly deprived of basic rights enjoyed by other citizens -- including access to education, public health insurance and legal protection -- have been put beyond the reach of their legal benefits due to the actions of their parents.

According to statistics made public by members of the Chinese Fund for Children and Families (CCF, 中華兒童暨家庭扶助基金會), among the 950 cases it handled last year alone involving child protection, 60 involved illegitimate children who were suffering abuse.

"That just shows the cases we're aware of. The real number of illegitimate children must be much more than that," stressed Wang Ming-jen (王明仁), executive-general of the CCF.

Illegitimate children enjoy neither the right to go to school nor to the use of public health insurance, simply because they were never registered with the government.

"They could also suffer psychological problems resulting from society's denial of their existence," said Luo Ying-shay (羅瑩雪), a lawyer who also serves as a consultant on children's affairs for the Ministry of the Interior and children's rights groups.

"Illegitimacy could well lead to the development of inferiority complexes," she said.

Social workers at the CCF -- a nationwide child welfare organization -- have been helping these children to gain official registration.

The lack of official certification of birth, however, has continued to be the main obstacle to gaining legal status. Parents of newborn infants are normally responsible for applying to register their children within 30 days of birth.

CCF officials said both extra-legal or unregistered marriages and adultery accounted for the vast majority of cases that end up in an illegitimate situation.

"Unmarried mothers are reluctant to register their children. Other parents having children [outside their marriages] fear they will be charged with adultery [by their spouses]."

The issue is being addressed by a group of 250 children's rights workers from both the government and social organizations at a two-day conference on illegitimate children that began yesterday. The conference will focus on 50 cases they say best illustrate the problem.

The majority of the 50 children are from unmarried mothers. Furthermore, nearly 20 percent of at least one of the parents were expatriates, mostly from Southeast Asia -- making their childrens' registrations more complicated.

Officials from the CCF said some parents chose to abandon their illegitimate children to avoid legal or other problems -- a move that greatly endangers their child's security.

Children's rights workers have appealed to the government to amend related laws in the hope of providing legal teeth to prohibit abandonment by parents or failure to register their children's births.

"Some people have suggested amending current laws on children's welfare to provide related government officials the right to file charges against parents who intentionally fail to register their children," said Wang.

"But it also raises the problem of whether it allows too much government intervention into family matters."

Liu Bang-fu (劉邦富), a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Interior, admitted there were serious difficulties in handling the issue.

"Many social workers have run into legal problems when handling cases and differing interpretations of legal regulations have also led to further difficulties in such cases," Liu said.

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