http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/article/1594102/racist-cartoon-issued-japanese-ministry-angers-rights-activists

‘Racist’ cartoon issued by Japanese ministry angers rights activists

Pamphlet issued by Tokyo to Japan’s embassies in response to Hague convention is criticised for depicting a foreign man beating his child
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 September, 2014, 11:14pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 September, 2014, 3:31pm

Julian Ryall in Tokyo

The cartoon showing a white man beating his child has drawn condemnation from human rights activists.

Human rights activists in Japan have reacted angrily to a new pamphlet released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that they claim is racist and stereotypical for depicting white fathers beating their children.

The 11-page leaflet has been sent to Japanese embassies and consulates around the world in response to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction going into effect in Japan on April 1.

Tokyo dragged its feet on ratifying the treaty, which broadly stipulates that a child should be returned to his or her country of habitual residence when they have been taken out of that country by a parent but without the consent of the other parent.

But manga-style images of foreign fathers beating children and Japanese women portrayed as innocent victims have raised the hackles of campaigners, both those fighting discrimination against foreigners and non-Japanese who have been unable to see children who have been abducted by Japanese former spouses.

Debito Arudou said the Japanese “see themselves as the victims”.”It’s the same problem with any negotiations in which Japan looks like it has been beaten,” said Debito Arudou, a naturalised Japanese citizen who was born in the United States and has become a leading human rights activist.

“After being forced to give up a degree of power by signing the Hague treaty, they have to show that they have not lost face and they try to turn the narrative around,” he said. “It’s the same as in the debate over whaling.

“The Japanese always see themselves as the victims, and in this case, the narrative is that Japanese women are being abused and that the big, bad world is constantly trying to take advantage of them.”

Arudou is particularly incensed by the cover of the publication, which shows a blond-haired foreigner hitting a little girl, a foreign father taking a child from a sobbing Japanese mother and another Japanese female apparently ostracised by big-nosed foreign women.

“It is promoting the image that the outside world is against Japanese and the only place they will get a fair deal is in Japan,” said Arudou.

The rest of the pamphlet takes the form of a conversation between a cartoon character father and son, but with the storyline showing the difficulties of a Japanese woman living abroad with her half-Japanese son.

Arudou says the publication then “degenerates into the childish” with the appearance of an animated doll that is the father figure’s pride and joy, but also dispenses advice.

“As well as promoting all these stereotypes, why are they not talking about visitation issues for foreigners whose half-Japanese children have been abducted by their ex-wives?” asked Arudou.

Several foreigners who have been unable to see their children for years have already contacted Arudou to express their anger, with a number of US nationals saying they would pass the document onto lawmakers.

Arudou’s post on the issue on his website has also attracted attention, with commentators describing the pamphlet as “racist propaganda”.

“This is disgusting,” one commentator posted. “Pictures are powerful, more powerful than words. And the only time I’ve ever seen anything remotely like this is when I did a search for old anti-Japanese propaganda.

“Of course, that was disgusting too, but it was wartime!”

Another added, “What a pathetic advert for an ‘advanced’ country.

“As for the text – not wasting any more bandwidth on such utter racist, xenophobic, patronising, paranoid nonsense.”
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as ‘Racist’ cartoon sparks outrage

The following is a copy of the English language version of the pamphlet:

MOFA Hague Convention pamphlet

American father Toshiro Sugimoto’s two sons, Sasuke and Saizo, were abducted in Japan by their mother over one year ago, and he is seeking help locating them. The father has not received any information or communcations about the welfare and whereabouts of his sons since they were abducted, but does have a physical custody order from the Japanese courts. For more details, please visit the website he has set up for his children:

www.sasukeandsaizo.com

Goldman Act update

August 29, 2014

http://ind.gmnews.com/news/2014-08-07/Front_Page/Goldman_Act_bolsters_fight_for_return_of_abducted_.html

Goldman Act bolsters fight for return of abducted children
By ADAM C. UZIALKO
Staff Writer

A bill empowering the U.S. State Department to aggressively pursue the return of internationally abducted children is headed to the president’s desk after being approved by Congress.

The Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, the fourth bill of its kind introduced by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-4), was drafted after Smith became involved with David Goldman’s fight to be reunited with his son, Sean.

