Will Japan joining the Hague Convention put a stop to child snatching?

Will Japan joining the Hague Convention put a stop to child snatching? (Asahi Shinbun, April 3rd, 2014, Satomi Sugihara, Tsuyoshi Tamura, Takashi Oshima)

Japan Joins Hague Convention to Stop Child Abduction

 When one of a couple whose marriage has broken down takes a child out of the country and the other party requests the return of the child, in principle the child must now be returned to the country where the couple originally lived. This is because Japan became a signatory to the Hague Convention on January 1. There are about 20,000 divorces per year among Japanese people who have married internationally. Will there be a halt to the cross-border competition for children?

 Japan is a signatory to the Hague Convention. I have the right to see my daughter. Last month, a woman in Chiba Prefecture, 34, sent a letter to the parents of her American ex-husband, who lives with their daughter, 14. She is a U.S. citizen. Please don’t contact her again. She received a reply by e-mail.

 She met her ex-husband at a U.S. military base in Kyushu, got pregnant and married him, but he did not give her any money for living expenses. She could not afford to buy disposable diapers, and was suspected of being abusive during an infant checkup at a hospital on the base. In 2001, her ex-husband took their then 8-month-old daughter to the U.S. without the woman’s permission and left her with her parents.

 Two years later, the woman found out where her ex-husband’s parents lived and went to the U.S. to see her daughter. Since then, she has only been able to see her daughter three times, and five years ago, she was completely rejected.

 The Convention will be applied to cases involving the return of children from the first of this month, but even in cases before that date, the government can assist in locating the child for visits.

 Japan’s accession to the Hague Convention will finally put it on the same footing as the United States. I hope Japan will negotiate on an equal footing with the United States. Through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he plans to send documents to the U.S. requesting visitation.

 Meanwhile, a Canadian man, 43, whose three daughters were taken away by his Japanese ex-wife, moved to Japan in 2011 and was able to see his daughters three times last year. He moved to Japan in 2011 and was able to see his daughters three times last year, but when he tried to contact them in advance, they refused. His visits are always a “rush. She said, “I think it will become easier for me to see them when Japan joins the treaty. I want to see my children in a legally protected environment.

 The U.S. has strongly lobbied Japan to join the Convention. The U.S. Department of State has identified 58 cases in which children have been taken to Japan, 80 of which are unresolved, making the U.S. the second largest country in the world after Mexico and India. The U.S. Congress is currently debating a bill that would allow the U.S. to impose sanctions on member countries that are not doing enough to address the problem.

In the case of Japanese nationals who are married to their husbands overseas, the number of such cases has been increasing.  In the case of Japanese women, it is said that there are many women who have suffered domestic violence from their husbands overseas and returned to their home country to escape. In this case, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for searching for the whereabouts of the child and introducing an arbitration agency to assist in the case when the foreign parent files a complaint.

 If the parent who took the child does not agree to the handover, either the Tokyo or Osaka family courts will decide whether or not to hand over the child. In exceptional cases, the court can refuse to hand over the child if it finds that there is “grave danger to the child’s body or mind” due to abuse. On the other hand, the family court may order the child to be forcibly removed. On the other hand, in cases where a child is taken away from Japan, the Japanese parent can apply to a foreign government agency for assistance. The case is decided by a court of law in that country.

 Even between a Japanese couple, if one of them takes the child abroad, the case is covered by the treaty, but “removal” that occurs within Japan is not covered, regardless of nationality. At the end of last month, parents who could not see their children after divorce marched in Shibuya, Tokyo, calling for an early law to prohibit the removal of children in Japan.

 Under Japan’s Civil Code, custody is transferred to only one parent after divorce. Visitation is agreed upon at the time of divorce, but it is not enforceable. The parent who takes the child out of the home and has a good track record in raising the child has an advantage in the custody battle, so there has been some competition for the child.

 In March, about 50 non-partisan Diet members, including the Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Japan, and the New Kōmeitō, established the Parliamentarians for the Prevention of Parent-Child Disconnection (Chairman: Koji Yasuoka, former Minister of Justice). The federation meets once a month to listen to the opinions of concerned parties and experts, and to seek ways to improve the law.

The Hague Convention, formally known as the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, stipulates that when a child under 16 years of age is taken out of the country without permission, the child should be returned to the country where he or she originally resided and the court should decide who will take care of the child. There are 91 member countries, including Japan. There have been many cases of Japanese mothers returning to their home countries with their children and not allowing the foreign fathers to see their children, and Western countries have strongly urged Japan to join the treaty as soon as possible. In Asia, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, and Sri Lanka will join. In China, only Hong Kong and Macao will join, and the mainland will not be covered.

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