Joining the child-abduction treaty

On April 1, Japan will accede to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The government has completed the formal procedures for joining the convention, so the question now is how to ensure a reliable implementation of the convention for the sake of the children and parents concerned.

The treaty, signed by 90 countries around the world since it was concluded in 1980, went into force in 1983. It sets out the rules and procedures with which to comply after one parent requests that his/her children under 16 who were abducted by the other parent be promptly returned to their country of habitual residence.

Japan was the only Group of Eight developed county that had long put off joining the convention. With the increase in international marriages involving Japanese nationals — which hit 34,000 in 2009 according to the welfare ministry — there have been many cases in which a Japanese parent, after breaking up with the foreign spouse, unilaterally takes the children back to Japan and refuses to let the other parent see them. In some cases, Japanese living overseas have reportedly been barred from visiting Japan with their children on the grounds that Japan had not signed the Hague Convention. It is hoped that Japan’s acceptance of the international rules set up by the treaty will dispel the distrust of the Japanese legal system that has built up overseas on this matter.

The convention aims to protect children from the harmful effects of parental abductions. It prioritizes the interests and welfare of children, guarantees the right of separated parents to contact their children, and requires governments of the signatory countries to help separated parents visit and interact with their children.

As for locating abducted children or trying to resolve the case through mediation, a separated parent may seek help from government authorities of either his/her home country or from the country to which the children have been taken. If these efforts fail, the matter will be handed over to the courts. In Japan, such cases will be placed in the hands of family courts in Tokyo and Osaka, which may also mediate the case if both parents agree.

If a separated parent requests help within a year after his/her children have been abducted, the court in principle is supposed to order their prompt return. If a request for help is filed more than a year after abduction, the court will not necessarily order the return of the children if they are deemed to have grown accustomed to their new living environment.

In cases where abuse or domestic violence by a claimant (separated parent) is feared, the return of the children may be denied if the court determines that they could be harmed.

The court may impose financial penalties if a parent refuses to carry out its order. If the parent continues to defy the order, the court may proceed with the enforcement phase — a court official responsible for executing the order and the separated parent will visit the other parent to have the children handed over.

Domestic laws enacted for implementing the Hague Convention do not call for direct enforcement — which seems appropriate in view of the need to protect the children in question from harm.

A careful implementation of the rules will be imperative in order to uphold the best interests of children and to prevent relations between the father and the mother, and between the parents and the children, from worsening.

  • It remains to be seen if there will be any integrity behind how Japan implements the Hague convention. There are exclusions being built in that will likely ensure that no child is returned in the future. Meanwhile the abducted children will suffer and be subjected to ongoing parental alienation.

    Since 1994 there have been nearly 400 registered cases of U.S. citizen children parentally abducted to Japan. The Government of Japan has refused to aid in the return of a single child. There have additionally been children abducted from countries like Canada, Australia, Spain, the U.K, and Ireland to name a few. A statistical analysis projects 10,000 cases from within Japan involving U.S. parents being cut off from their children.

    Japan had the opportunity to include the preexisting cases through additional legislation. They chose not to. By ignoring the existing kidnappings they are choosing to remain a black hole for child abduction.

  • disqus_78r6IPfptX

    I have no hope at all that membership of the Hague Convention will do anything to change Japan’s status as a refuge for criminal kidnappers. The editorial admits that “Domestic laws enacted for implementing the Hague Convention do not call for direct enforcement – which seems appropriate in view of the need to protect the children in question from harm.” First, what’s the point of joining the child abduction treaty if there is no protocol for enforcing it? Obviously the Japanese government plans to rely on that habit of avoiding uncomfortable confrontation by merely advising and recommending rather than forcing compliance with the law. The goal of the Hague Convention is to force the return of children illegally removed from their country of residence – the country where the parents’ divorce is adjudicated, the country whose courts have jurisdiction over the terms of the separation, terms that include the disposition of the children. Second, it is not at all appropriate not to have a legal protocol for enforcing compliance. That is a Japanese strategy for gutting the terms of the Convention. “Protecting children” will be an excuse to do almost nothing – and Japan’s international reputation will still be in the dirt because of it.

    Japanese parents – usually the fugitive mother – have been allowed to take refuge in here, I think partly because of a cultural view of children a as the property of the mother. In these custody dispute the absolute right of the children to have their fathers in their lives isn’t even recognized. It just doesn’t register. Every foreign husband will be portrayed as a potential ‘abuser’ and unsubstantiated claims of spousal violence will be a catch-all way of cutting foreign fathers off from their children. Japanese will – and already do – embrace this notion as it plays into the cultural stereotype of the raping foreign barbarians.

    Maybe the post-April 1 situation will not be as dystopian as I fear. But now that Japan is set to join the Convention in name at least I want to thank Christopher Savoie who forced the government’s hand on the issue. The 2009 case in Fukuoka saw Savoie arrested for abducting his own children away from his Japanese ex-wife who, in turn, had abducted them
    from America. Savoie asked the U.S. Consulate there for amnesty but was turned over to the Japanese police. He was eventually released without charge (“Fukuoka cops drop child-snatching case against Savoie.” November 14, 2009). I always thought how could the police charge him with a crime when he was so obviously in the right to begin with? Basically Mr. Savoie shamed Japan into action, demonstrating once again that no progress is made here without foreign pressure.

  • phu

    The summary here is telling: “The question now is how to carry out the convention fairly and reliably for the Japanese children and parents concerned.”

    The convention isn’t about “Japanese children and parents.” It’s about children. Japan has made it clear in the past that the “Japanese” part is all it’s interested in protecting.

    It’s very disappointing to read posts like this supporting the continuation of Japan’s unacceptable non-handling of child abduction: “Domestic laws enacted for implementing the Hague Convention do not call for direct enforcement — which seems appropriate in view of the need to protect the children in question from harm.” Yes, that would seem appropriate to a culture that had no interest in any enforcement in the first place.

  • Tim Johnston

    Like everyone in the Foreign community has been saying about Japans way of Handling and implementing the New laws to deal with Abducted and Alienated Children to and within Japan.
    The Evasiveness will continue through the loopholes and failed legal system.
    “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and Japan will continue it’s decay!! of failure to be responsive to International rights, Human rights, Childrens Rights, Mental health issues and Parental rights.
    Yet, they talk about a few of their children that have been abducted to North Korea.
    Children need both Parents, But Japan doesn’t think so, If your a foreigner, Good luck! and lets hope that they can try to change their International Reputation as a Black hole.
    Tim Johnston Japan
    Kai Endo