A high-level government panel kicked off discussions Tuesday on whether to sign an international treaty against international child abductions by parents but has set no time frame for reaching a conclusion, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama said.

Participants from various ministries attended, including Parliamentary Vice Minister Ikuo Yamahana from the Foreign Ministry, Senior Vice Justice Minister Toshio Ogawa and Yoko Komiyama, the senior vice health minister.

Fukuyama stressed that setting up the council doesn’t necessarily mean Japan will sign the treaty, which would make it a criminal offense if a Japanese spouse spirits offspring to Japan after a failed international marriage.

“We intend to discuss the issue and will decide the government’s course of action,” he said. “And I would like to strongly state that this meeting doesn’t mean Japan will automatically (join) the treaty.”

He added that the council will solicit opinions from various people and organizations, including mothers who have brought their children to Japan.

The government has been under international pressure to join the Hague Convention, which aims to promptly return children illegally taken out of the country of their “habitual residence” by a parent. However, there are strong voices within Japan against signing the treaty, with some saying that parents bring their offspring back to Japan to keep them away from abusive ex-partners.

Fukuyama said he was aware of domestic concerns over the issue as well as the international community’s call to sign the convention, but he added the council’s focus will be on the children.

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