Japan ready to ratify Hague Convention Bill

February 16, 2013 Ami Chibana of Ryukyu Shimpo

The Japanese government is working towards early acceptance of the Hague Children’s Convention, which defines the rules for handling of children born to couples in failed international marriages. It is expected that the bill will be submitted to the national Diet in the middle of March and will be adopted in May at the plenary sessions of both houses. In comparison to other prefectures, in Okinawa many international marriages occur between local women and U.S. servicemen, and divorce-related problems are common. A person familiar with this issue in Okinawa said, “The bill limits family courts to having jurisdiction only in Tokyo and Osaka, but it should also include Okinawa. People living in outlying regions should not be disadvantaged.”

According to a representative of Women’s Pride, a group supporting people experiencing troubles in international marriages and relationships with U.S. servicemen or civilian employees, in the past there was even a case in which an ex-husband visited his former wife in Okinawa and took their child away to the United States in a military aircraft.

Representative of Woman’s Pride, Misaki Smith, stated, “Problems occur at a higher rate in Okinawa than in other prefectures because it is host to so many U.S. military facilities. If the central government does ratify the Hague Convention, we hope that they will then give appropriate consideration to the situation in Okinawa.”

Since last summer, the Okinawa Bar Association has been asking Diet members elected from Okinawa and the Diet members in charge of this issue to make it possible for the Naha Family Court to oversee matters related to the return of children. The chairman of the association, Yutaka Kato said, “We will continue to request that the bill be amended. For example, judges could go to local courts to pass judgment. We will request an improvement in how the law is applied so people living in outlying regions are not placed at a disadvantage.”

Professor of law at Okinawa International University, Hisahiro Kumagai, who is an expert on the convention, pointed out that it applies to custody of children who cross borders and that problems occur not only within international marriages but also between Japanese couples. He hopes that the convention will stimulate national debate.

Lawyer Shin Kamata, who submitted a statement to the Ministry of Justice with Professor Kumagai in October 2011, said, “We need to look closely at how law courts adjudicate in cases of domestic violence. I will follow future discussion on the bill.”

Terminology: the Hague Convention
It is a convention written to address international marriage problems the arise when a parent takes a child or children abroad without the other parent’s consent, leaving the other parent unable to see their children. It covers children under the age of 16. In such cases, the member states are bound to research the children’s whereabouts and send them back to the country where they lived previously. In some cases, children refusing to go back are exempted from the requirements of the convention. The convention has been in effect since 1983 and 89 countries, centered on those in Europe and the Americas, are members. Among the world’s wealthiest countries, the G8, Japan is the only one that has not ratified the convention.

(English translation by T&CT, Lima Tokumori and Mark Ealey)

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