According to Jeff Sagnip, the congressman’s press secretary, Goldman’s wife absconded with Sean from the family’s Tinton Falls home in June 2004, bringing him to Brazil when he was 4 years old without seeking custody of Sean or legally divorcing Goldman in a U.S. court.

She subsequently died in childbirth, Sagnip said, and the Brazilian government held that her partner at the time of her death should maintain custody of Sean.

Brazil is a signatory of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, but chose to ignore the policies outlined by the international agreement, Sagnip said.

“Previously, the State Department would say ‘… There’s nothing that we can do,” Sagnip said. “[For a parent] trying to get a foreign court to award custody, it’s very difficult and returns are rare.”

The Sean and David Goldman Act (H.R. 3212) would allow U.S. embassies to apply pressure in incremental phases to dissuade governments from ignoring international law and sheltering abductors.

“[This bill] provides a series of tools which vary in their severity, from mild to strong,” Sagnip said. “The State Department is able to start with a little pressure and then build the pressure [on foreign governments refusing to return abducted American children to their homes.]”

Those tools include a private diplomatic protest called a demarche, a public condemnation of the foreign government, the withholding of economic aid and, eventually, demands for the extradition of the abductor.

Goldman, who was reunited with his son after five years of heavy investment both financial and emotional, said the passage of the bill provides hope for parents facing the same struggle he did.

“It was a long road, nearly five years, thanks to a tremendous effort of Congressman Smith and his staff,” Goldman said. “It was a great thing to do. It was the right thing to do. It’s another step closer to reuniting families. Next step: the White House.”

For victims of international child abduction and their parents, Smith said the Sean and David Goldman Act represents a shift in U.S. policy that will benefit separated family members. “Many children and parents have tragically lost years separated from each other in violation of U.S. and international law,” Smith said. “They have missed birthdays, holidays, and family time that they can never get back. H.R. 3212 ensures that they will now receive significant help from the U.S. government in their fight to recover their children.”

According to Sagnip, the bill allows the State Department to use the leverage already at its disposal in international abduction cases — leverage that is invaluable to an individual parent who only has so many resources to expend.

“How can a parent in Rutherford, New Jersey … fight a battle that’s halfway across the world? How do they pay for it?” Sagnip said. “It’s a tremendous expense, it’s a tremendous undertaking, and this [bill] puts the State Department in their corner.”

http://www.katu.com/news/local/Police-Man-violates-custody-order-could-be-leaving-US-with-4-children-272892381.html

Police: Man violates custody order, could be leaving U.S. with 4 children
By News Staff Published: Aug 27, 2014 at 10:04 AM PDT Last Updated: Aug 27, 2014 at 10:30 AM PDT

Police: Man violates custody order, could be leaving U.S. with 4 children

EUGENE, Ore. — Officers said they are looking for a man who may be taking his four children from their mother, who has custody in Eugene.

Eugene Police said 40-year-old Torata Tanaka violated a restraining order and failed to return the children to their mother Tuesday morning.

Tanaka could be taking two girls, ages 10 and 3, and two boys, ages 8 and 6, to Canada or possibly back to his native country of Japan, Eugene Police spokeswoman Melinda McLaughlin said.

Tanaka could be driving a 2002 Acura MDX with Oregon license plate ZEJ-686. Eugene Police didn’t specify the car’s color.

Anyone with information on Tanaka, the children, or his vehicle is asked to call 911 immediately.

This documentary film about parental child abductions in Japan now can be ordered on DVD through the following link:

http://fromtheshadowsmovie.com/

http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201407300041

 

Hague child abduction treaty applied for 1st time to Japanese child at British court

 
July 30, 2014

By TAKUYA KITAZAWA/ Staff Writer

A court in London ordered a Japanese woman living in Britain to return with her child to Japan to sort out custody issues under the terms of the Hague child abduction treaty.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which took effect in Japan in April, is designed to help parents of contracting countries reclaim children taken overseas by their partners without their consent.

The court ruling involves a 7-year-old child of a Japanese couple who are estranged and have filed for divorce. It is the first time the pact has been applied to a child of Japanese nationality, the Foreign Ministry said.

