Japan: No Longer a Haven for Wrongful Child Abduction?

Well, it has finally happened. Japan has decided to move towards signing onto the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and follow the 80 or so other countries that have decided to try to stop wrongful child abduction. The motion still has to pass through parliament, but that could come by the end of this year. This has been an issue for a long time and hundreds of children have been wrongfully abducted to Japan primarily by Japanese mothers. As Japan has a history of staying out of custody matters internally this situation has not been surprising but has caused serious emotional pain for many parents left behind without their children or any access to them for the rest of their lives.

Part of the official reason for Japan’s reluctance to sign onto the convention has been that such an agreement would prevent Japanese women who are married to foreigners from escaping abusive relationships but the convention does require the child’s safety and interests to be considered when and if custody is arranged:

The Convention seeks to protect children from the harmful effects of their wrongful removal or retention across international borders, which can be a tragedy for all concerned. The Convention further establishes procedures to ensure the prompt return of children to the State of their habitual residence when wrongfully removed or retained, and secures protection for rights of access of both parents to their children. Under the Convention, a State is not bound to order the return of a child if it is established that there is a grave risk that his or her return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.

-Quoted from http://japan.usembassy.gov/e/p/tp-20101022-71.html

To date there have been several hundred abductions of children by Japanese nationals that appear to fall under the convention. Custody cases get difficult enough when both parents are from the same nation and have equal de facto and de jure rights to child custody. If one has the ability to simply cross a border and is able to ignore the other parents custody rights and the laws of the countries of the child’s primary citizenship how tempted is that parent going to be to do so? Shouldn’t some legal attempt be possible by the parent who loses their child to show wrongful abduction and have some custody or visitation rights? If there has been no abuse then why should a Japanese parent have the special privilege of arbitrarily deciding that the child in question should never see its other natural parent? In cases where the Japanese spouse is abusive to the children, should there be no way for the foreign parent to protect their child/children? These are all hard questions, and are made harder still by children’s involvement in the equation. Even as Japan signs onto this pact it will still be a long road for those who have already wrongfully lost children, and an even longer road for those who have had children in Japan with Japanese spouses and been cut off unjustly. For those unlucky parents, as their children were born in Japan and lived there at the time of separation, there may never be a solution or peace.

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1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction: