Japan is taking a first step toward joining an international child custody convention amid foreign pressure on Tokyo to revise policies some say allow Japanese mothers to too easily take their children away from foreign fathers. Government spokesman Tetsuro Fukuyama said that the relevant ministers endorsed plans Thursday to change domestic laws to bring them in line with the 1980 Hague Convention on international abduction, signed by 80 countries. An official Cabinet approval is expected Friday. But the proposal must also be approved by parliament for it to take effect, and it could face resistance there.
As it stands now, Japanese law allows only one parent to have custody of children in divorce cases — nearly always the mother.
That’s kept some foreign fathers from seeing their children until they are grown. Activists say Japan’s court system is tilted against fathers and foreigners. “We give children’s welfare the top priority, and we’ve reached a conclusion that it would be better to join the convention,” Fukuyama said.
Still, the proposal is not expected to change its current single custody policy. Under the plan, Japan would establish a new liaison office within the Foreign Ministry and amend domestic law to allow foreign parents more access to their children while also addressing domestic concerns about abusive foreign partners — one of the main reasons behind Japan’s past opposition to joining the pact.