According to the father’s lawyer, the mother left for Britain in March for business reasons, taking their child with her. But when she did not return to Japan on the date she had scheduled, the father’s side applied to a British governmental organization for support based on provisions of the international treaty in May. The father filed a legal application with the court in London the following month for the child’s return.

The court determined that by staying beyond her promised return date the mother had violated the Hague Convention. In its order of July 22, the court ordered the mother to return to Japan with the child on July 30. The mother offered no objections to returning to Japan, the sources said.

The couple in question are now in the midst of divorce settlement negotiations, and a Japanese family court is expected to judge which parent should get custody of the child, according to the sources.

The father’s lawyer, Hirotaka Honda, said the case has proved the usefulness of the convention.

“Thanks to the Hague Convention, the parents will be able to move forward with discussions and legal proceedings after the child is returned to Japan,” he said. “It deserves appraisal.”

By TAKUYA KITAZAWA/ Staff Writer

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/04/24/national/politics-diplomacy/summit-kept-script-sidestepped-many-issues/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=summit-kept-script-sidestepped-many-issues#.U1pnr47D_4g

National / Politics & Diplomacy| ANALYSIS

Summit kept to script that sidestepped many issues

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Apr 24, 2014
Article history

High-level summits like Thursday’s between U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are mostly scripted affairs, with a clearly defined agenda revolving around the most pressing, or politically important, issues.

The Japan-U.S. summit covered America’s military commitments to Japan under the bilateral security treaty, including standing tough on the Senkakus and North Korea. They also covered the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.

But in any summit, there are always pressing issues that are downplayed, left off the agenda or deemed not worthy of high-level attention.

The most difficult aspect of the summit was the TPP negotiations. Whatever is or is not eventually announced by the U.S. and Japan, Obama will return to Washington to strong opposition to the pact in a Congress that, while concerned about beef, pork and the other points of contention making headlines in Japan, is perhaps even more worried about other issues.

“There are roughly 30 votes in the House, out of 435 total, by members who represent a district with any real prospect of improving their agricultural exports by opening up the Japanese market. Agriculture is a factor, but it’s not a very big factor in congressional opposition,” Alan Grayson, a Democrat from Florida who serves on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a telephone press conference earlier this week.

Lori Wallach, director of the Washington-based Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, lists the most contentious TPP-related issues for Congress, which were downplayed or not discussed by Obama in his meeting with Abe.

“Even if the continuing bilateral negotiations resolve U.S.-Japan auto and agricultural trade issues, there are scores of other deep deadlocks in TPP negotiations,” she said, rattling off issues ranging from disputes on medicine patent and reimbursement policies to environment and labor standards.

Some 60 U.S. senators and 230 U.S. representatives have insisted the TPP include enforceable disciplines on currency manipulation. But other TPP countries oppose this, and to date the issue had not been addressed, Wallach added.

Also downplayed was the fact that the TPP is unlikely to be approved by Congress if Obama does not receive special negotiating authority from the legislative body to do a deal. There is strong opposition in both parties to giving him such authority, and few in Washington believe it will happen this year.

“Fast track (trade promotion) authority from Congress is highly unlikely. Fast track has been announced as dead until the (November congressional) elections. But I think it’s dead after the elections as well,” said Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman, who serves on a committee dealing with international trade.

Also left off the summit agenda were proposals for resolving tensions over historical issues between Japan and South Korea, and Japan and China.

Anger toward Japan, and particularly Abe, over the “comfort women” issue in particular is causing problems not only in East Asia, but also in the United States, including in Glendale, California, where human rights groups persuaded the city to erect a memorial statue to the wartime sex slaves.

Some U.S. municipal and state governments have passed resolutions condemning Japan’s stance on the comfort women, while extreme right-wing Japanese politicians are demanding the statues be removed.

While the State Department says these statues and resolutions are local issues, they make it more difficult for both Tokyo and Washington to move forward on larger issues of regional cooperation.

Obama also offered U.S. support regarding Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea. But neither leader appears to have raised Japan’s other so-called abduction issue: the more than 400 children of Japanese and American parents who were allegedly taken from the U.S. to Japan by an estranged Japanese spouse without permission.

