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Bill’s Diet passage paves way for Japan to join child custody pact

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

The bill necessary for Japan to join the treaty for handling cross-border child custody disputes has cleared the Diet.

Japan is now assured of ratifying the pact by the end of the fiscal year next March after all the domestic procedures are completed.

The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction sets out the rules and procedures for the prompt return of children under 16, taken or retained by one parent following the failure of an international marriage, to the country of their habitual residence if requested by the other parent.

The bill was submitted to the Diet in March 2012, but was shelved when the Lower House was dissolved for the December general election. It was resubmitted and approved by the Lower House earlier this month and by the Upper House on Wednesday.

A central authority will be set up in the Foreign Ministry to take charge of locating children who have been taken away and encouraging parents to settle disputes through consultation.

If consultations fail, family courts in Tokyo and Osaka will issue rulings.

The newly enacted law will, however, allow a parent to refuse to return a child if abuse or domestic violence is feared, a provision campaigners call vital, but which some say risks being exploited.

The law will allow for parents who separated before its enactment to apply to have a child returned, but contains a provision stating that the application can be refused if a child has been resident in the country for a year or more and is happily settled.

Detractors say the lumbering pace of Japan’s justice system, where cases can take months or even years to be heard, will reduce the chances that a foreign parent will make a successful application to have their child returned.

Unlike Western nations, Japan does not recognize joint custody and courts almost always order that children from broken marriages live with their mothers.