Japan set to sign international child-custody law in March
After years of international pressure, Japan is finally moving to sign the Hague Convention on child-custody disputes.
The government plans to propose new legislation to the Diet in March so that it can sign the treaty.
The United States and Europe have been particularly critical of Japan’s foot-dragging on the issue.
Still, it remains unclear whether the bill will be passed in the current Diet session due to persistent opposition within both the ruling and opposition parties. Submissions of key legislation could also take precedence.
The bill was based on proposals submitted to the justice minister by the Legislative Council, an advisory panel, on Feb. 7.
Among the Group of Eight advanced nations, only Japan has yet to sign and ratify the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
The convention is designed to deal with cross-border “abductions” by parents of broken international marriages.
It requires a parent to return a child to the nation of habitual residence if the child is under 16 and taken to another country without the consent of the ex-spouse.
The convention stipulates that the parents of the child must settle the custody dispute in the country to which the child is returned.
The panel’s proposals outline procedures that allow, among other things, a family court to rule whether a child must be returned to the country of habitual residence after a request for the child’s return is made.
The court’s discussion of the case takes place behind closed doors.
But the Japanese parent can appeal the ruling to a high court and the supreme court.
If a Japanese parent does not comply with the ruling, court officials can forcibly remove a child to return him or her to the country of former residence.
The outline also spells out cases in which the Japanese parent does not need to return the child:
When a child has adjusted to a new environment after spending a year in Japan;
When the other parent calling for the child’ return did not actually take care of the child;
When the other parent gave consent to the former Japanese spouse taking the child to Japan;
When a child refuses to return to the country of former residence; and
When a child is at great risk of being tormented, both mentally and physically, as a result of abuse by the non-Japanese parent and abuse of the Japanese parent by the foreign spouse.
The latter refers to instances when the Japanese parent returned to country of former residence with the child at the request of the former spouse. It also envisages the failure of a foreign parent to look after the child due to a history of domestic violence, drug addiction or alcohol abuse.
The Foreign Ministry is pressing for passage of legislation, calling it Japan’s pledge to the international community.
In a summit with U.S. President Barack Obama in November, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda expressed his resolve to join the convention after submitting a bill to the Diet session that began last month.
But the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and opposition parties are divided over some clauses of the draft bill.
The government needs the cooperation of the opposition camp to win Diet passage of the bill. However, the two Diet chambers are controlled by differing blocs, and the opposition camp is stepping up its confrontational approach to the Noda administration with respect to policy issues.
The bill could take a back seat in Diet discussion because the government is now focusing on bills to raise the consumption tax rate, analysts said.