During her Senate confirmation hearing last year, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy said she was concerned about the issue. The Hague Treaty on child abductions, which specifies that nations are required to facilitate the return of children taken by any parent away from the country marked as their usual residence, came into effect in Japan only on April 1, but does not apply to children abducted before then.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2014/04/16/issues/hague-jars-with-japans-family-law-a-zero-sum-game-with-only-one-outcome/#.U08X547D_UN

Issues| LAW OF THE LAND

Hague jars with Japan’s family law, a zero-sum game with only one outcome

by Colin P.A. Jones

Special To The Japan Times

Apr 16, 2014
Article history

On April 1, the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction went into force in Japan, as did the necessary implementing legislation. Having already written about this legislation in a prior column, I won’t revisit the subject here.

While Japan’s accession is a welcome step forward, I wonder how it will actually pan out. Implementation may be frustrated by some basic features of Japanese family law that can be neatly described mathematically: 1+1=1.

I would love to take credit for this wonderfully expressive formula, but it comes from a Japanese lawyer I met a few months ago, who used it to explain his own doubts about the convention’s viability here: “To Westerners, marriage means 1+1=2. But in Japan it equals 1.” It made perfect sense to me, but perhaps I should explain.

The traditional Japanese family structure was the ie, or house. This was an extended family that might encompass four generations of kin and several married couples sharing the same surname and even residence. The head of the house — typically the eldest male — had great authority over other members. Junior members needed his consent to marry or establish their own households. If the house was an economic entity — a farm, shop or other family enterprise — the head would also manage the business.

Primogeniture was the rule, with the eldest (legitimate) son inheriting the house, its property and the status of head. Marriage, childbirth and adoption were the means by which the house was perpetuated. While these were events that involved individual members of the house, they were ancillary to the greater collective: One plus one plus any number of additional ones still equaled one — a single ie.

The ie system was embodied in the Civil Code adopted at the end of the 19th century. It was feudalistic and discriminatory: Children born out of wedlock and women were disfavored, as were younger brothers. The head of house was a legal, heritable status that entailed both power and responsibilities, including a duty to support members of the household as well as control of family property.

The ie system was also a convenient tool for identifying, controlling and governing the Japanese people, which brings us to the koseki (family register) system. By requiring each ie to be registered, the government could implement policy through its head. The house rather than the individual was the smallest social unit directly subject to governance, with the head of the house being formally responsible for paying taxes, facilitating conscription and implementing other government programs.

The koseki system gave a weak central government leverage to govern nationally. The trade-off was noninterference within the family, with the head of the house accorded broad autonomy to govern it as he saw fit. This might include both corporal punishment and the use of junior members as a form of economic asset.

The register was also significant for commerce: It would show who was authorized to dispose of family assets, as well as an individual’s status within a particular house. This information could have financial significance. For example, an eldest son would be a lower credit risk since he could be expected to inherit the family property. The family register became a public document, a state of affairs that continued into the 1970s.

Elements of the ie system were fundamentally inconsistent with the postwar Constitution, which contains both a general egalitarian mandate and a clause specifically requiring gender equality and respect for the individual in family law. Amendments to the Civil Code and the koseki system were unavoidable.

The Americans governing occupied Japan had officially indicated that the Japanese were free to make such amendments to these laws as they thought appropriate so long as basic constitutional requirements were satisfied, which meant gender equality, marriage based on free will and the elimination of head-of-house status. This was not a clear mandate to completely excise the ie system from the Civil Code. Nevertheless, the Japanese drafting team apparently decided that such an approach would likely be viewed most favorably by the Americans.

However, what the Japanese did try to do was surreptitiously preserve elements of the ie system in case there was a desire to revive it after the Occupation (the subject was debated in the 1950s but nothing came of it). Their attempts focused on the Family Register Act rather than the Civil Code. The former being a mostly administrative statute that implemented the latter, the Japanese calculated that the Americans would stop paying attention once they were happy with the amendments to the Civil Code. They were wrong: Having been pleased to see the ie system formally excised from the Civil Code, the American authorities both noticed and objected to efforts to preserve it in the family register system.

In light of the individualistic principles of the new Constitution, the Americans actually advocated introducing a system that registered individuals rather than families. Using classic bureaucratic arguments (including insufficient paper!), the Japanese side held out for a family-based system. The Americans conceded but adamantly opposed any system that would enable three or more generations to appear in the same register, as this would have smacked of the ie system.

