ハーグ条約 子供の利益守る制度を築け

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 1, 2013)
Establish systems to protect children under Hague treaty
ハーグ条約 子供の利益守る制度を築け(2月28日付・読売社説)

The government must establish proper legal and support systems to protect the interests of children involved in custody battles as a result of failed international marriages.

When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with U.S. President Barack Obama during his recent visit to the United States, Abe promised that Japan would soon join the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which establishes rules regarding international child custody disputes.

The convention is now regarded as international law with 89 signatories, including the United States and many European countries. Japan, the only Group of Eight nation that has not joined the convention, should step up its efforts to sign onto it.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, New Komeito, have agreed to submit a bill seeking Diet approval for Japan to join the treaty and a related bill. The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan advocated joining the convention while it was in power. We hope the ruling and opposition camps will work hard to achieve Diet approval and pass the related bill by the end of the current ordinary Diet session.

The convention stipulates, in principle, that if one parent takes a child under 16 years old out of the child's country of habitual residence without the other parent's permission, the child should be returned to the country upon the latter parent's request.


Bill addresses threat of violence

The related bill covers matters from domestic judiciary proceedings for issuing orders to return children in custody disputes to the country of their habitual residence, to the role of the Foreign Ministry, which will be in charge of the convention.

A main point in Diet deliberations will be the conditions under which a parent can refuse to return a child.

The bill proposes that a child should not be returned if the petitioner might commit violence against his or her former spouse, the child or people close to them. This condition has been included in consideration for those who are cautious regarding participation in the Hague Convention out of concern that a Japanese parent and their child could be exposed to domestic violence by the other parent when they return to the country of the child's habitual residence.

However, it is not easy for Japanese parents to prove they have been abused by their spouses or former spouses while living in the country of original residence. We hope Diet members will hold extensive discussions on whether this is an adequate precaution.

In the United States and European countries, a parent can be prosecuted as a kidnapper for taking a child out of the country of the child's habitual residence without the other parent's permission. The parent could be arrested when he or she returns to the country with the child. How lawmakers will take these facts into consideration also will be a key matter for Diet deliberations.


Authorities have limited experience

The bill puts the Tokyo and Osaka family courts in charge of petitions for the return of children in international custody disputes--a measure apparently aimed to make it easier for judicial authorities to accumulate expertise by limiting the number of courts handling such cases because only dozens are expected to be filed a year.

Even if parents live outside Tokyo or Osaka, the bill allows them to attend hearings via telephone calls or videoconference from courts near where they live. It is noteworthy that the bill tries to reduce the burden on those living far from the urban areas.

When Japan joins the Hague Convention, some Japanese parents and their children will be involved in trials over custody in the children's country of habitual residence. Diplomatic missions abroad should help these Japanese nationals, for example, by introducing them to local lawyers or support groups.

The treaty will also be applied to children taken away by non-Japanese spouses. The Foreign Ministry should establish a system to support Japanese who seek the return of their children from other countries.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 28, 2013)
(2013年2月28日01時45分  読売新聞)

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