The Upper House of the Japanese Parliament passed a bill last month to ratify the Hague Convention on Child Abduction by March 2014.

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 to the country of their habitual residence after they are abducted or retained by one parent in another country.

The bill was submitted to the Diet (Japanese Parliament) in March 2012, but was shelved when the Lower House was dissolved for the December general election. It was resubmitted and approved by the Lower House and Upper House last month.

A central authority will be set up in the Foreign Ministry to take charge of locating children who have been taken away and encouraging parents to settle disputes collaboratively.

The newly enacted law will, however, allow a parent to refuse to return a child if abuse or domestic violence is feared, a provision campaigners call vital, but which some say risks being exploited.

The law will allow for parents to apply retrospectively but contains a provision stating that the application can be refused if a child has been resident in the country for a year or more and is happily settled.

Currently Japan does not recognize joint custody (or ‘shared residence’ as we call it in England & Wales) and courts almost always order that children live with their mothers following separation. Only one parent is given parental authority meaning that they have exclusive entitlement to make the major decisions in the child’s life including residence, education, health and so on. This is a very alien concept to family lawyers in England & Wales where there has been a shift in recent years towards the shared residence concept. Indeed the new Children and Families Bill which has now had its second reading in Parliament provides statutory recognition that it is in the child’s interests for both parents to remain involved in the child’s life.