WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of State has removed Japan from its list of countries said to be showing a pattern of noncompliance with the so-called Hague Convention on cross-border parental child abduction.
In an annual report released last week, the department noted Japan’s legislative efforts to better enforce the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which Japan joined in 2014.
But the department “remains highly concerned about both the lack of effective mechanisms for the enforcement of Convention orders and the sizable number of pre-Convention abduction cases,” the report said.
“Japan’s Justice Ministry has acknowledged the urgency of returning abducted children safely and promptly and has initiated an effort to revise Japanese laws to improve execution of ordered returns of abducted children,” the report added.
Last year, Japan was listed as a noncompliant country for the first time since joining the convention.
On Friday, Japan’s House of Councilors passed into law a bill to revise the civil execution law in order to clarify enforcement rules for handovers of children between divorced parents.
Before the revision, the civil implementation law had no clear stipulation regarding child custody handovers. Court officials had to rely on a clause related to asset seizures to enforce court orders — a tactic that was criticized for treating children as property.
The legislation originally required a parent living with a child to be present when the child was handed over to the other parent. With the revision, however, the law allows custody transfers to take place in the presence of just one parent, rather than both. The revision removes this requirement to prevent parents without custody rights from thwarting child handovers by pretending they are not at home.
In consideration of the children’s feelings, the revision requires in principle that parents with custody rights be present during handovers.
The amended law urges courts and enforcement officials to make sure handovers do not adversely affect children’s mental or physical well-being. The new rules will take effect within one year of promulgation.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, criticized the removal of Japan from the list. In a statement Friday, Smith said, “It cannot be denied that the Japanese government has done little to help reunite those American children who have been separated from their left-behind parents.”