The Japan Times recently published an excellent article on Japan’s role as a safe haven for parents who kidnap their children in violation of child custody orders in their home countries.
The article leads with the case of Murray Wood whose two children went from Canada with his ex-wife to visit their ailing grandfather in Japan in November 2004. The children have remained in Japan ever since, despite a Canadian court’s ruling months earlier that granted Murray Wood sole custody to the children.
Unfortunately, Wood has few options since Japan is not a signatory to the 1980 Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction which sought to prevent exactly this sort of cross-border child abduction by parents. Under that convention, children like Wood’s would have to be promptly returned to their country of origin which would have the final say in all custodial matters.
According to the Japan Times,
The Canadian Embassy said it is presently dealing with 21 cases of child abduction, while the figure for the British Embassy was about five. The U.S. Embassy said it is aware of 20 children who have been abducted and taken to Japan.
So why hasn’t Japan signed the convention like most developed countries? A 1996 Los Angeles Times article suggested that cultural norms related to marriage and divorce were the likely reasons. According to the Los Angeles Times,
In Japan’s historically non-litigious society, the family court is designed to provide ways for problems to be resolved amicably, with the help of a court-appointed mediator. Attorneys said there is no legal mechanism to award joint custody of children, but the noncustodial parent may be given visitation rights.
. . .
Kunio Koide, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official, said his government does not see the need for signing the treaty because Japan’s Protection of Personal Liberties Act prevents an individual from being illegally restrained. But Koide acknowledged that it would be difficult to prosecute a parent under that act.
The article further notes that Japan does not treat parental kidnapping as a crime, so even in cases where parents have been convicted of parental kidnapping in the United States and managed to travel to Japan, the United States is not able to extradite those individuals from Japan.
Lost in a Loophole: Foreigners Who Are on the Losing End of a Custody Battle in Japan Don’t Have Much Recourse. Evelyn Iritani, Los Angeles Times, September 19, 1996.
Japan remains safe haven for parental abductions. Masami Ito, Japan Times, December 31, 2005.