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Friday, April 13, 2012

Fate of child abductions bill in Diet uncertain


Staff writer

The government finally submitted legislation to the Diet last month for joining the Hague Convention on international child abductions but its passage appears far from certain.

Western allies have long pressured Japan to join the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, and are watching closely to see whether Tokyo lives up to an earlier promise to ratify it.

But the prospects of this happening in the near future already appear bleak because lawmakers are preoccupied with just one issue — Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's plan to hike the consumption tax.

Although 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.

But abandoned spouses, who end up with little or no access to their children, have been urging Japan to take action.

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.

Kirsten, an American mother who attended the seminar and asked that her last name be withheld, recounted how her former Japanese spouse abducted her 14-year-old son, in Japan. Although the case technically does not fall under the Hague Convention, many former partners in the nations, whether they are Japanese or foreigners, experience difficulty getting access to their children after they divorce of break up.

Kirsten said she was granted legal guardianship of her son after she separated from her husband, but the boy never returned from a visit to his father in 2007. Her former husband held their son for more than a year before the courts acknowledged he should be returned to his mother.

"I used to respect my dad and looked forward to seeing him on the weekends with my sister. But one time I went to my dad's without my sister and was told that I would no longer be able to see my mother. I was really shocked," said Kirsten's son, who wished to remain anonymous.

The boy said he spent that year with his father looking forward to the postcards that his mother regularly sent him.

"I was very confused about the decisions my dad made. I didn't understand why I couldn't be with my mother," he said.

But after they were reunited, he said he was also able to gradually rebuild his relationship with his father.

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."

Other panelists at the seminar included Colin P.A. Jones, a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto and an expert on international child abductions.

The seminar was jointly organized by child rights advocates John Gomez and David Hearn, who directed the movie "From the Shadows" on the theme of international and domestic parental abductions, and which is currently in postproduction. The event was supported by the Harvard Club of Japan.



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