The result is the current koseki system, a compromise based not on individuals but on nuclear families: married couples and their children sharing the same surname. If a Japanese man and woman marry, they must establish a new register: 1+1=1. If they have a child it appears in that register: 1+1+1=1. If an unmarried Japanese woman has a child, she must establish a new register: 1+1=1. The same applies if she marries a foreigner and has a child (in family register math, non-Japanese equal zero). Japanese persons appearing in the same register are supposed to share the same surname; it’s part of the equation. If a woman gets divorced, she can revert to her parents’ register, but only if no children are involved.

The resulting system retains anachronisms that continue into the 21st century. Being rooted in marriage and surnames, it discriminates between children depending on whether they were born in or out of wedlock. Furthermore, since one purpose of the system is to identify family relationships so that government agencies and others can confirm who is responsible for whom, it is designed to minimize ambiguity. Parental authority over children is tightly linked to this system, with the Civil Code vesting it in mothers of children born out of wedlock, jointly in both parents during marriage, and in only one parent after divorce. Under this system the locus of parental authority should always be clear from the family registry.

The system is also laissez-faire. Most changes made to the family register are consensual and can be carried out with limited government interference — adoptions, dissolutions of adoptions, even many divorces. So long as a form indicating compliance is submitted, the authorities will accept it and the koseki will be amended to reflect the new status. About 90 percent of divorces, including many involving children, are made in this way, with no governmental oversight of custody arrangements. Even when parties can’t agree, the primary role of courts in the minority of cases in which they become involved is to convince parties to reach some consensual solution rather than to find facts or apply law. Since most resolutions are agreed to by the parties themselves (with or without court intervention), enforcement is something of an afterthought.

A Japanese lawyer recently related to me a consultation he had had with a young foreign man who had been living in his home country with his Japanese wife and their child. The wife took the child back to Japan for the summer and asked him to sign what she said was a school application. He could not read Japanese but signed. His wife and child never returned. When he tracked them down here, he discovered that he had signed a consensual divorce form awarding his (ex-)wife parental authority. Not only that, but his wife had since remarried and her new husband had adopted the child as his own (a common practice in Japan; otherwise the horrible anomaly of 1+1+1=2 — a man not sharing the same surname as or having parental authority over a child in his home — might arise).

This was essentially the same scenario that the other lawyer had enlightened me with using his formula, but it seems to be one that nobody implementing the Hague Convention here seems to have considered. Fundamentally, the Convention treats the parents and child as individuals, while Japanese family law still treats the family as a single unit and doesn’t handle fractions very well.

There are thus some very large gaps to bridge between the convention on the one hand and the Civil Code-family register combination on the other. The former does not distinguish based on the marital status of parents, their nationality or that of the child and is concerned primarily with the best interests of children. The latter is fundamentally rooted in marriage, the marital status of parents and Japanese nationality, all as they are reflected in the family register system. Furthermore, formal family law is largely unconcerned with the best interests of children because that would involve treating them as whole numbers and make consensual resolutions harder to achieve.

Finally, the convention is concerned with place: the child’s habitual residence. The family register system is not: Japanese nationals can register divorces, marriages or even adoptions (of other Japanese people) in their family register from abroad. Whether these transactions are valid in their country of residence is questionable, but the possibility of conflict seems obvious.

With the convention routinely and incorrectly described in Japan as being about “international divorces,” the process of bridging these gaps probably has a way to go. Certainly nobody here seems to have anticipated the possibility that cases seeking return under the Convention might involve families comprised entirely of Japanese nationals.

Of course, case resolutions will be where the rubber meets the road. The government hopes that most cases can be resolved amicably through mediation, whether through the courts or other organizations. (Full disclosure: I am registered as a mediator/arbitrator candidate with the Osaka Bar Association’s dispute resolution center.) Paradoxically, however, it is mediation and a focus on consensual results that contributed to Japan being an abduction haven in the first place — by allowing courts to remain involved while doing nothing affirmative for long enough that the child was settled in his or her new environment.

If mediation and the judicial process just end up being part of an exercise in “convincing foreign father to let the kids stay in Japan” (as one lawyer explained the need for mediation in such cases to me), then the whole process of Japan joining the dozens of other countries already party to the Hague Convention might add nothing to Japan’s family law equation.

