Japan to join child abduction treaty

With custody battles on the rise, lawmakers finally approve the move after years of pressure from other signatories of the Hague Convention

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 May, 2013, 2:40am


Japan's parliament has approved joining an international child custody treaty amid foreign pressure for Tokyo to address concerns that Japanese mothers can take children away from foreign fathers without recourse.

The upper house of parliament yesterday voted unanimously to join the 1980 Hague Convention on international child abduction following passage by the more powerful lower house last month. Japan is the only Group of Seven nation that has not joined the convention, which has 89 signatories.

The Hague Convention is that it won't protect victims of domestic violence, mothers and children who barely escaped alive from their violent husbands

The United States, Britain, France and other countries have repeatedly urged Japan to join the convention. It seeks to ensure that custody decisions are made by the courts of the country where the abducted child originally resided, and that the rights of access of both parents are protected.

Custody battles between parents of broken international marriages have become a growing problem in recent years, as Japanese mothers bring children home and refuse to let foreign ex-husbands visit or see their children. For years, Japan had resisted joining the convention, citing cases of Japanese women fleeing abusive foreign husbands.

Japanese law allows only one parent to have custody of children in cases of divorce - nearly always the mother. That's kept some fathers from seeing their children until they are grown.

The issue gained attention in 2009, when American Christopher Savoie was arrested in Japan after his Japanese ex-wife accused him of abducting their two children as they walked to school. He had been granted full custody by a US court, and his ex-wife Noriko Savoie violated that decision by taking the children from Tennessee to Japan.

Amid accusations of kidnapping from both sides, Christopher Savoie was eventually released and allowed to leave the country, on condition he leave his children behind.

Tatsushi Nishioka, a foreign ministry official, said Japan was likely to join the convention within the fiscal year ending in March 2014. Other steps are needed first, including parliamentary approval of an implementation bill, Nishioka said.

Thierry Consigny, who represents expatriate French people in northeast Asia and has worked with parents trying to get their children back from Japan, said the legislation would contain loopholes that could be exploited by the Japanese parent.

"Everything will be about the application of the law, and we will be very careful about how it will be enforced in accordance with the spirit of the Hague Treaty."

But Yumiko Suto, co-founder of a women's rights group, took issue with the convention.

"What's worrying about the Hague Convention is that it won't protect victims of domestic violence, mothers and children who barely escaped alive from their violent husbands," she said.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse