Lower house OKs Japan’s ratification of int’l child custody pact

TOKYO (Kyodo) — The House of Representatives on Tuesday unanimously approved Japan’s ratification of an international treaty to help settle cross-border child custody disputes, paving the way for passage through the Diet in late May.

The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction sets out the rules and procedures for the prompt return of children under 16, taken or retained by one parent following the failure of an international marriage, to the country of their habitual residence if requested by the other parent.

The lower chamber is set to endorse a bill stipulating the domestic process for the children to return to their habitual residence soon, setting the stage for the legislation to clear the Diet in late May with approval by the House of Councillors

Japan’s Constitution stipulates that a treaty will be given Diet approval when the upper house does not vote on it within 30 days as the lower house has more power.

A central authority to be established in the Foreign Ministry will locate children upon request. It will ask for the cooperation of local governments and police when necessary.

Exemptions for returning a child will be given in cases of child abuse or domestic violence, according to the bill.

Japan is the only one among the Group of Eight nations yet to join the pact that has 89 signatories. The G-8 comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.

The United States, Japan’s key ally, has been urging Tokyo to join the treaty as soon as possible, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told U.S. President Barack Obama in February that Japan is close to participating in the treaty.

April 23, 2013(Mainichi Japan)

Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013

Hague pact on fast track, Abe to tell Obama
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will tell U.S. President Barack Obama when they meet, probably in February, that he wants to speed up the procedure for Japan to join the international treaty on settling cross-border child custody disputes, sources said Wednesday.

The previous administration led by former Democratic Party of Japan leader Yoshihiko Noda had already made participation in the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction an international commitment.

The Abe team is aiming to submit a bill to the Diet early this year to endorse the convention, which sets rules for the prompt return of children under 16, taken or retained by one parent following the failure of international marriages, to the country of their habitual residence.

Domestic legislation is necessary to join the convention, but a related bill was scrapped when the Lower House was dissolved in November.

Among the Group of Eight nations, Japan is the only one yet to join the convention and has been facing calls from the United States and European countries to get on board soon.


Many important bills being shelved, scrapped

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Many important bills were hastily passed in the House of Representatives on Thursday, including a bill allowing the government to issue deficit-covering bonds, ahead of the imminent dissolution of the lower house.

However, there are quite a few important bills that were scrapped or shelved, such as a bill for Diet approval of Japan joining the Hague Convention, which stipulates procedures among member states to resolve international child custody issues. A bill to introduce the My Number system, which would provide each person with a unique identification number, also was canned.

During a debate with main opposition Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe on Wednesday, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said he could dissolve the lower house Friday. After that, the LDP and its opposition coalition partner New Komeito softened their stances regarding Diet affairs.

At its plenary session on Thursday, the lower house passed bills such as the deficit bond bill and a revision to the National Pension Law, which will reduce pension benefits that are currently 2.5 percent higher than they should be in deflation-adjusted terms in three stages from October 2013.

These bills were enacted after being passed in the House of Councillors on Friday.

In order to resolve as many bills as possible, both houses held two plenary sessions Friday.

The issue of electoral reform of the lower house, which was the main point of concern before the dissolution of the house, became complicated, as two separate bills were passed in the lower house.

The Diet affairs committee chairmen of the DPJ, the LDP and Komeito met Thursday morning to discuss how to handle two separate bills related to electoral reform of the lower house, submitted by the DPJ and the LDP.

During the meeting, they compromised on various points. First, they agreed to drop from the DPJ-sponsored bill a plan to cut a single-seat constituency from each of five prefectures in the lower house without increasing other prefectures’ single-seat electoral districts.

However, they decided to keep in the bill another provision to reduce the number of lower house seats contested through proportional representation and then to partially introduce a new method in the proportional representation system that benefits small parties.

The three parties’ Diet affairs committee chairmen then agreed to put both the modified DPJ-sponsored bill and the LDP-sponsored bill to a vote. The LDP bill also includes trimming five single-seat constituencies in the lower house.

Following their negotiations, the lower house’s special committee on establishing political ethics and revising the Public Offices Election Law voted on both bills separately. The modified DPJ-sponsored bill was passed with the support of the DPJ and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), and the LDP-sponsored bill was passed with the support of the LDP, Komeito and the DPJ. Subsequently, both bills were passed in a plenary meeting in the lower house and were sent to the upper house for a vote.

