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Change in Japanese Child Custody Law Soon to Go Before Parliament

Japan is the only country among the Group of Seven industrialized nations that dominate international politics and economic matters that has not signed the Hague Convention on international child abduction.

That 1980 agreement has also been signed by 80 other countries, and Japan's omission among the signatories has rankled foreign governments and thousands of foreign fathers who say that Japanese child custody laws starkly favor Japanese mothers.

There have been many instances of Japanese mothers taking the children they had with foreign fathers back to Japan with them, where Japanese law uniformly gives them sole custody and the fathers very limited visitation rights. In one celebrated case, a Japanese woman violated a U.S. court custody decision by taking her children from Tennessee back to Japan, where she was awarded sole custody.

A Japanese government spokesman now says that Japan has "reached a conclusion that it would be better to join the convention," adding that relevant ministers signed off on an endorsement earlier this week to align domestic laws with the Hague Convention. A Cabinet vote -- with approval expected -- is upcoming.

That wouldn't be the end of the matter, nor do many people think that a change in domestic law would materially change much. The proposal is expected to face pockets of adamant resistance when it goes before Japan's parliament and, even if it passed, it will likely not change Japan's single-custody policy that almost without exception awards custody to Japanese mothers.

Still, other countries are hopeful. The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, for example, lauded "the serious consideration that the government of Japan in currently giving this issue."

Related Resource: CBS News, "Japan moves to join global child custody pact" May 19, 2011

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