European lawmakers chide Japan over 'abduction' of children by a parent

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European lawmakers lobbied by fathers who cannot see children taken by Japanese mothers urged Tokyo on Tuesday to combat the “abduction” of minors by one parent and change a law that does not recognise joint custody after a split.

In a resolution passed unanimously, the European Parliament’s petitions committee said it was concerned about the practice of “parental child abduction” and Japanese authorities’ reluctance to comply with international law.

Various European Union (EU) citizens living in Japan, including Frenchman Vincent Fichot and Italian Tommaso Perina, had been asking for action.

Critics also say there is lack of enforcement of court decisions in Japan to return children to their country of habitual residence, as provided under the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The EU lawmakers voted to urge Japan to enforce international norms and align laws with global rules, specifically the United Nations’ convention on child rights.

Unlike most countries, Japan does not recognise joint custody after divorce and children often lose contact with the non-custodial parent.

An official at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the government had no comment, adding that it would continue to explain its actions to the EU and member states.

Figures from Japan’s foreign ministry this month show that of 35 return orders decided in court in the six years since Tokyo joined the Hague Convention, three were not returned, while another three cases are waiting to be carried out.

The plight of left-behind parents last year prompted French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Giuseppe Conte to raise their concerns with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Parents such as Fichot and Perina could not be immediately reached for comment on the EU parliament resolution.

Beyond Europe, an Australian man, Scott McIntyre, was the latest foreigner to raise his voice over the issue in Japan. He was detained for trespassing when he went to his in-laws’ apartment to seek information on his two children.

Charity Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion estimates that roughly 150,000 children lose contact with a parent every year in Japan because of estrangement from the non-custodial parent.

Reporting by Marine Strauss and Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Kate Abnett and Andrew Cawthorne