Child abductions down in year since Hague pact, but not all are happy

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Since Japan belatedly joined the Hague Convention a year ago, the Foreign Ministry has hailed the pact as instrumental in reducing cross-border child abductions involving failed marriages, but there are still several issues that need improvement, parents say.

The ministry, which oversees matters related to the 1980 treaty, said it has received 25 requests for help from parents seeking the return of children who were taken to Japan in the past 12 months.

That’s much better than its tally between 2012 and 2013, when there were 81 cases of children taken from the United States, 39 each from Britain and Canada, and 34 from France.

“The treaty has helped prevent child abductions to Japan,” a ministry official said.

In total, the ministry has received 110 requests for assistance in returning children taken from Japan, or to Japan from overseas, since joining the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

A breakdown of the cases shows that 41 sought help in retrieving a child and 69 were referred to visitations.

Of the 41 retrieval requests, 16 concerned children who were taken from Japan, with the largest number, three, made from Russia.

The remaining 25 requests, as mentioned above, concerned the return of children taken to Japan from overseas, with three cases each from the United States and France, and two each from Canada and Germany.

As for facilitating meetings between a child and a non-custodial parent, the ministry said it mostly succeeded in making those arrangements possible.

The official said Japan has so far been praised for its efforts to abide by the convention, which applies to international marriages and to disputes between Japanese and non-Japanese couples.

Last July, a British court ordered the return of a child to Japan, making it the first case applied to a Japanese since Tokyo joined the convention. Both of the child’s parents are Japanese.

But not all are happy.

One Canadian father who was left behind claims the pact is ineffective in Japan. The man, who has not seen his 4-year-old son in Japan for two years and has been seeking visitation rights, said he found the treaty “disappointing.”

There is “no difference before the convention was implemented and after the convention was implemented,” he told Kyodo News.

“I was convinced more or less I would see my son because under the Hague Convention, they are supposed to quickly arrange that you meet your child,” he said.

Instead, under court mediation, he was eventually offered strict conditions for meeting his son: a maximum of two or three times a year, only in Japan, and always under supervision so as to prevent another abduction.

The father called the offer “an insult” and said was it would be “considered a joke” in Western countries.

“In the West generally, supervised access is only used in case of, for example, the parent is a drug addict or mentally ill,” he said.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction — to which Japan became the 91st signatory a year ago — sets out the rules and procedures for promptly returning to their country of habitual residence, children under 16 who are taken or retained by one parent as a result of failed marriages, if so requested by the other parent.

The pact, however, is not retroactive and only applies to cases that occur after it took force. Nevertheless, parents can still seek assistance in arranging visitations for earlier cases.

As the central authority in Japan, the Foreign Ministry is responsible for locating abducted children and assisting parents seeking custody or visitation rights.

In the event children are whisked away to Japan and the parents cannot custody issues, the Tokyo and Osaka family courts will decide on whether they should be returned or allowed to meet with the non-custodial parent.

As of March 26, the ministry said there were six cases since April 2014 in which abducted children were returned to Japan. The children were retrieved from Britain, Germany, Hong Kong, Spain, Switzerland and the United States.

There were also three cases in which children who were abducted to Japan were returned. These children were sent back to France, Germany and Canada, the ministry said.