YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – Japanese officials announced Friday that the country will sign an international treaty aimed at preventing child abduction, but it could take years before the law is actually implemented in Japan, sources told Stars and Stripes.

This week’s announcement comes after two years of debate within the Diet and other government agencies on whether Japan should sign the 1980 Hague Convention on Aspects of International Child Abduction. The U.S. and seven other countries have been urging Japan to adopt the treaty for decades, with the media, advocacy groups and even the U.S. Congress adding to the pressure.

The treaty requires that a child be returned to his or her habitual residence should one parent flee to another country with that child to evade a custody dispute or dodge an existing court order.

Japan will join 82 other nations when it signs the agreement.

The Japanese government must “satisfy concerns that exist among the Japanese public” regarding how domestic abuse victims would fare under the Hague treaty before it is implemented, said Masa Ido, a Diet member with Japan’s ruling party.

The treaty is “not clear enough to protect the lives of the child and his or her parent who become victims of domestic violence” and flee to Japan for protection, said Ido.

Takeaki Matsumoto, Minister of Foreign Affairs, said Friday during a press conference that the government would submit a bill to the Diet to ratify the treaty at the earliest possible time.

“At the current stage, not all the processes are determined so it is difficult to give a specific date, but we have decided on a policy so we’d like to proceed as quickly as possible,” he said.

Ido, however, said the Diet will not take up such legislation until September.

Ido’s concern represents the crux of Japan’s longstanding reluctance to sign the treaty. She and others have said that many Japanese women who bring their children to Japan from another country without the consent of the fathers are fleeing domestic abuse.

Treaty supporters contend Japan’s domestic abuse argument is valid but overblown, and that the pact already includes sufficient provisions that protect victims of domestic violence. Japanese officials argue those protections are not enough.

The Hague treaty also conflicts with the Japan’s practice of sole-custody divorces, wherein one parent – typically the mother – is awarded custody and children are then completely cut off from their noncustodial parent.

“Laws on joint custody and child support must be established” ahead of ratifying the treaty, said Misaki Smith, from Women’s Pride, a nonprofit group that helps Japanese women resolve issues stemming from international marriages.

Preliminary details of the plan released Friday by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs include creating a “Central Authority” within MOFA – the equivalent of the State Department – to manage Hague treaty cases, including the return of children brought to Japan in violation of the treaty.

MOFA also said Japan will not allow the treaty to be applied retroactively, which would help reconcile hundreds of current cases involving Americans and other “left-behind” fathers.

“It’s easy for Japan to sign a paper,” said Navy Cmdr. Paul Toland, who has been cut off from his only daughter, Erika, since she was a baby.

Erika, 8, has lived with her maternal grandmother in Tokyo since Toland’s ex-wife died several years ago. Despite his pleas for custody as her sole surviving parent in Japanese courts, Toland has been continuously denied visitation.

“I’ll be impressed when they return a child,” said the medical officer, now stationed in Virginia.

Stars and Stripes translator Elena Sugiyama contributed to this report.

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