The Japanese government is set to finally comply with the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction on April 1, 2014. Japan has taken the brunt of criticism from the United States and other European countries of being a “safe haven” for international child abductions. The treaty, currently with 89 signatories, has laid down rules and procedures for the prompt return to the country of habitual residence of children under the age of 16 taken to another country, if requested by the other parent. Japan’s compliance of the treaty will enter into force on the first day of the third calendar month after the instrument of accession is deposited with the Dutch Foreign Ministry.
In May of this year, the Diet had formally approved the Japan’s compliance to the treaty, being that the country was the only one in the Group of Eight (G8) that wasn’t compliant to the Hague Convention. The Japanese Parliament also enacted a law in June stipulating domestic implementation procedures for the Hague treaty. Under the legislation, a central authority will be set up in the Foreign Ministry to locate children who have been taken away and encourage the people involved to settle the dispute through consultations. If the consultations fail, family courts in Tokyo and Osaka will decide on the child’s treatment. The legislation also allows a parent to refuse to return a child if abuse or domestic violence is feared. The central authority is set to be staffed with lawyers, experts on domestic violence and child psychology counselors. Judges in the family courts of Tokyo and Osaka have also been trained on the Hague convention.
There was strong criticism of Japan’s legal system before the law, because unlike other industrialized countries, Japan’s system does not recognize the concept of joint custody. This resulted in Japanese courts almost always forcing half-Japanese children to live with their mothers, and male parents who live in North America and Europe are then left without any choice – Japanese mothers usually end up with full custody of their children. When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the U.S. in February, the premier promised action and progress on Hague Convention compliance after official meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama.