Japan enacts law needed to ratify int'l child custody pact

Japan enacted Wednesday a law needed to ratify an international treaty to help settle cross-border child custody disputes, paving the way for implementation of the pact in Japan possibly early next year.

The House of Councillors at its plenary session unanimously approved the legislation, which stipulates domestic implementation procedures for the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The parliament endorsed the treaty late last month.

After completing all domestic procedures, Tokyo aims to join the convention with 89 signatories by the end of this year. The pact sets out rules and procedures for the prompt return to the country of habitual residence of children under 16 taken or retained by one parent, if requested by the other parent.

Japan will be the last Group of Eight member to accede to the treaty. The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had planned to have both the Hague treaty and the legislation on domestic procedures clear the Diet ahead of this year's G-8 summit to be held in Northern Ireland from next Monday.

The other G-8 members are Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States.

The United States welcomed the Japanese parliament's legislative action to ratify and implement the Hague convention.

"With this important international agreement ratified, we welcome the government of Japan as a treaty member who agrees that the convention is the most appropriate mechanism to resolve the issue of international parental child abduction," U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos said in a statement.

"The United States also looks forward to continued progress with our Japanese counterparts in the spirit of the Hague Convention to resolve existing cases of children brought to Japan without the permission of both parents," he said.

According to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, there were about 80 cases of children brought to Japan by a parent from the United States without the permission of the other parent as of last September. The Hague treaty is not retroactive and will only deal with cases occurring after it takes effect in a country.

Under the newly enacted legislation, a central authority will be set up in the Foreign Ministry to locate children who have been taken away and encourage the people involved to settle the dispute through consultations.

If the consultations fail, family courts in Tokyo and Osaka will decide on the matter. The legislation also allows a party concerned to reject the return of a child if abuse or domestic violence is feared.