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Japan to Sign Parental-abduction Treaty

Wow! This is big news.  Here is some background information posted by the US Department of State regarding parental-abduction in Japan.  The gist of the matter is that Japan is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.  Japanese civil law stresses that in cases where custody cannot be reached by agreement between the parents, the Japanese Family Court will resolve the issue based on the best interests of the child. However, compliance with Family Court rulings is essentially voluntary, which renders any ruling unenforceable unless both parents agree. Guess what that usually means? 

Here is the article:

Japan will sign a treaty obliging the government to return to the rightful parent children of broken international marriages who are wrongfully taken and kept in Japan, sources said Friday.

The Justice Ministry will begin work to review current laws with an eye on meeting requirements under the 1980 Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the sources said. The government plans to conclude the treaty as early as in 2010.

The decision was reached amid criticism against Japan over unauthorized transfer and retention cases involving children. The governments of Canada and the United States have raised the issue with Japan and cited a number of incidents involving their nationals, blasting such acts as tantamount to abductions.

In one case, a Japanese woman who divorced her Canadian husband took their children to Japan for what she said would be a short visit to let the kids see an ailing grandparent. But the woman and her children never returned to Canada.

Once parents return to their home countries with their children, their former spouses are often unable to find their children. In Japan, court rulings and custody orders issued in foreign countries are not recognized.

Under the convention, signatory parties are obliged to set up a “central authority” within their government. The authority works two ways.

It can demand other governments return children unlawfully transferred and retained. But it is also obliged to find the location within its own country of a child unlawfully taken and retained, take measures to prevent the child from being moved out of the country, and support legal procedures to return the child to the rightful parent.

Sources said the Japanese government will likely set up a central authority within the Justice Ministry, which oversees immigration and family registry records. The ministry has decided to work on a new law that will detail the procedures for the children’s return.

In 2006, there were about 44,700 marriages between Japanese and foreign nationals in Japan, about 1.5 times the number in 1996. Divorces involving such couples more than doubled from about 8,000 in 1996 to 17,000 in 2006.

SOURCE:  BY MIAKO ICHIKAWA , THE ASAHI SHIMBUN (IHT/Asahi: May 10,2008)

*** Click here for additional information and discussion! ***

The Japan Child Abduction website can be found here.

Addition background from the Japan Children Right’s Network is posted here.

3 Comments

  1. zurui zurui May 19, 2008

    Hi! Here is an informative follow-up to the story. This is taken from an online article posted by Terrie Lloyd of Japan, Inc. Magazine:

    Two weeks ago, the Japanese government made a notable
    announcement that may make Japan more compatible with the
    legal conventions used internationally, and will be of
    particular benefit to non-Japanese spouses of Japanese. The
    announcement was that by 2010, Japan would sign the the
    1980 Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International
    Child Abduction, an international legal construct that
    attempts to deal with the thorny issue of court
    jurisdiction when children of international marriages are
    moved cross-border, often by a parent trying to thwart a
    court ruling in the previous jurisdiction.

    Currently, Japan is known as a haven for disaffected
    Japanese spouses who, in getting divorced, abscond with
    their kids back to Japan. Once in Japan they can dare their
    foreign spouses to try getting the kids back — something
    that despite around 13,000 international divorces a year
    in Japan and more overseas, has NEVER happened.

    The reason for this astounding statistic, that of zero
    repatriations of abducted children from international
    marriages after the kids have been abducted to Japan, is
    entirely to do with the attitudes of the Japanese judiciary
    and their wish to maintain 19th Century customs in the face
    of international pressure. Japan has ratified many parts of
    the Hague Convention treaties over the years, but in terms
    of repatriation of kids, they have been claiming for 20
    years now to be “studying” the issue. That’s Japan-speak
    for “we’re not interested in making any changes”.

