In November, the United Nations Human Rights Committee noted it was “concerned about frequent cases of child abductions”, and criticised the Japanese government for a “lack of adequate responses”. That followed a 2019 report from its Committee on the Rights of a Child which heard from experts saying Japan’s custody laws “effectively prevented a child from keeping meaningful contacts with the non-custodial parent”.
Some wheels are turning. The Australian government is attempting to intervene on behalf of those parents who have been denied access to their children, albeit diplomatically. Foreign Minister Penny Wong has said in a statement that concerns have been raised with Japan’s minister for foreign affairs, Yoshimasa Hayashi, and justice minister Ken Saito.
The Japanese government’s family law subcommittee, meanwhile, is examining what changes might be considered to amend the country’s custody arrangements, including a provision allowing for joint parental authority after divorce. But there is as yet no certainty the law would be substantively changed or that any amendments would necessarily benefit those parents already cut off from their children.
While we should respect Japan’s sovereignty on this matter, clearly a solution must be engineered to reunite those Australians and other foreign nationals who have unwittingly fallen foul of a custody regime unlike virtually any other in the world. If quiet diplomacy fails, then public pressure must be brought to bear on the Japanese authorities to see sense and bring an end to this nightmare.