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Japan works to join global child custody agreement

By Mari Yamaguchi
Associated Press / May 20, 2011

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TOKYO — 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 yesterday 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 today.

The proposal must also be approved by Parliament, 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 has kept foreign and Japanese fathers from seeing their children until they are grown. Activists say Japan’s court system is tilted against fathers and foreigners.

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.

Japan has been under pressure from the United States, Britain, France, and other countries to join the convention amid an increase in cases of Japanese mothers keeping foreign fathers from seeing their children.

The issue gained increased attention in 2009, when American Christopher Savoie was arrested in Japan after his Japanese former wife accused him of abducting their two children as they walked to school. His former wife, Noriko Savoie, had violated a US court custody decision by taking the children from Tennessee to Japan a month earlier.

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