Japan is moving slowly, slowly towards international child-custody agreement

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)

12 thoughts on “Japan is moving slowly, slowly towards international child-custody agreement

  1. When Japan agrees to all the stipulations of signing the Hague convention. It needs to implement proper access to all the children who have been alienated and abducted and for the loving parents who have been denied human rights for all these years.
    It’s clearly a human rights violation to deny a loving father/Mother all his/her precious years of spending time with his or her child.
    Whether they set up free counselors or some kind of equal rights for visitation………….. They need to grant proper access to the children with no political loopholes within the law. Thousands upon Thousands of Mothers and Fathers will come to Japan in hopes of seeing their children, who have also suffered the trauma of the vicious torment of being denied access.
    Children need to know, they were indeed loved, Whatever kind of Brainwashing that might have occurred by the Alienating or abducting parent taking advantage of Japanese law.
    Japan has continuously violated international law and has turned a blind eye to the fact that other countries and foreign people Love their children. The relatives of the children have suffered and the children need to now they have numerous relatives who have wanted to share and be a part of their lives, but have also suffered the torment of passing years of denied contact.
    Life is about Love and Life is about knowing you were loved. Life can be cold, Hope the children can feel the warmth of their Parents and Relatives Love soon.
    Tim Johnston Japan
    Kai Endo Japan

  2. @trapped in the land of the rising sun – I sympathize completely with what you described. I am a father of a New York born and raised, sweet, sensitive and beloved boy whose Japanese mother kidnapped him to Japan one year ago (!) and has cut off all communication between him and me. Where from evenings playing, weekends having meals and goofing in the house and parks, where so much love and tenderness had grown between us, where I had so much to give him as a person and love to give him as a Daddy, now there is deathly silence. To add to the injury and the horrible child abuse inherent in this crime, I now know that the courts use psychological tortures, boards or committees that determine the baby’s “interests” by forcing them to say they reject their other parent, and accept psychological “tests” that would not bear up to even the most minimal scrutiny in US courts. Absurdities are used against the child and parent to “justify” the kidnapping by pathological spouses who falsely claim abuse, trauma in the child, and explain it all by placing it on the non-Japanese spouse. I wish there were some way to end this crime, but the reforms they are promising today will not free our children. What can we do to protest and bring our children home? thank you for talking about this issue in public. Keep talking!

  3. I’m doing a school project on this article. Would you by any chance have more info. on this matter? If so it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks,
    Kyle 🙂

    • Dear Kyle,

      thank you very much for your comment. I am amazed that you want to use this topic for a school project. I am sorry to say that I do not have any further information on this topic at the moment , but I am sure when you research online with the Japanese newspapers or international support groups for parents/children of international marriage/divorce you can find more.

      Keep us posted on how the school project then worked out.

      Good luck with everything,


      • I got a 100!!!, I’m not exactly sure what else to say other than that my teacher thought I had a very interesting topic. Thanks, Kyle 🙂

  4. I was a person who fled an abusive marriage 13 years ago, I was lucky I didn’t have a child.. but if I did, I have really mixed feelings on this issue, but what I fear about this “act” like many others is the innocent will get trapped in between, and I don’t think Japan should have to adhere to a domestic situation in another country, I think as countries with issues revolving around domestic issues are separate.

    I don’t know much about it, I gather most are men with Japanese wives who left their host country and came back to Japan with a child.(?) A lot of the times the children are used as a ploy to get back at the other spouse… I don’t think its fair for an abused spouse that has fear for her own life, or his own life to feel like that can’t run for safety… I’m just basing my opinions if I was in that situation, thank god I’m not, but if I had a child I would have taken the child with me out of safety…

    • Dear Elle Marie,

      thank you very much for your honest comment. Understand me right, I would never support any abusive environment, my only desire is that Japan adjusts to what I see as a basic human right for childern: If children want to visit their parents, that they actually have an opportunity to do so. If a legal decision was made abroad about visitation rights, I expect that the legal system in Japan can adapt as well.

      All the best,


      • Hi Sibylle, of course, I understand what you meant, I just feel that unless the law is specific, many will fall in between the cracks, that’s my only hesitation, to not only Japan but everywhere. I also agree, if the parent is not a danger to the other spouse or child, they absolutely should have the right 100%! Even if the spouse is a danger to either or, I think it should be in a controlled environment, but I also don’t think it would be fair to the spouse and child who are safe, not have free reign on the ability to travel or leave because of the other deranged spouse.. that’s my only concern.

        • Hi Elle,
          First let me say that what you did in leaving your unhealthy relationship was brave, and took a courage that not many people have probably ever fully understood. I just want to weigh in on the reality. I live in Japan, and have for many years. NOT all of these cases are people fleeing abuse (few in my observations), but rather mothers that know that they can cut one half of their children’s parental unit quickly and with little legal regard for what actually took place. I live in Japan, only because I am trapped. I am the victim of abuse, and am currently still unable to get help. My husband told me that if I ever tried to speak out or get help, that he would make sure that I never had access to our beautiful daughter again. It took years before I tried, and it turns out that he was right. I have been in this system, and can tell you from way too much experience that they don’t care about the facts. I can’t even tell you the pain this has caused me and my daughter (a once happy, bright eyed and loving child), and my heart breaks for the others that have been ‘abused’ (perhaps for the second time) by the Japanese system. In the United States, I would be scared, very scared, of taking my husband on. Probably just like you (and many of us), I have little proof, spending many years actually helping his case by covering up what he’s done and defending him. But, in the US, I know that the courts are interested in facts, and the only logical judgement would be in my daughters best interest. The point is, that this is NOT the case in Japan, facts are NOT the deciding factor. They are trying to make steps to make that happen, that is the point of this article.

  5. Japan needs to wake up to embrace the world and modernize it judicial system. Articles like yours are agents of change, help keep the pressure on to achieve reforms. I will pass it along to my network. Great reporting style Sibylle! Cesar

    • Dear Cesar,

      thank you very much for your comment and even complimet. On the other hand, I have to say that I doubt that an article of mine can actually be an agent of change. I am solely commenting on how I perceive Japan with no further social or economical actions from my side.

      All the best from rainy Tokyo,


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