By Leah Hyslop. Daily Telegraph.14 Mar 2012
After years of foreign pressure, Japan has finally taken a step closer to joining an international convention on settling cross-border child custody disputes
According to local reports, the cabinet approved a bill last Friday which will bring Japan in line with the Hague Convention on international child abduction.
Japan is the only G8 country not signed up the 1980 treaty, which aims to facilitate the prompt return of children illegally taken to a foreign country to the place where he or she usually lives.
Because Japan has not joined the agreement, many non-Japanese parents whose children have been taken to the country by a former partner have found it extremely difficult to gain access to their childen – even if they were granted custody rights in their home country.
Japan, which favours sole custody, does not consider international parental abduction in itself a criminal offence.
Ann Thomas, managing partner of The International Family Law Group LLP said that she had seen a number of cases where a parent, usually a father, had been completely cut out of the lives of their children after they were taken to Japan, which could took many years to resolve – if they were resolved at all
“Recently, I dealt with a case in which a father in the West Midlands was denied all involvement when the mother took his children to Japan without his consent,” she said. "He was even refused telephone contact. Recently, we have been able to secure regular Skype contact and face to face contact from time to time, but it took four years to conclude.”
Although the movement towards signing the convention was welcomed in many quarters, doubts have been expressed as to how far its rules will be implemented. Particular concern has been raised over how Japanese courts will apply the convention's provisions against return, including the provision that deals with the possibility that returning would expose the child to physical or psychological harm.
Jeremy Morley, an international family lawyer, told Telegraph Expat: “I have not seen the fine print of the Japanese law that adopts the Hague Convention in Japan but I understand that it will include a broad definition of the 'grave risk' exception to the convention. Such a definition will effectively relegate the role of the Hague Convention in Japan to being yet another meaningless document that will provide cover for abductions to continue. The entire family law system in Japan is dysfunctional and court orders are very difficult to enforce... I fully expect that Japan will be in violation of its obligations under the Hague Convention as soon as it signs it.”
The bill is expected to now be debated in Parliament.
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