After years of pressure on the GOJ to act like its fellow advanced societies in terms of divorce and child custody, Japan earlier this week signed the Hague Convention on Child Abductions. Good. Now, I don’t want to dismiss this development out of hand, because Japan doing this is a step in the right direction (after all, if even after this I had nothing good to say, then what would EVER count as good news on Debito.org?) But as I have argued before, I think it’s been signed because enough time has passed for caveats to be put in place — so that the home team will rarely lose a custody case in Japan (furthermore, part of the argument for signing has been that Japanese would have a stronger footing overseas to pursue custody cases in Hague signatory countries — again, benefiting the home team in either case). After all, the normalized portrayal in Japanese media of NJ as violent spouses, and Japanese as victims (particularly wives, even though they are the great minority in international marriages) has expanded Japan’s definition of “Domestic Violence” to even simple heated arguments. Fight with your J-wife anytime and lose your kids. The deck is stacked.
Let me quote one submitter: “From May 13’s Japan Times. A series of articles hammering home what will evidently be Japan’s final word on the subject, that Japanese fleeing countries abroad are doing so to protect their kids and themselves from angry, violent, abusive foreign husbands. Cue standardized quotes from proclaimed “expert on the issue” Kensuke Onuki as well as lawyer Mikiko “I was for the convention but now I see it conflicts with Japanese culture” Otani and a slew of heart-wrenching stories of Japanese wives fleeing abusive marriages (one claiming that had Japan been party to the Hague Convention at the time of her escape she would have chosen killing her child and herself than risk a return to her husband. Whether these individual stories have merit of not, it’s pure one-sided sensationalism. Where are the Murray Wood stories of wife abuse and neglect?”
And to quote another anonymous legally-trained friend: “How to address DV is an issue in all Hague countries. In addition to allegations of DV, the Japanese legislation will also allow a judge to consider whether it would be difficult for EITHER the taking parent OR the parent requesting return to raise the child in the country of origin. This sounds awfully close to a full-blown custody determination, which is sort of what courts are NOT supposed to do in Hague cases.”
As for future prospects, I shall defer to the better-informed judgment of a specialist international lawyer in this field, who wrote the following shortly before the Hague was signed:
Jeremy D. Morley: “The Japanese public is being told that even if Japan signs the Convention, “The return of a child can be denied if the parent seeking it is believed to abuse the child or have difficulties raising him or her.” Daily Yomiuri, Mar. 16, 2013. If that is the gloss that Japan intends to put on the Hague Convention – even though the Convention is expressly designed to secure the expeditious return of all abducted children except in extremely unusual cases – there is little or no point in Japan’s purported ratification of the treaty. The result of Japan’s ratification of the Convention will likely be to create the appearance of Japan’s compliance with international norms but without any of the substance.”
CONCLUSION: Same as other treaties that Japan has signed but doesn’t enforce, I think the Hague will wind up as a historical footnote as another treaty Japan chooses to ignore. When we see the highly unlikely prospect of children of international marriages abducted to Japan sent back overseas by a Japanese court (in contrast to other judiciaries that DO repatriate children, see for example here and here) then I’ll think progress has been made. But it’s pretty inconceivable to me, since child abduction happens between Japanese couples too thanks to Japan’s insane marriage system, and it’s hard to imagine foreigners suddenly being granted more rights in Japanese marriages than fellow Japanese.