Bills' timing unclear, given political, public opposition

Process for signing Hague treaty begins

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

The government officially decided Friday to prepare to ratify an international treaty that prevents cross-border parental child abductions.

The decision came just in time for Prime Minister Naoto Kan to announce it at next week’s Group of Eight summit meeting in France.

But since there is strong opposition to the pact in both the ruling and opposition camps, as well as from the public, it remains unclear how soon the Diet can actually agree to conclude the treaty and enact related domestic laws.

At a news conference Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano explained that Japan decided to join the 1980 Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction from the viewpoint of “children’s welfare.”

“When (a marriage) crosses borders, the situation becomes increasingly difficult and the Hague Treaty is a certain standard or rule in the international community,” Edano said. “I believe it is desirable for Japan to be consistent with this standard amid deepening ties on various levels with the international society.”

To ratify the convention, the government will draft legislation and prepare to submit to the next extraordinary Diet session.

The bills will stipulate the Foreign Ministry as the central authority for overseeing cases related to the Hague Treaty, including locating abducted children, taking measures to prevent child abuse and advising parents on the voluntary return of children.

A new judicial procedure will also be included to issue court orders for the child’s return to his or her “habitual residence” and specify that returns will be denied in cases of child or spousal abuse.

The bills will state that the return of a child can be denied if “there is grave danger that the child will be placed in an intolerable situation” or “the child will suffer physical or mental damage.”

For years, Japan has been the object of international criticism for not joining the Hague Convention.

Among the Group of Eight countries, Japan and Russia are the only ones who are not signatory members of the treaty.

However, there is strong opposition to the treaty in Japan, especially from mothers who took their children to Japan from abroad because of alleged domestic violence.

“It is to my understanding that full consideration has been given (in deciding the outline of the bills) so that there will be no negative effects on the welfare of the child,” Edano said.

Kenji Utsunomiya, chairman of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, issued a statement Friday urging the government not to rush into concluding the treaty, citing the need for a thorough discussion by experts and related parties.