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U.K. orders child back to Japan under Hague Convention

First Japanese returned under newly inked abduction treaty

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

A court in the United Kingdom has ordered that a Japanese child living with its mother in Britain be returned to Japan under The Hague Convention on cross-border parental child abduction, which took effect in Japan in April, sources said Tuesday.

It’s the first time a Japanese child has been ordered returned since Japan formally joined The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, according to the Foreign Ministry’s The Hague Convention Division.

According to Hirotaka Honda, a lawyer representing the father, the Japanese couple are estranged and going through a divorce.

The mother took their 7-year-old child to Britain at the end of March, because of her work. The father understood that the child would be away only for four weeks, but when the child didn’t return as expected, the father applied to the British government in May for support based on the provision of the international treaty.

On July 22, Britain’s High Court ruled that keeping the child in the country was illegal under the international treaty, and ordered the mother to return the child to Japan by Wednesday.

“I welcome the appropriate judgment,” Honda told The Japan Times. “Without The Hague Convention, I believe that the way to raise the child was made only by the mother’s decision.”

The mother reportedly said that her work took her to England, and she had no intention of abducting the child. She was quoted as saying she was planning to return the child to Japan at the end of the month, regardless of the court’s decision.

The Hague Convention sets out rules and procedures for the prompt return to the country of habitual residence of children under 16 taken or retained by one parent, if requested by the other parent.

Parents who have had children taken to Japan can ask for support from the foreign affairs ministry or central authority in their own country in charge of locating children who have been abducted.

The Hague Convention was drafted in 1980 to ensure that children abducted and taken overseas by a parent in a failed international marriage are promptly returned to their country of habitual residence.

Japan’s longtime refusal to sign the convention earned it a reputation as a “safe haven” for international child abductions.

But since Tokyo’s entry into the pact in April, parents who have had a child taken to Japan can receive public support from the Foreign Ministry or the central authority in their own country in charge of locating children who have been spirited away.

In the latest case, the child was whisked away from Japan, and Britain, where the child is staying, is obliged to do the same because it is a signatory of the convention.