FROM SQUARE ONE / Protecting kids when intl marriages break down

Posted on August 28, 2011. Filed under: Child Custody and Visitation, Divorce, Hague Convention, Japanese Family Law | Tags: , , , , |

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The government has decided to join the Hague Convention on the protection of children who are taken or kept in a certain country by one parent without the other’s consent when international marriages break down. The government is now studying the establishment of the necessary legal framework. However, some people have expressed caution about signing the treaty, raising such questions as how to deal with parents and children who come to Japan to escape domestic violence.

In May, the Cabinet decided Japan should participate in the Hague Convention, and this decision was conveyed by Prime Minister Naoto Kan to a summit meeting of the Group of Eight countries in Deauville, France, later that month.

The formal name of the treaty is the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The multinational treaty is designed to provide an expeditious method to return children abducted from one participating nation to another. It is also designed to prevent one parent from removing children from the country where they habitually reside without the consent of the other parent after the marriage collapses.

The convention was adopted at the Hague Conference on Private International Law in 1980 and enforced in 1983. As of July, 85 states are parties to the convention, but few Asian countries have joined.

Under the convention, a child under 16 years old should be returned to its place of habitual residence if one of its parents takes the child out of that country without the consent of the other parent after their marriage collapses. If the parent who remained in the nation of habitual residence demands the return of the child, that child should, in principle, be returned.

The convention is based on the idea that it would serve the best interests of the children if they remained in the nation of habitual residence and courts in that nation decide how the children should be raised.

International marriages involving Japanese nationals increased sharply in the 1980s and ’90s. The annual number of international marriages has hovered around 30,000-40,000 since 2000.

On the other hand, the number of divorces among international couples has also increased, reaching about 20,000 in 2009.

In recent years, there have been many cases of Japanese women who married and began living in other countries, such as the United States, Canada and France, who returned to Japan with their children and refused to let their children have any contact with their fathers. This has become a major issue in North America and Europe.

As of May, there were 100 cases in which children had been removed from the United States, followed by 39 in Britain, 38 in Canada and 32 in France, according to reports received by the Foreign Ministry from other countries.

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External pressure

Under the Japanese “sole parental authority” system, only one parent has parental rights after a married couple has divorced. It is not unusual, therefore, for a parent without parental rights to be refused any contact with his or her children.

In the United States and Europe, joint parental authority or joint custody is common practice. Under this system, parents and their children who live separately after divorcing frequently meet and interact with their offspring.

Because of cultural and institutional differences in parent-child relations, other countries regard Japan as a nation that refuses to allow divorced parents to meet their children.

Last September, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a resolution asking Japan to sign the convention. The French Senate adopted a similar resolution in January this year.

With Japan coming under increasing pressure, the government started preparations for joining the convention by studying the necessary legal arrangements and deciding to designate the Foreign Ministry as the “central authority,” stipulated in the convention, to discharge duties imposed by the convention on such authorities.

(Aug. 25, 2011)
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