In the upper house, which is dominated by opposition parties, only the LDP-sponsored bill was passed and enacted, resulting in the plan of trimming five single-seat constituencies being realized ahead of other issues.

The three parties did not narrow the two bills down to one, out of consideration for DPJ members who insist on the party-sponsored proposal to cut the number of lower house seats contested  through proportional representation.

Meanwhile, a bill to approve the nation’s participation in the Hague Convention and another one to implement its membership were scrapped.

Among the Group of Eight industrialized nations, only Japan has not ratified the treaty, because of a lack of Diet approval.

Western countries see the situation as problematic, prompting concern that scrapping the bills may invite criticism from the international community.

Regarding bills related to integrated reform of the social security and tax systems, a modified bill to introduce the My Number system, which was largely agreed upon by the three leading parties at the previous ordinary Diet session, was scrapped.

The three parties have given up on submitting a bill to promote regenerative medicine to prevent the bill  from being scrapped. The bill aims to encourage research on the topic using induced pluripotent stem and other cells and put the findings into practical use.

“I’m extremely sorry about this. We have no choice but to submit the bill to the next ordinary Diet session,” said Chikara Sakaguchi, Komeito member and former health minister who played a central role in compiling the bill.

On Thursday, the Noda Cabinet approved legislation concerning local civil service reform that will grant local government officials the right to collective labor agreements, one of the fundamental labor rights. The legislation was submitted to the lower house.

The labor right was promised in the DPJ’s policy pledges and organizations supporting the party have been calling for submission of corresponding legislation. This had prompted criticism from the LDP that the promise was merely an electoral ploy.

(Nov. 17, 2012)


Saturday, Sep. 8, 2012



News photo
Outta here: Lower House members leave the chamber Friday as the Diet effectively ended all business for this legislative session before it concludes Saturday. KYODO


Rocky, extended Diet session over; bills, treaties left in lurch

Hague, vote-value, deficit bond measures fail to clear grudge fest


Staff writer

The extended 229-day Diet session closes with a whimper Saturday, with piles of important bills and treaties left unaddressed and voters left only with an image of lawmakers engaging in political maneuvering for their own goals — particularly those over the contentious sales tax hike and over the next Lower House election.

And now both the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party are focused on one thing — the presidential elections for both parties to be held this month to choose the leaders who will guide their parties in that next general election.

Political insiders and observers believe Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s re-election as DPJ chief, to be determined Sept. 21, is pretty much a given, especially since popular Environment Minister Goshi Hosono announced Friday he does not intend to run.

But pundits are quick to note that the DPJ has a slim chance of retaining control of the lower chamber amid the falling public support for Noda’s Cabinet in media polls.

Voters have grown disenchanted over the DPJ-led administration’s inability to overcome the political chaos in the divided Diet and deliver on campaign promises it made for the 2009 Lower House election that brought it to power for the first time.

Noda has also sparked public resentment for his unpopular drive to raises taxes, as he has failed to show any vision of how the increased revenue will be used to support the aging society and snowballing social security costs.

During the ordinary Diet session, Noda tried to execute leadership by putting “an end to on-the-fence politics” and passing the bill to double the 5 percent consumption tax by October 2015.

But during the process, DPJ kingpin Ichiro Ozawa, who opposed the tax hike, left to form a new party, deepening voters’ impression that the existing parties are more interested in wrangling over political power than getting anything done.

“The DPJ had no outlook on how to maintain power after the tax hike, focusing only on trying to come out with as little damage as possible. And now it is in a situation that if an election were to take place, the DPJ would lose badly and be forced out of power,” said Sadafumi Kawato, a professor of political science at the University of Tokyo.

Noda is the third DPJ prime minister since 2009, when the party wrested power from the long-ruling LDP.

But since then, the DPJ has drawn criticism from the public for blunders over key issues, including failing to move the contentious Futenma air base out of Okinawa and enacting the tax hike bill after promising during the 2009 campaign not to raise the unpopular sales tax over the next four years.

The support rate for the Noda Cabinet has been steadily moving downhill, finally falling below 20 percent for the first time in August, according to a Jiji Press poll.

“Can the DPJ lawmakers devise a last-ditch plan to remain in power? I don’t think so. All they can do is postpone the election as long as possible,” said Tomoaki Iwai, a political science professor at Nihon University.

Meanwhile, LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki is also on shaky ground and his re-election is in doubt. The party plans to hold its presidential election Sept. 26, less than a week after the DPJ.

