The Cabinet approved a bill Friday that would create a domestic law in preparation for signing the Hague treaty on settling cross-boarder child custody disputes.
If the Diet enacts the bill, Japan will sign the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspect of International Child Abduction, and the new domestic law will be enforced three months after signing the pact, a Justice Ministry official said.
He said there is no target as to when Japan will sign the convention, which would theoretically promise other countries that Japan will try its utmost to return children abducted by an estranged spouse.
The bill states that if a Japanese parent takes a child from his or her partner in another country that has signed the treaty and the other partner files a lawsuit with a Japanese family court, the court must basically order the return of the child.
It stipulates the court can reject the return of the child if more than a year has passed since he or she was taken to Japan.
Other exemptions would be that the return could harm the child mentally or physically, the child is old enough for reasonable thinking and refuses to be returned, or the parent requesting the return has a history of child neglect.
The proceedings would take place in family courts in Tokyo and Osaka and would basically be closed to the public.
The United States, Canada and countries in Europe have urged Japan to sign the Hague Convention and have criticized the nation for letting Japanese parents in failed international marriages get away with abducting their children, even when courts overseas have granted custody to the other parents.
Japan, on the other hand, has argued it must protect parents if they are victims of domestic violence.
Even though passing the bill would be a big step forward for foreign parents who can’t see their children in Japan, some legal experts say the situation won’t change much unless the family courts understand the convention’s principle that the default presumption of return can be superseded only if there is imminent danger of grave harm to the child.
Some lawyers claim there are cases in which Japanese spouses fabricate abuse and the family courts acknowledge the abuse too easily.