Still, it's unlikely that Japan will bend to international pressure to encourage equal guardianship of the children of failed relationships as it continues to adhere to the single-custody system that only allows one parent to have sole rights to a child.
The heat is on for Japan to sign the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, with the European Union urging Japanese Justice Minister Minoru Yanagida at an October ministerial meeting in Tokyo to address the issue head-on. The 1981 treaty is designed to prevent one parent from a dissolved marriage between two people of different nationalities from taking their offspring against an existing child custody agreement and has been signed by 82 countries. Among the Group of Eight, Japan and Russia are the only nations that aren't signatories.
The United States too has ratcheted up its call for Japan to take the cross-border custody issue more comprehensively, and the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act of 2007 was passed by the late September calling on the Japanese government to "immediately address the growing problem of abduction to and retention of United States citizen minor children in Japan."
Patrick Braden, for one, can't wait for Japan to sign the international pact. The father of now 5-year-old Melissa, Braden hasn't seen his daughter since the mother of his child took the baby to Japan without Braden's consent four years ago. Even though a Los Angeles court had granted joint custody of Melissa to the couple, Japanese authorities haven't adhered to the court's ruling and have effectively given Melissa's mother full custody rights.
For his part, however, Braden hasn't once visited Japan either before or after his relation with the mother of his child, Ryoko Uchiyama, with whom he was never married.
"I don't see the point," Branden said. Instead, he has focused his energy on getting U.S. support for his cause, founding Global Future, an advocacy group focused solely on getting Japanese-American children currently with their Japanese parents back to their parents in the United States. About 300 children are believed to have been affected by the current legal limbo.
Still, it's unlikely that the Japanese government will sign the Hague treaty any time soon. Part of the reason why Japan hasn't given in to the demands of foreign parents is because the concept of joint custody doesn't exist. Rather, one parent -- usually the mother -- takes sole responsibility for children after a divorce and, while parents are free to argue on who should be the one responsible before a family court, any decision reached is final, and could spell the end of visiting rights for the losing parent.
Granted, such a drastic ruling on custody rights is coming under greater scrutiny in recent years, especially as Japan's divorce rate continues to rise. Nevertheless, there is no real public outrage over the current status of sole custody, and so long as that is the case, then the fact that a mother has taken over her child from the United States after ending her relationship with the father won't be viewed as bizarre.
In fact, there are greater concerns about how to actually implement joint custody when the parents live on two different continents, argued Sayuri Umeda, senior foreign law specialist at the Law Library of Congress who is also a lawyer both in Japan and the United States.
As for the pressure on the Japanese government to sign the Hague convention next year, it's likely to "be postponed again and again," Umeda said.
The real victims of the political impasse aren't the Japanese government or the disputing parents but the children who are forced into such extreme positions.
"It's a great tragedy for the children," Umeda said.
(Shihoko Goto is a former senior correspondent for UPI's Business Desk and is currently a freelance journalist who divides her time between Washington and Tokyo. She has written for Dow Jones, Bridge News, Congress Daily and a number of Japanese publications including AERA, a weekly magazine of Asahi Shimbun.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)