UPDATED: May 19, 9 p.m. EDT
TOKYO — Japan announced Friday that it will sign an international child abduction treaty, The Associated Press reported.
It's still unclear when Japan will actually sign the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
The treaty makes it difficult for parents to get away with absconding with their children to or within the 82 signatory countries.
More than 100 U.S.-Japanese children are considered abducted in Japan, according to the State Department, which tracks the cases and helps arrange welfare updates for American “left-behind” parents. Though there are no official statistics, State Department officials have said some of the cases involve U.S. servicemembers who have been stationed in Japan.
Should Japan sign, the move would be hailed by the U.S. and the international community, who for years have urged their ally to sign. It would also signify a huge change in the social fabric of Japan.
The country has been reluctant to accede to the Hague because it would require changing domestic laws and family court proceeding that have been built around Japan’s custom of sole-custody divorces.
Divorces typically result in no contact between children and their noncustodial parents in Japan. And the courts do not recognize foreign custody orders — which some Japanese defy in order to kidnap their children to Japan from another country — nor can they enforce custody rights even when ordered by a Japanese judge.
Media reports about the plight of foreign parents whose children have been spirited away to Japan have helped ratchet up pressure on the Japanese government to sign the Hague in recent years.
In 2009, Japan formed several committees to study the issue, which has been highly debated within the Diet and a controversial topic among the public. Critics of the Hague have mainly argued that it would put at risk women who return to Japan to escape abusive marriages.
Proponents contend the Hague has measures to protect such abuse victims and that such cases do not make up the majority of cases.