I still remember how shocked I was, when I realized for the first time after living here, that Japan had not joined 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. I had naively assumed that Japan as a developed country – even a member of G7 – had set a high priority on children’s rights. I had never in my dreams considered Japan as a safe haven for child abductions. So what is the big deal about The Hague Convention? It is an international pact that sets procedures for resolving child custody cases in failed international marriages. Japan does not have to follow these international rules so far, therefore chances are that after a divorce non-Japanese cannot see their children, if their Japanese spouses takes them to Japan from the country where the family had been living.
According to The Wallstreet Journal chief government spokesman Yukio Edano said today that the Cabinet is expected to formally draft a bill this Friday that could ultimately clear the way for Japan to sign the 1980 treaty. Japan has faced renewed pressure from the United States, Canada and some European nations (i.e. France, UK, Switzerland) on why not to join the international pact. I cannot understand why Japan prefers to “cleanwash” their own citizens, while leaving the foreign parent with no legal means to win back custody or visitation rights once the former spouse takes the child or children to Japan. Furthermore Japan sees no problems when actual foreign court orders are broken, divorced Japanese spouses will be safe in Japan, even when parents had kidnapped the kids to bring them back to Japan without the approval of the previous spouse. In simple words: Japanese courts do not recognize the legitimacy of child custody contracts of other countries!
From what I could find on the internet presently there are about 100 active cases involving some 140 children in U.S.-Japan custody battles and 38 cases in the UK. One can now argue that there are not many cases and all is just based a difference of culture. In Japan the custody is typically granted to one parent: Most often the mother. It is still difficult for me to comprehend that it is not unusual for children to stop seeing their fathers after their parents divorce. Some voices say that joining The Hague Convention would put Japanese parents and their children at risk, because they had fled abusive relationships. Therefore the Democratic Party of Japan’s panel requests the government to ensure that those parents who had kidnapped their children would not have to face criminal charges, and that the domestic definition of child abuse will be employed when such acts are brought into question. Leaving the criminal charges aside, I cannot truly say that Japan takes child abuse seriously. Simply have a look at the figures: In 2008 there were 42,664 cases of child abuse, 2009 an increased number of 44,210 cases of child abuse. Even based on new laws that were meant to give welfare workers more power to apply for warrants in child abuse cases. As a consequence the actual numbers of warrants: two warrants in 2008 and in 2009 only one warrant was asked for. I can only hope for the best for everyone involved.
According to Mainichi Shimbun the plan is to have Japan join the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction during a regular Diet session next year. I wish I could express my feeling of helplessness.
Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)