Japan parliament approves child abduction treaty
- Published: 22/05/2013 at 09:49 AM
- Online news:
Japan's parliament on Wednesday approved an international treaty on child abductions after decades of pressure from the United States and other Western nations.
A road sign for drivers to pay attention for children is pictured near an elementary school in Tokyo on January 18, 2011. Japan's parliament on Wednesday approved an international treaty on child abductions after decades of pressure from the United States and other Western nations.
Japan is the only member of the Group of Eight major industrialised nations that has not ratified the 1980 Hague Convention, which requires nations to return snatched children to the countries where they usually reside.
Hundreds of parents, mostly men from North America, Europe and elsewhere, have been left without any recourse after their estranged partners took their half-Japanese children back to the country.
Unlike Western nations, Japan does not recognise joint custody and courts almost always order that children of divorcees live with their mothers.
US lawmakers have long demanded Japan fall into line on the issue, one of the few open disputes between the close allies. In February Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised action after White House talks with US President Barack Obama.
The upper house of parliament on Wednesday voted unanimously for Japan to join the treaty, following a similar move by the more powerful lower house last month.
But Japan must still clear various governmental and legislative hurdles before the Hague Convention can take full effect. The government has said it aims for final ratification by the end of this fiscal year -- March 2014.
A central authority will be set up in the foreign ministry to take charge of locating children who have been removed by one parent following the collapse of an international marriage, and to encourage parents to settle disputes voluntarily.
If consultations fail, family courts in Tokyo and Osaka will issue rulings.
The law will, however, allow a parent to refuse to return a child if abuse or domestic violence is feared, a provision which campaigners say is vital, but which some say risks being exploited.
It will also allow for parents who separated before its enactment to apply to get a child returned. But it contains a provision stating that the application can be refused if a child has been resident in the country for a year or more and is happily settled.
Few foreign parents have much faith in the Japanese justice system as a means of getting back their children once they have been brought to Japan.
Thierry Consigny, who represents expatriate French people in northeast Asia and has worked with parents trying to get their children back from Japan, said the legislation would contain loopholes that could be exploited by the Japanese parent.
"We detected in this draft law a lot of exceptions which are worrying," he said.
"Everything will be about the application of the law, and we will be very careful about how it will be enforced in accordance with the spirit of the Hague Treaty."
Yumiko Suto, co-founder of a women's rights group, took issue with the convention on the grounds it would leave youngsters open to violence.
"What's worrying about the Hague Convention is that it won't protect victims of domestic violence, mothers and children who barely escaped alive from their violent husbands," she said.
"It is very difficult for women and children in shelters to hide their whereabouts for a year... so the provision is not very helpful to them," she said, adding that providing evidence of domestic violence in a foreign country is also difficult.
Kimio Ito, professor of sociology at Kyoto University, said he hopes Japanese domestic laws "will remove worries over domestic violence that the convention doesn't fully address".
Under growing pressure from Washington and other Western capitals, Japan has repeatedly pledged to sign the treaty into domestic law, but it has until now never made it through parliament.
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- Writer: AFP
Position: News agency