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April 16th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Despite promising to do so, it’s beginning to look like Japan may not ratify the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction after all, at least not during the present session of the Diet.  Read about it here (Japan Times, 4/13/12).

Japan has long been a safe haven for Japanese mothers who wish to abduct their children from other parts of the world.  That’s because (a) there’s no legal obligation for Japanese courts to force the children’s return and (b) Japanese courts give sole custody to mothers almost without exception.  So if a non-Japanese father wants to get his child back from a Japanese mother who’s in Japan, his odds are long at best.  In fact, it was only last year that a Nicaraguan doctor living in Minnesota became the first father to successfully manage that feat, and he did so only because he was able to trick the mother into coming to Hawaii.  When she did, she was arrested on a Minnesota warrant and, faced with prison or giving up custody, she went with the latter.

The nominal reason that the Japanese Diet won’t ratify the Hague Convention this year is that the members have other things to occupy their minds, principally a tax issue.  But members are also concerned with whether it’s a good idea to return abducted children at all.  And if you’ve read this blog much, you can probably guess why.  It’s the usual Get Out of Jail Free Card for mothers – domestic violence.

Although [Prime Minister] Noda’s administration has decided to push for signing the Hague Convention, lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition camps have serious reservations and the bill’s passage is in doubt. According to the Lower House secretariat, a bill was submitted to the Diet in early March but has not even been referred to a committee for deliberation yet.

Lawmakers opposed to the treaty argue that joining it may result in children being forcibly returned to an abusive environment, since many Japanese mothers have cited domestic violence as a reason for fleeing their overseas domiciles and taking their children to Japan.

Of course they have.  It’s the one-size-fits-all claim that trumps all other claims, all other rights.  The idea that, for example, American family courts insufficiently protect mothers and children from abusive fathers borders on the delusional.  In fact, mothers usually have to do little more than say the magic words to get a father removed from his child’s life.  We see it time and again, so it’s strange indeed to see Japanese lawmakers pretending that, if a mother says she’s been abused, foreign courts can’t or won’t do anything about it.

And, just to add insult to injury, the Japan Times article linked to includes, by way of “illustration,” a case that (a) has nothing to do with the Hague Convention, (b) is about an abducting father whose (c) wife actually got her child back.  In short, the “illustration” illustrates the problem of parental child abduction to Japan not at all.  The typical case of course is of a Japanese mother who abducts her kids to Japan where she receives absolute immunity from foreign courts and the Hague Convention.

But I assume such a story (I could provide them several myself) would too strongly suggest that Japan should ratify the Convention and that fathers actually suffer discrimination at the hands of family courts around the globe.  Both of those things are true of course, but that apparently is all the more reason to avoid mention of same.

Still, the article does throw in some boilerplate on the value of both parents to children.

Akiko Ohnogi, a psychologist who specializes in child and family counseling and has worked on many child abduction cases, stressed the importance of maintaining healthy relationships with both parents.

Such relations have “an impact on (the child’s) entire life — it’s not just something that happens during childhood and eventually goes away,” he said.

“The attachment to both parents determines how children view themselves, how they view interpersonal relationships and their general world view.”

Articles I’ve cited in the past quote experts on Japanese law saying that, even if Japan ratifies the Convention, it won’t make much difference in the way Japanese courts treat Japanese mothers who abduct their children.  But our friends at Global Future disagree, expressing the hope that international pressure on Japan plus its ratification of the Convention may in fact spur change in the way foreign fathers are treated.  Perhaps we’ll see.

For now, the Japanese government claims Convention ratification is a top priority even though prospects during this Diet session look bleak.

At a seminar about the Hague Convention on Monday, Kazuyuki Hamada, a parliamentary secretary at the Foreign Ministry, admitted it’s possible the bill may not be approved by the end of the Diet’s current session.

Hamada, however, confirmed that the ministry is treating the issue as its top priority and will do everything in its power to ensure the bill’s passage.

“The political maneuvering is not easy because we are surrounded by so many (competing) political agendas,” Hamada said. “(Given) these agendas, we are not 100 percent certain we can ratify the Hague Convention by the end of this Diet session.

“But we are determined to push it forward because the issue is hugely relevant to the values of not only of our country, but also those of the international community,” he said.

Thanks to Patrick for the heads-up.

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