“There needs to be something legal saying, ‘You can’t abduct children.’”
Under Japan’s current laws, only sole custody is allowed after separation. The system can trigger a race to snatch children when relationships break down or when a parent moves back to Japan from overseas. Japanese authorities generally grant custody to whoever was last with the child.
In March, this masthead and 60 Minutes revealed dozens of Australian children had been abducted by their Japanese parent since 2004. The revelations have triggered condemnation in US Congress and have been labelled embarrassing by members of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and opposition MPs. Japan is the only member of the world’s most advanced economies that does not recognise joint custody.
The Australian government has also made its concerns clear to Tokyo as it takes an increasingly active role in leading a coalition of countries pushing for reforms.
On Tuesday, the Australian government published its submission to Japan’s law review after months of keeping it confidential because of the ongoing sensitivity over the issue between the two economic, military and diplomatic partners.
“We continue to support Australian parents seeking to be reunited with their children in Japan. Many have not seen or spoken to their children for years,” the submission states.
Australian father Randy Kavanagh said the Australian government needed to maintain the pressure on Tokyo to improve the proposals and guarantee access to children. “Australia has to stand up before this thing becomes law,” he said.
Japan’s justice ministry will now take the draft proposal to Japanese government MPs. The government is expected to make amendments and vote on changes to the laws by early next year.
The laws were designed to protect women fleeing domestic violence in the early 20th century, but are now being used by men and women to legally abduct their children. Critics of the proposed changes say they could keep women and children in violent relationships.
Parents of abducted children remain concerned that even if the laws are enacted, courts will be reluctant to enforce visitation after years of Japanese officials ignoring international court orders and Interpol missing persons notices.
The Tokyo District Court on Thursday heard from Henderson and 11 other parents, three children and two grandparents, who accused the Japanese government of violating their human rights by stopping them from seeing their children, parents and grandchildren.
“We sued the Japanese government for failing to ensure there is an adequate system for children, their parents and extended families to spend time together,” Henderson said.
“Just yesterday, I was crying in my psychiatrist’s office, thinking about the pain and suffering [my children] must be experiencing being cut off from me and from their family in Australia.”
The district court threw out the class action on Thursday afternoon.
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