Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Japan signs up to the Hague Convention

Well it might start on April Fool's Day, but Japan has at long last signed up to the Hague Convention. Hopefully at last Japan will no longer be the butt of criticism that once a child is taken to Japan from another convention country it will never return.

Last Friday Japan ratified its signature with The Hague, with the convention due to take effect in Japan on 1 April 2014. Japan joins 89 other countries, including Australia, most of Europe, USA and New Zealand, in being a party to the Convention.

The Convention is the prime means to make children return to the country from which they were wrongfully removed or to the country to which they have been wrongfully retained, provided that both countries are parties to the Convention. The formal name for the Convention is the Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The effect of the Hague Convention is that a parent in one country can complain to his government as to the child abduction, which then remits the complaint to authorities in the second country. In the jargon the authorities in each country are called the Central Authority. The Central Authority in the second country typically applies to a court to have the child returned to the first country.

While Hague applications can be very technical applications to run or to defend, generally the children are sent home. Two key aspects of Hague applications are that the best interests of a child are not the paramount concern of the court (unlike other matters concerning children) - so there shouldn't be an endless pursuit of whether or not it is a good idea to send the child home; and it is presumed that authorities in the home country are able to protect the child.

The Convention was signed at The Hague in the Netherlands because that is where an international body of countries, the Hague Conference on Private International Law, is based.

The move by Japan is long overdue. Among Western countries, Japan has long been criticised for not signing the Hague Convention because of domestic beliefs that Japanese children ought to remain in Japan. This step while long overdue is welcome. Let's hope Japan is able to enforce the Hague Convention. Time will tell.

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