    Our guess is that the recent announcement occurred after
    pressure from the USA and Canada, in particular. Things
    started to come to a head about 5 years ago, when fed up by
    repeating occurences of child abductions from both of those
    countries, and despite court decisions there for custody to
    go to the local parent, the consular staff of a number of these
    foreign embassies started holding annual summits to discuss
    the problem. These discussions escalated to pressure on
    foreign governmental agencies and politicians in some of
    Japan’s biggest trading partners — and finally someone
    spoke to the Japanese government at a sufficiently high
    enough level to get their attention.

    The subject became especially sensitive when the Japanese
    were at the peak of their indignation over the North Korean
    abductions of Japanese citizens several years ago, and were
    seeking international support. All the while, Japanese law
    allowed similar types of abductions here.

    In case you’re not up on the state of play, there were
    44,000 international marriages registered in Japan in 2006,
    and probably a good percentage of that number again of
    Japanese marrying overseas but not bothering to register
    back in Japan. The divorce rate within Japan is about 30%,
    and for Japanese living overseas (take the US as an
    example), it is typical of the local population, so more
    like 50%-60%. Thus there are a lot of international
    separations — many of which are not amicable.

    But it’s when the kids are involved that things start
    getting really nasty. Usually in the case of a divorced
    international couple going to court overseas and after
    custody is awarded, if one of the parents fears a possible
    adbuction situation, the couple can be placed under a
    restraining order not to travel without the other spouse’s
    consent. The USA, Canada, Australia, and UK all do this.
    The kids’ passports will often be withheld as well.
    Unfortunately, there have been a number of cases where the
    Japanese spouse then “loses” the kids Japanese passports
    and applies to the local consulate for replacements — only
    to hop a flight back to Tokyo a few hours later, with the
    kids in tow.

    Once in Japan, the jurisdiction suddenly falls to the
    Japanese courts, even if there is a foreign arrest warrant
    out for the absconding partner, and in several cases, even
    if there is an Interpol arrest warrant out. In Japan,
    there is no concept of joint custody, and the partner
    allowed to keep the kids is the one that has held them for
    the previous few months.

    The courts’ opinion here is that kids need a stable
    environment, and the act of being the only guardian for a
    period of time, even if that guardian was in hiding,
    qualifies for this — unless the kids are under 5 years
    old, in which case they will typically be returned to the
    mother (if the father is the abscondee), or to the father
    if the mother has deceased. But not always. There are
    cases where the Japanese mother has died and the
    Japanese grandparents have kept the kids, instead of
    returning them to the foreign father. You can read more
    about this sad state of affairs at
    http://www.crnjapan.com/en/.

    You won’t believe that this kind of thing is still going on
    in a first-world country like Japan in the 21st century.

    The Japanese court attitude thereby encourages Japanese
    spouses wanting to hang on to their kids to hightail it
    back to Japan and lie low for 6 months. Currently there has
    been no case, even after the Japanese Supreme Court has
    awarded rightful custody to the foreign parent, where
    that aggrieved foreign parent has been able to go get their
    kids back. The reason is quite simply that Japan doesn’t
    have a mechanism for properly enforcing civil suit
    judgments, and typically a breach of an order in a civil
    suit does not result in the offender being subject to a
    subsequent criminal suit.

    Thus, the Hague Convention on child abduction provides a
    mechanism whereby if children are illegally removed from
    their country of habitual residence, they must be
    returned, and the jurisdiction for subsequent court
    decisions is taken out of the hands of the Japanese courts.
    This is the first step in making international court
    rulings involving kids, stick.

    We believe that this is going to be a long and slow
    process, but once the treaty is signed and the first few
    cases start to be heard, either the kids involved will be
    returned or the parent trying to hang on to them will
    create an international brouhaha that will highlight to the
    world the lack of protection of rights for international
    parents here in Japan. Who knows, maybe this will start
    another process — that of allowing foreigners actually
    residing within Japan to also regain the simple right of
    access to their children after a divorce.

    But in reality we think this level of change will take
    several more generations and a lot more foreigners living
    in Japan to achieve…

    To get Terrie’s Take by giving your name and email address at
    http://www.japaninc.com/newsletters/free_sign_up.

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