Hague Convention on International Child Abduction – Japan to sign at last

Good news for many parents worldwide came with the announcement that, after years of pressure, particularly from United States, Japan has decided that it will, after all, sign the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction – and furthermore that it plans to do so by the end of the year.

The Hague Convention is an international child-custody agreement which will extend rights currently enjoyed parents in 87 other countries, to non-Japanese parents in child abduction disputes with citizens of Japan. The convention has been used by many British parents over the years to recover their abducted children from Convention signatory countries.

The decision will mean that Japan will set up its own “central authority” to deal with issues of international child abduction, not least to locate abducted children and Institute legal proceedings aimed at their return to their home country and resident parent.

Recovering or even having contact with children has been a problem for some unfortunate non-Japanese parents for some time – not least because under Japanese law, upon divorce, child custody is routinely awarded to a child’s mother upon divorce. As a result, considerable numbers of fathers of Japanese children are denied contact with their children entirely – Japanese courts do not accept any principle of joint child custody.

International child abduction has grown hugely in the last 40 to 50 years as a result of the massive increase in overseas travel. Partly due to the distances involved, British parents have particular problems in Southeast Asia, although Hong Kong and Singapore are already Convention signatories..

Amongst the world’s largest countries, the decision by Japan leaves Russia as the most high-profile nation which still refuses to participate in this international convention.

The move has been warmly supported by the British judiciary. In particular the UK’s leading international family law judge, Lord Justice Sir Mathew Thorpe commented that this was a “positive move”.

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