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Japan urged to sign international child abduction treaty

[JURIST] Ambassadors from eight countries met with Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada [official profile] on Saturday to urge Japan to sign an international treaty that will help prevent parental child abductions across borders. Representatives from the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, France, New Zealand, Italy, and Spain encouraged Japan to join the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction [text], which requires a country to return a child who has been "wrongfully removed" from his or her country of habitual residence. Japan is the only G-7 country [backgrounder] that has not signed the treaty. The ambassadors released a joint statement [press release] after the meeting, stating:

We signalled our encouragement at recent positive initiatives by the Government of Japan, such as the establishment of the Division for Issues Related to Child Custody within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the same time repeating calls for Japan to accede to the Convention, which would also benefit left-behind parents of Japanese origin. We also urged Japan to identify and implement interim measures to enable parents who are separated from their children to maintain contact with them and ensure visitation rights, and to establish a framework for resolution of current child abduction cases.

The ambassadors also expressed concern that their nationals' parental rights were being overlooked by Japanese courts. Under Japanese family law, only one parent is granted custody [Japan Times report], and foreign parents are usually excluded from custody privileges. According to human rights groups, nearly 160,000 divorced or separated foreign and Japanese parents in Japan are not allowed to see their children [Japan Times report] under the current child custody laws.

The Hague Convention, which currently has 81 signatories [text], seeks to eliminate difficulties that arise when a court in one country does not recognize custody decisions [DOS backgrounder] of a foreign court. Last month, the US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments for Abbott v. Abbott [JURIST report] and is now considering whether a ne exeat clause prohibiting one parent from removing a child from the country without the other parent's consent confers a "right of custody" within the meaning of the Hague Convention. The lower court held that ne exeat rights do not constitute "rights of custody" under the treaty. The Supreme Court's decision could set new precedent in the country's treatment of international child abduction cases.

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