Ambassadors urge action on child abductions

by Masami Ito

Japan should sign the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and act to resolve its current cases by enabling parents left out in the cold to contact their spirited-away offspring, eight ambassadors in Tokyo said in a joint statement Thursday.

The ambassadors of Australia, Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States issued the statement after a two-day closed symposium on international parental child abduction, which often involves ex-spouses who commandeer custody of offspring, sometimes in defiance of overseas court rulings, and take their children abroad.

Participants in the forum included experts on the convention, judges, law enforcement officials from the eight nations as well as Japanese government officials and Diet members. Details of the forum were not revealed.

“We look forward to continuing to work closely and in a positive manner with the Japanese government to move ahead quickly on this critical issue,” said Canadian Ambassador Jonathan Fried, who read aloud the statement during a news conference Thursday. “We believe this shared concern can and should serve as the basis for developing solutions now to all cases of parental child abduction in Japan.”

The objective of the treaty is to promptly return offspring, who have been “wrongfully removed,” back to “their habitual country.” There are currently 82 member states of the convention, and Japan and Russia are the only two Group of Eight nations that are not signatories.

William Duncan, deputy secretary general of the Hague Conference on Private International Law who was in Tokyo to attend the symposium, expressed deep concern over the “harmful effects” on the separated children.

“The idea is to protect the child’s right to continuing contact with both parents,” Duncan said during the same news conference. “The longer an abduction lasts, the longer the disruption, the longer the separation from the other parent lasts, the more damaging that separation becomes and the more difficult it becomes to repair the relationship between that child and the parent.”

According to the Canadian Embassy, there are 37 cases involving Japan and Canada, 38 cases with the U.K., and 88 with the U.S. During the news conference, Duncan said there were about 1,300 return applications internationally among contracting states in 2003, the most recent available statistics, and he believes the numbers are about the same at present.

Although the government has begun to show signs of moving forward to consider becoming a signatory to the convention, one concern it has is the difference in custody issues — by law, Japan awards sole custody, usually to the mother, whereas many other countries grant joint custody.

Duncan said he thought there was no need to change Japan’s civil law but there will need to be procedural changes.

“The technical, legal answer I think is that there seems to me to be no reason why Japan should not (sign) the convention — it’s as simple as that,” Duncan said. “I can understand why people have concerns. It will involve some procedural changes . . . but every country that has come into the convention has had to make some adjustments.”