National / Social Issues

Number of reported child abductions down 'drastically' a year after Hague Convention

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

The Foreign Ministry said Thursday it had received 110 requests from parents seeking either the return of children taken by the other parent or visitation access under the Hague Convention on cross-border child custody disputes, nearly a year after the pact took effect in Japan.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction stipulates rules and procedures for the prompt return of children under 16 to the child’s country of habitual residence if taken elsewhere by one parent and the other requests it.

The cases typically involve couples in an international relationship which fails, and one parent takes the child back to his or her native country.

Under the pact, parents who have had children taken by their spouse can ask for support from the central authority in their own country or in the country where the children are located. In Japan, the task of locating such children falls to the Foreign Ministry.

Of the 110 request, 25 sought the return of children taken to Japan and 16 called for the return of children taken overseas from Japan, the ministry said.

With Foreign Ministry assistance, children were sent overseas in three cases, to Germany, Canada and France. Four children returned to Japan, from the United States, Switzerland, Spain and Germany.

The remaining 69 cases involved parents seeking to visit their children, with 55 wanting to see children taken to Japan and 14 pursuing access to children overseas, the ministry said.

The treaty is not retroactive. It only addresses repatriation cases that took place after the pact took effect, but it also calls for the provision of assistance to parents seeking visitation, regardless of when they were separated from their children.

A Foreign Ministry official said the pact had likely helped prevent abductions to Japan.

“We presume that, thanks to the treaty, the number of abductions of children drastically decreased” and that more parents have been solving their disputes before either of them flees with children, the official said.

From 2012 to 2013, there were 81 complaints of children taken to Japan from the United States, 39 from Britain and Canada respectively and 34 from France, according to the ministry. This contrasts with a total of only 25 requests in the past year.

Drafted in 1980, the Hague Convention aims to ensure that children taken overseas by one parent are promptly returned to their country of habitual residence.

Tokyo became the 91st signatory of the treaty, which took effect April 1, 2014 in Japan.

The nation’s longtime refusal to sign up earned it a reputation as a safe haven for international child abduction.

The treaty was applied for the first time in July, when a British court ordered the return to Japan of a 7-year-old who had been taken to Britain by the child’s Japanese mother.

In that instance, the child’s Japanese father did not ask for help from the Foreign Ministry, but instead sought assistance from British authorities directly.

The mother took the child to Britain at the end of March 2014 when she went there on business. The father believed that the child would be away only for four weeks, but when the child failed to return, he applied to the British government in May for help under the convention.

The mother reportedly cited her work commitments and argued she had no intention of abducting the child. She was quoted as saying she planned to return the child to Japan at the end of July regardless of the court’s decision.

The pact was applied for the first time for the return of a child to a foreign country, when a 5-year-old boy was reunited with his father in Germany. Born to a German father and Japanese mother, the child had lived in Germany with his parents but went to Japan in June with his mother when the couple split.

At the end of August, the father applied for help from the Japanese Foreign Ministry through the German government for the return of child under the treaty. After negotiations, the mother voluntarily took the boy back to Germany in mid-October.

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