TOKYO - Envoys of eight countries met the Japanese foreign minister Saturday to press the government to sign a treaty to prevent international parental child abductions.
Activists say that thousands of foreign parents have lost access to children in Japan, where the courts virtually never award child custody to a divorced foreign parent.
Japan is the only nation among the Group of Seven industrialised nations that has not signed the 1980 Hague Convention that requires countries to return a child wrongfully kept there to their country of habitual residence.
In the latest move to urge Tokyo to sign the convention, envoys from Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand, Spain and the United States expressed their concerns to Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada.
The ambassadors visited the foreign ministry to "submit our concerns over the increase of international parental abduction cases involving Japan and affecting our nationals," they said in a joint statement.
"Currently the left-behind parents of children abducted to or from Japan have little hope of having their children returned," said the statement.
Such parents "encounter great difficulties in obtaining access to their children and exercising their parental rights and responsibilities," it said.
"This is a very serious issue, to which we have to find a solution," said Okada as he received the delegation including French ambassador Philippe Faure and US envoy John Roos.
"This comes from the different legal systems between Japan and the countries of North America and Europe," Okada said.
The envoys' visit to Okada followed their meeting with Justice Minister Keiko Chiba in October, as they hope Japan's new centre-left government, which ended a half-century of conservative rule in September, will review the issue.
Activist groups estimate that over the years up to 10,000 dual-citizenship children in Japan have been prevented from seeing a foreign parent.
The United States has said it has listed cases of more than 100 children abducted by a parent from the United States and taken to Japan.
Japanese courts usually award child custody in divorce cases to just one parent, usually the mother, rather than reaching joint custody agreements with parental visitation rights.
Japanese courts also habitually side with the Japanese parent in an international custody dispute - sometimes even awarding a child's Japanese grandparents custody rights over a foreign parent.