Japan will join an international treaty to help settle cross-border child custody disputes, possibly by the end of 2013, after parliament approved it on Wednesday.
The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction sets out rules and procedures for the rapid return of children under 16, who have been taken by one parent following the failure of an international marriage, to the country of their habitual residence if this is requested by the other parent.
A bill necessary for Japan to ratify the international treaty, which stipulates domestic implementation procedures, is also set to clear the Diet during the current parliamentary session through June, according to Kyodo news agency.
Legal experts welcomed Wednesday’s decision, but said the treaty would have little effect unless it is accompanied by changes in Japan’s domestic law. Courts in Japan usually favor the Japanese parent in custody cases involving international marriages, according to the international press.
“I am concerned that Japan won’t implement the convention at face value,” says Takao Yanase, a law professor at Chuo University in Tokyo. According to him, the Japanese family law can prevent the return of children to their original country of residence.
“Japanese law and the convention contradict each other, and this can be used as an excuse not to return the child,” he said. “The tradition of awarding sole custody was introduced 60 years ago, but Japanese society has changed dramatically since then.”