After bowing to years of international pressure, Japan's Cabinet has passed a resolution on to its parliament for approval to sign a 1980 Hague Convention pact. The agreement would change traditional child custody arrangements that often exclude a biological father from the lives of his children following divorce.
While there's no guarantee that Japan's parliament will agree to the Hague rules on international child abduction, the political move is seen as a step forward. Currently under Japanese law, just one parent, almost always the mother, receives full and absolute child custody. Custody is not shared and fathers are often blocked from ever visiting their own children.
Japan's one-sided rule has affected both Japanese and foreign fathers. If Japan agrees to join the Hague pact, the country in which a child is born would decide custody issues, making it harder for Japanese mothers to hide beneath native laws of sole custody.
Nations who are already party to the Hague Act have been pushing Japan to change its international child custody rules. The U.S. House of Representatives has already condemned the Japanese for violating international laws and human rights by sanctioning child abduction.
Over 100 ongoing cases of children of American parents being wrongfully retained are reported by the U.S. State Department. The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo has documented 30 more.
One divorced American, living and working in Tokyo, said he is skeptical about whether the Japanese really will change. His own son was abducted by his wife six years ago and it took him three years just to locate him. He now has sporadic visitations, but wants to see Japan's child custody rules change for good.
Source: The Associated Press online, "Japan approves plan to join child custody pact," 19 May 2011