Japan Joins 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention

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It’s Official: Japan Joins 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention

Japanese Ambassador Masaru Tsuji (second from left) and 
Hague Conference Secretary General Christophe Bernasconi 
(far right) show Japan's ratificaiton documents to the 
1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention


(January 24th, 2014)

Today in Tokyo, the Government of Japan approved ratification of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention; a few hours later, the Japanese Ambassador to the Netherlands, Mr. Masaru Tsuji, deposited the instrument of ratification, making Japan the 91st Contracting State to this important treaty. This significant development reaffirms that diplomatic efforts among the international community, together with the invaluable assistance provided by the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, are working; it also reaffirms that the Hague Child Abduction Convention is the proper mechanism for all governments and families around the world to utilize in order to settle international child abduction disputes.

Japan’s ratification of the Convention comes after long-standing multi-lateral diplomatic efforts combined with global public outcry over Japan’s previous failure to participate in the international child abduction treaty and to offer victimized children and targeted parents of abduction a vehicle to turn to in order to resolve international parental child abduction disputes.

The 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention will enter into force for Japan on April 1st, 2014. Under Japan’s participation, foreign parents who have previously had a child internationally abducted to Japan are not eligible to file a Hague Application or utilize the treaty. Retroactivity remains a concern for hundreds of left-behind parents still seeking to reunite with their kidnapped children.

The 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention seeks to combat parental child abduction by providing a system of co-operation between Contracting States and a rapid procedure for the return of the child to the country of the child’s habitual residence. Judges overseeing litigation revolving around the1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention are not to determine issues of custody as that issue typically falls under the jurisdiction of the courts located in the child’s country of habitual residency.

Japan’s ratification of the convention demonstrates that international diplomacy and education continues to work, while also creating a stronger atmosphere for other countries that are not participants to the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention, such as India, to strongly consider ratification. 

In the past, Japan has been considered a ‘black hole’ for international parental child abductors as the overwhelming number of children abducted to Japan by a Japanese national living abroad have not been returned to the child’s country of original jurisdiction.

The vast majority of left-behind parents are fathers residing in Europe and North America. Tragically, the targeted parent often has little or no rights of access or custody to their child once the child lands in Japan due to the country’s antiquated and prejudicial family law policies that tend to grant a child’s mother sole custody of the child while simultaneously removing the child’s father’s access to the child. Japan’s legal system does not recognize the concept of joint-custody.

In May 2013, the Diet had approved Japan’s compliance to the treaty, sending out a clear indicator that the country was steadily moving toward participation. Until today, Japan was the only country in the Group of Eight (G8) that has not affirmed the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention.

The following month (June) Japan’s Parliament enacted a law stipulating domestic implementation procedures for the Hague child abduction treaty.

Japan’s Parliament established procedures requiring the country to create a Central Authority under the auspices of the Foreign Ministry. The Central Authority’s responsibilities include the tasks of locating children who have been abducted and encourage families involved in international parental child abduction claims to settle disputes through consultations. 

If the consultations fail, family courts in Tokyo and Osaka specifically trained in 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention matters will decide on matters. The Central Authority will be staffed with legal experts in international private law as well child psychologist and domestic violence counselors. A third Hague Court location could later be added.

Under the terms of Japan’s Parliamentary action in June, 2013 the new law provides grounds for refusal to return a child if abuse or domestic violence is feared, issues that are expected to draw keen interest in light of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention’s Article 13, a provision that is almost always utilized by parental child abductors regardless of the gender of the abductor.

Child abduction prevention advocates from around the world hope that Japan’s ratification of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention will further push non-Hague countries including India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Philippines, and China (mainland) who are all believed to be actively assessing the Convention with a view to becoming a party to. 

Today Japan has taken its place at the table of nations and finally a stand against the atrocity of international parental child abduction and severe abuse against targeted children and their families.  As Japan works to uphold the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention we must first and foremost not forget the children who have been abducted to Japan and their left-behind families, many whom successfully advocated for Japan’s ratification of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention.

We invite you to read the official comments shared by The Hague Permanent Bureau concerning diplomacy and Japan’s ratification. Please click here.

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