Often regarded as being weak-kneed when it comes to power politics, Tanigaki tried but failed to execute strong leadership by demanding over and over that Noda dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election.

Tanigaki managed to get Noda to vaguely promise to dissolve the chamber “soon” in exchange of supporting the consumption tax hike.

But he later turned around and submitted a censure motion against the prime minister in the Upper House even though the DPJ and LDP have few disagreements over key policy matters, most notably the tax hike.

Tanigaki’s about-face led the voters to believe the LDP is trying to force Noda to dissolve the Lower House while the DPJ’s support rate is dwindling, and giving little attention to substantive policy matters that directly affect voters.

“I think Tanigaki became anxious and acted hastily. He knew he would have difficulty being re-elected so he decided to have a showdown with Noda and tried to write a scenario to force Noda to dissolve the Lower House,” University of Tokyo’s Kawato said. “And now, even many veteran lawmakers have decided not to support him.”

Political experts believe Noda probably won’t be able to postpone dissolving the Lower House and he is unlikely to implement any more new contentious policies, given the divided Diet and his weakened power over his own party members.

Meanwhile, some critically important bills didn’t make it through the divided Diet, most notably one to issue special deficit-covering bonds to cover a large portion of the fiscal 2012 budget and one to partially correct the vote-value disparity in general elections.

These two bills must be dealt with in an extraordinary Diet session that may convene in October.

“There is no way that the bond bill can go without being enacted because without it the government won’t be able to operate. It is already affecting the budget,” Kawato said. “I don’t think the next Lower House election should be held without at least some sort of revision” on the electoral system either.

Without the enactment of the bond bill and legislation to rectify the vote-value disparity, which the Supreme Court ruled as being in a state of “unconstitutionality,” critics say the results of any elections could eventually be judged as unconstitutional.

During the current Diet session, which started in January, only 66 percent of newly submitted government-sponsored bills cleared both chambers.

Political squabbling took center stage last month when the nonbinding censure motion against Noda was approved by the Upper House, stopping almost all Diet deliberations.

Thus the government also failed to live up to its promise to the international community to pass a bill to endorse the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction to prevent estranged parents from spiriting a couple’s children across borders.

Noda also couldn’t gain Diet approval of the proposed commissioners for the new nuclear regulatory agency to be launched this month and will be forced to make the unusual move of appointing them under his authority.

“Confrontation between the DPJ and the LDP and New Komeito have risen clearly to the surface. The two sides are now in direct opposition and closed the Diet without deliberating on various bills,” Kawato said. “Noda will just have to be happy going down in history as the prime minister who raised the consumption tax.”


INTERNATIONAL MARRIAGE: Changing Japan as a safe haven for parental abductions

June 08, 2012


In February, 61-year-old Masahiro Yoshida was arrested for “abducting” his 7-year-old daughter from her elementary school in Ehime Prefecture the month before.

It marked the second time that Yoshida, a former professional jazz drummer, was driven to desperation and snatched his daughter, since his ex-wife has parental custody over his daughter, and he is not allowed to have any contact with her.

In Japan, courts do not recognize shared custody, and mothers retain custody in about 90 percent of court-mediated divorces involving minors.

In response to mounting criticism that Japan is a safe haven for parental abductions, the government finally submitted a bill to ratify the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which provides for the return of unlawfully abducted children.

The legislation is unlikely to pass in the current Diet session, as deliberations of controversial bills to hike the consumption tax are taking center stage. But if enacted, the convention, which has 87 signatory countries, will mandate that Japan return children whom its nationals took from other countries in a divorce, unless it harms the child’s welfare.

The public’s perception in Japan is that such post-divorce disputes are taking place only between Japanese mothers and fathers from Western countries. But many Japanese parents now claim that the justice system here is equally tormenting those who lost custody over their children following a divorce.

The case involving Yoshida has much in common with the well-publicized arrest of an American man in 2009 after attempting to abduct his son and daughter and flee to the U.S. Consulate in Fukuoka.

According to Yoshida’s mother, Michiko, an 87-year-old former liquor store operator in Yokohama, it was her daughter-in-law who “abducted” her grandchild five years ago in an attempt to gain parental custody.

Michiko’s son is currently on trial at the Matsuyama District Court.

As Masahiro is likely to be given a prison sentence this time, Michiko said there must be fundamental flaws in the country’s justice system, which made her son a “criminal for just wanting to see his daughter.”




In a nearly identical case, former family court judge Masanori Watanabe, 53, was arrested for abducting his daughter, then an elementary school third-grader, from a train station in Fukuoka in October 2005.

