TOKYO - JAPAN is recognised the world over as a major democracy, but when it comes to parents, critics say the country has antiquated laws that deny even basic rights.
Every year in Japan, following a break-up or divorce, 166,000 children are separated, usually definitively, from one of their parents, according to official statistics.
In 80 per cent of the cases, it is the father, Japanese or foreign, who loses all his parental rights, but is still required to pay financial support to the mother, the statistics show.
In contrast to other developed countries, visitation rights are not enshrined in Japanese law, and the abduction of a child by one parent is not considered a crime.
'Under current Japanese law, the parent who is quickest to take a child gets custody. It is the law of the jungle,' said Mr Richard Delrieu, a French teacher who was deprived of his child and belongs to the SOS Parents Japan association.
After children have spent six months in their new home, 'the judge will consider it is better not to change their environment again and will give custody of the child to the kidnapping mother', he said.
Eighteen Japanese associations of parents deprived of their children are fighting, alongside lawmakers, for reform of Japanese civil law to allow the sharing of parental authority and visitation rights.
The associations held a demonstration in Tokyo yesterday.
Japan and Russia are the only members of the Group of Eight industrialised nations that have not signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which requires a country to expeditiously return abducted children to their country of habitual residence.
According to Japanese media, Japan may sign the convention in 2010, but there has been no official confirmation.
Mr Thierry Consigny of the Assembly for French Overseas Nationals for Japan and North Asia, a group which provides support for French nationals overseas, said that even if Japan signed the convention, it would be necessary to change the civil law so that the convention is applied.
In 1994, Japan signed the Convention of New York, which upholds the right of a child to see both parents, but nothing changed, say fathers such as Mr Delrieu.
'The parental system organised around the house is to a large extent inherited from the feudal period,' he said.
'The Japanese family can definitively take the children while erasing the name of the father, even having them adopted by another member of the family, without the need for the consent of the other parent.'