Girl’s return to Sri Lanka is first in response to Hague Convention court order

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A 5-year-old girl was returned to live with her Japanese father in Sri Lanka in early April after being abducted by her mother and brought to Japan, a government official told The Japan Times on Wednesday.

It was the first time Japan fulfilled a court order mandating the return of a child to his or her country of habitual residence, in accordance with the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The Convention aims to secure the swift return of children wrongfully taken across an international border by one of their parents.

The Foreign Ministry official added that another child was sent back to Spain earlier this month through court arbitration in Japan, after the parents involved reached an agreement. Another was returned to Japan from France in mid-April.

In the Sri Lankan case, media reports say the parents were both Japanese and that the daughter was born in Japan. The family had been living in Sri Lanka since February 2013, but when the mother returned to Japan with the daughter in June last year, she refused to go back.

The father sought his daughter’s return through the Hague Convention and the Osaka District Court issued a court order to that effect in November, the first such ruling since the treaty took effect in April last year. The High Court later upheld the ruling and the sentence was finalized in February.

Last month, the Tokyo District Court also ordered the return of a child to Turkey.

Mikiko Otani, an expert on the Hague Convention, welcomed the returns.

“The international community is closely watching the Japanese courts. . . . and these returns show Japan is acting properly in accordance to the Convention,” Otani said. “I think this will lead to Japan gaining trust from other countries.”

The lawyer, however, pointed out that while the returns meant the cases were closed for the Japanese government, that was not the case for the children or their families. But there is no official system that conducts follow-up investigations regarding what happens to the children in such cases, she said.

“This is not the end for the children who are sent back . . . and that is what many people are concerned about,” Otani said. “A follow-up is necessary so that people can have accurate information and will have a better understanding of the Hague treaty.”

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