Watanabe, then a Yokohama-based lawyer, was subsequently given a suspended three-year prison sentence, dismissed from the bar association and cannot practice law.

“I certainly knew the consequences, but I thought it was my last opportunity to persuade her to come back to me when she becomes old enough to make her own judgments,” Watanabe said.

While waging court battles to gain custody of or visitation rights to their children, Yoshida and Watanabe campaigned for the Hague Convention, which they thought would help their causes.

“The convention means Japan’s last chance to review its cruel tradition to completely dismiss one parent’s right over children after divorce,” Watanabe said. “It is also my last resort to clear my name as a kidnapper.”

While the convention does not directly affect Japan-based families, Japanese and foreign parents here who lost custody pin hopes on their hopeful “gaiatsu,” or foreign pressure, scenario.

Lawyer Mikiko Otani, a member of the Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice on the Hague Convention, said ratification will bring positive changes to the family courts here, which will examine and rule whether to return a child in accordance with the convention.

The family courts will need to examine and rule on what types of child-taking are unlawful and what serves as the best interest of children in ways that are convincing to foreign authorities.

If the expatriation of children becomes a common practice, courts need to break free from traditional reluctance in using force in family conflict cases. It will discourage parents from simply taking away their children, even by force, as is widely occurring today, she added.

“Ultimately, Japan will need to approve a form of shared custody, which is the norm in most of the countries that are signatory to the convention,” Otani said.

But gaiatsu inevitably draws a backlash. To the relief of Japanese parents who flee with their children from overseas, the proposed domestic legislation to set court procedures for a child’s repatriation sets strict criteria for judges to do so.

The vaguest and most potentially controversial clause among the six requirements is that courts need to ensure there will be no possibility that the concerned child suffers “physical or psychological” abuse once returned.

“Can courts expatriate its nationals, minors, over public opinion? I don’t think that can happen,” said a Japanese mother who fought a lengthy, exhausting court battle in Australia with her ex-husband over custody of their two children.




Interestingly, parties opposing the convention, and moves that can lead to the idea of shared custody, include both those from conservative and liberal camps.

Conservatives say that the single custody system is vital to maintaining the integrity of “koseki,” or Japan’s family registry system.

Kensuke Onuki, a lawyer who has represented Japanese mothers who have brought their children to Japan, agrees that one of the divorced parents must back away, in order to make a child’s new environment more stable.

“I don’t think many Japanese can stand the Western way of communication between children and their divorced parents, in which both parents participate in their children’s growing-up process,” Onuki said.

A head of a parents’ group seeking visitation rights said that even many of its group members, mostly fathers, will find it too burdening to fulfill shared custody, given the limited roles they played in child-rearing before their divorce.

Recalling his days on a family court bench in the mid-1990s, ex-judge Watanabe expressed regret that he and his colleagues had no doubts that it serves the interests of children to grant custody to their mothers.

He added that judges believe that courts must respect women’s parental rights, because it was historically denied to them and they had to gain them through postwar feminism.

“I also remember my boss telling me that the court should give men a ‘free hand’ to start a new life by eliminating responsibility to raise their children, and I really did not find much wrong with it,” Watanabe said.

“Now I know how painful, how cruel it is for a parent, regardless of the mother or father, to have their access denied.”

Watanabe added that he knows that the signing of the Hague Convention may be just the beginning of change for Japanese society.

“But I won’t give up, because this is the only way left for me to show my love for my daughter,” he said.


This is extremely disappointing considering the millions dollars of resources the U.S. State Department has invested for several decades now in this seemingly futile endeavor and all the false hope it has created for American left-behind parents.  It’s time for the State Department to think outside the box and try some new strategies on this issue that will actually bring American children back into the lives of U.S. left-behind parents.


Excerpts from this article:

The end of the current Diet session will soon arrive on June 21, but the results so far are astonishingly poor.

Only 20 of the 81 bills submitted by the government to the Diet in this session have been passed. The ratio of enacted bills is about 25 percent–usually about half the submitted bills have passed the Diet at this point in a session.

Also untouched in the Diet are a bill to establish a Japanese Embassy in South Sudan–where Japan has been assisting nation-building through such efforts as sending Self-Defense Forces personnel on a U.N. peacekeeping mission–and a bill asking the Diet to approve Japan’s joining the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Hague convention stipulates procedures among member states to resolve child custody issues in failed international marriages.