Japanese women from collapsed international marriages who bring their children to Japan without their partner’s consent are facing charges of abduction — an issue that has highlighted a convention covering international child abduction.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction has been signed by about 80 countries, including in Europe and the United States. Under the convention, it is illegal for one parent to take a child away from his or her country or residence without first settling issues such as custody and visitation rights.

Signatory countries have a responsibility to return children who have unilaterally been taken out of the country by one of their parents. (There are some exceptions, such as when the child refuses to go back.) Japan, however, has not signed the convention, so this rule of returning the child does not apply. This has raised strong dissatisfaction among foreigners who cannot see their children because they have been taken to Japan.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice are giving favorable consideration to signing the convention, but the opinions of experts are split.

Kensuke Onuki, a lawyer familiar with the issue, is opposed to Japan signing the convention, based on the viewpoint of Japan protecting its own citizens.“In over 90 percent of cases in which the Japanese women return to Japan, the man is at fault, such as with domestic violence and child abuse,” Onuki says. He says that when the Japanese women come back to Japan, they don’t bring with them evidence of domestic violence or other problems, making their claims hard to prove, and the voice of the man saying, “Give me back my child,” tends to be heard louder.

Mikiko Otani, a lawyer who specializes in family law, supports Japan participating in the convention. The first reason she gives is a connection with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. The U.N. committee that monitors how the Convention on the Rights of the Child is implemented advises each country to ratify the Hague convention as a pact that is integrated with the convention on child rights.

Otani adds that joining the convention does not provide only disadvantages. There are now cases in which former foreign husbands refuse to let their child see their mother, saying that if they let their child go to Japan, he or she won’t come back. There are also cases of mothers setting aside a security deposit of 100,000 dollars (about 10 million yen) to bring their children over to Japan.

When couples divorce in Japan, only one side has custody rights, and the family view that the child should be handed over to the mother is prevalent. Under the Hague convention, however, joint custody is maintained as long as domestic violence is not involved, and the party not living with the children has visitation rights. This stance shakes up the Japanese view of the family, but I think Japan should join the convention.

There are the reasons given by Otani, but in addition to that, the shape of Japanese society and families is changing largely. For example, the rate of men who are taking child-care leave is still at a low level but increasing, figures by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare show. Division of housework and child-rearing between the husband and wife is natural. It is not an age in which one parent takes complete responsibility for a child.

If children in international marriages can freely go between the two countries of their mother and father, their lives will surely be greatly enriched. (By Megumi Nishikawa, Expert Senior Writer)

For previous Black Tokyo (BT) posts on this topic visit:

BT article on Custody Battles in Japan

BT article on Japan’s parental abduction treaty.

BT article on USFJ service members obtaining citizenship for their foreign spouse.

BT article on abandoned families in Japan.

BT article on problems foreigners face with the Japanese family registry system.

BT post on adoption and child abuse.

BT article on Japinos and Japayukis.

BT article, Land of the Rising Half-breeds.