Japan still split on treaty over child custody

Posted on February 12, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Divorce, Domestic Violence (DV), Hague Convention | Tags: , , , , |

BY MASAHIRO TSURUOKA STAFF WRITER Asahi Shimbun 2011/02/11

Even as Japan faces rising international pressure to ratify a treaty to resolve child custody battles between Japanese and foreign ex-spouses, public opinion in this country remains sharply divided over the issue.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction stipulates that if one parent takes the couple’s offspring to his or her home country without the consent of the spouse, the child or children must be returned to the country of previous residence.

The convention applies to children aged 15 or younger.

Japan and Russia are the only nations among the world’s eight major economies that have not ratified the 1980 Hague Convention.

A typical case under the Hague Convention is that of a Japanese woman who returns to Japan with her child after her marriage fails.

Japan has chosen not to ratify the treaty in part to protect returning Japanese women who say they are fleeing domestic violence or other serious troubles.

But abroad, their actions are often seen as bordering on criminal behavior. In some countries, the women are accused by their ex-husbands of kidnapping or abducting their own children.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement authorities are looking into several such abduction cases.

In Japan, opinions are split on the issue.

A Foreign Ministry survey of Japanese involved in such cases drew 22 responses in favor of ratification of the treaty and 17 against. The survey was released Feb. 2.

The ministry had received 64 responses as of November to its questionnaire posted on its website and other venues.

In support of ratification is the view that concluding the treaty, which serves as the international rule to settle cross-border child custody disputes, is necessary given the rising number of interracial marriages and divorces.

Others support ratification because Japan is being painted overseas as a country that defends the abduction of children.

In the other camp, dissenters say that Japan should not conclude the treaty because taking children away from a violent foreign spouse is a “last resort” for troubled Japanese women.

Moreover, fighting a custody battle in court in the child’s country of previous residence would burden the Japanese spouse with exorbitant legal fees or language barriers.

Often, such court rulings would not be in the Japanese parent’s favor, dissenters say.

Foreign Ministry statistics as of January on cases in which Japanese had brought their children back to Japan against the will of a divorced partner found 100 in the United States, 38 in Britain, 37 in Canada and 30 in France.

The tally is based on the number of cases for which foreign governments had contacted the Japanese government.

If Japan signs the Hague Convention, the government would be obliged to fulfill its legal responsibility by complying with requests made by foreign parents.

The government would be required to locate the “abducted” children and return them to their previous country of residence.

So far 84 countries have signed the Hague Convention.

International pressure on Japan to conclude the treaty is mounting.

France last month passed a resolution in the Senate to demand Japan’s prompt ratification of the Convention.

The U.S. House of Representatives took similar action in September.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stepped up pressure on Japan over the issue in December and again in January, when she met Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara.

Maehara reportedly told her in the January meeting, “Japan will seriously consider the matter.”

The government appears to be moving toward concluding the treaty.

At the instruction of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the government formed a task force comprising senior vice ministers of relevant ministries last month to weigh the issue.

Kan will likely promise to ratify the treaty when he visits Washington in May or later.

The Kan administration hopes to pass the related legislation at the same time it seeks Diet approval for the ratification.

The government plans to incorporate a clause in proposed bills that would allow parents to refuse to return their children in cases involving domestic violence.

But it is still hard to say if things will turn out the way the Kan administration wants.

Many DPJ members and Justice Ministry officials have expressed strong reservations about the speed at which the government is moving to ratify the treaty.

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