Watching Over Our Children

Japan has been urged by the United States and 7 other countries to address its international child welfare provisions for family law cases involving custody disputes. Japan has also not signed on to a global treaty on child abduction. Ambassadors from the US, together with envoys from Australia, France, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Canada and Spain, met with the Japanese Foreign Minister to discuss the issue.

The envoys of eight different countries have advocated for Japan to sign a treaty to prevent international parental child abductions. Japan is the only country of the Group of Seven that has not yet signed the Hague Convention. Activists say that foreign parents are denied access and custody of their children, and that even grandparents and relatives are chosen over the biological and foreign parent in custody matters. It is a common practice amongst the courts: a societal norm that wreaks havoc when international marriages and unions with children break down.

It is within these set of circumstances that sets up the desperation a parent feels when they are denied basic rights to parent and assist in the rearing of their child. Faced with permanent estrangement, the termination of a profound and most basic human relationship, it creates the conditions for parental kidnapping. This issue gained media attention last year when an American father attempted to take his two children while they were on their way to school. The courts sided with the Japanese mother, and agreed not to lay charges if he left the country and his children.

There are also many cases where abusive parents who have already been legally denied contact, use the court systems in foreign countries to gain wrongful custody, ultimately disappearing with the child and subjecting children to more abuse. In both scenarios, the situation is tragic. It is traumatic and distressing for the parent and most especially for the child. In the United States these numbers are rising, approximately 1,600 children in 2008 were wrongfully taken or kept abroad by a parent according to the US Department of State's Office of Children's Issues. This represents a 40 percent increase from 2007.

Over the years much has changed in the world of child welfare. In the West, our society has began to move in the direction of children's rights. We recognize that children require both parents involved in their lives and that parental alienation can leave a profound psychological effect on children. Japanese Foreign Minister Mr Okada acknowledged the serious issue but pointed out that Japan has a different legal system than the West. Japan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement to the press indicating Tokyo was working towards a resolution.

The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction was created largely because international travel has become so common. It is relatively easy for a person leaving their partner to simply move to another country with the child, without setting up any kind of agreement or provision for the parent who is left behind. This has created an international problem. It is generally accepted that removing a child suddenly from its home and parents without making proper arrangements, is detrimental to the child. In the past, most parents affected could easily trace their locations. It has become increasingly difficult to trace locations and even more difficult to navigate through a foreign legal system.

The Convention is designed to support the child's best interests and is there to make sure the agreements and provisions for the child's future are decided in the country which has been the child's home. The Convention sets out a clear definition and strict rules about what is and what is not an abduction. Applications to return non Convention countries can be  made, but usually involve the foreign country's court system which can often be complex.

The best interests of children and the availability of international travel makes the Hague Convention a necessary tool to protect children from mistreatment and harm. We often hear of cases in the news media and parental abduction is one of the most common forms of abduction. When parents seek to alienate one another, it is the children who sadly pay the price. The Convention is also necessary to protect children from trafficking. We absolutely need countries like Japan to sign the treaty and begin to address the issue. Our world is becoming smaller every day and a global village is emerging. Countries like Japan have every right to their culture, values and legal system none of this need be altered rather new legislation needs to be drafted and enacted in order to foster prevention and protection for children everywhere.

Children's Rights