Colin P. A. Jones is a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto. Law of the Land appears on the third Thursday of the month. Comments and ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/04/04/national/child-abduction-agreement-too-late-for-many-parents/#.U0KzqI7D_ui

Child abduction agreement too late for many parents

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Apr 4, 2014

To some parents, Japan’s official entry Tuesday into the Hague convention on cross-border child abductions doesn’t represent the light at the end of the tunnel, but the arrival of more obstacles in the prolonged effort to retrieve their children, experts say.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction was drafted in 1980 to ensure that children abducted and taken overseas by a parent involved in a failed international marriage will be promptly returned to their country of habitual residence.

Japan’s refusal to sign the convention earned it a reputation as a “safe haven” for international child abductions. But from now on, the Foreign Ministry will be legally bound to locate abducted kids and facilitate their return at the request of parents abroad. The same will apply to children whisked away from Japan, as long as the country where the child is staying is a signatory of the convention.

While widely hailed as a breakthrough, participation in the pact does not satisfy everyone.

For one thing, the treaty is not retroactive, meaning repatriation is possible only in cases that take place from Tuesday on.

Regardless of the date of the abduction, however, the government can still assist parents seeking visitation opportunities, such as by trying to locate their children, according to the treaty. But these benefits can only be given to parents whose kids were under 16 years of age as of Tuesday. Anyone else does not benefit from the treaty.

A group of parents trapped in this legislative limbo went to the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday to explain their plight.

Miho Watanabe, a 53-year-old Japanese citizen, said she took refuge in a women’s shelter in United States in 1995 with her 3-year-old daughter to escape alleged mistreatment by her husband, an American, whom she married in Japan.

Shortly afterward, she took their daughter back to Japan and got divorced with the help of international lawyers in 1999. But in 2005, after she sent her 13-year-old daughter to the U.S. for a visit at the request of her ex-husband, he spirited her away and has refused to let Watanabe have access.

The daughter visited her once in Japan recently, but Watanabe said she has no clue about her current whereabouts.

“I was told (by the American family) I would become a ‘kidnapper’ if I ever tried to bring back my own girl to Japan,” Watanabe said.

Watanabe, who campaigned for Japan to join the Hague convention for years, said she was vaguely aware the pact only applies to children under 16. But she had always held out hope that she might benefit from it somehow, she said, noting that her faintest hopes were dashed on Wednesday, when ministry officials told her there was nothing they could do. Her daughter is now 21 and living independently of her father in the U.S.

“In my case, the abduction took place ages ago. At that time, she was still a little kid. It’s so unfair, after all these years that I waited, that my case is not considered eligible,” Watanabe said.

Masako Akeo, head of Left Behind Parents Japan, a group of Japan-based parents separated from their children, expressed outrage over the government’s ingrained “tardiness.”

Akeo’s husband, who is also Japanese, took their son, raised in Canada, to Japan in 2006 without her consent. A Japanese family court later granted him sole custody of the boy, effectively denying Akeo any visitation rights. She has no idea where he is today.

“We all looked very much forward to this day. But now we’re devastated to find out we’re not even eligible to ask for the government’s support to locate and help us visit our kids,” Akeo said.

While acknowledging that their situation is a pity, legal experts argue that the convention’s current framework does not allow such parents to be helped.

“It’s not like there is absolutely nothing they can do. They could go to the U.S. and litigate a case themselves. But I understand it will be a very, very laborious task,” said lawyer Masami Kittaka.

“The sad reality is that Japan’s accession to the convention does nothing to directly improve their situation,” she said.

http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201404040015

Child abduction treaty gives hope to parents separated from their kids

April 04, 2014

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

American Jeffrey Morehouse has no idea where his son lives, knowing only that the 10-year-old’s address is somewhere in Toyama Prefecture.

His last contact with the boy was when his divorced Japanese wife lived in the United States. He lost all contact after she and her son abruptly moved to Japan.

But Morehouse, who lives in Seattle, is finally taking a big step toward getting in touch with his son again, and perhaps bringing the child back to the United States.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction took effect for Japan on April 1, giving parents overseas, like Morehouse, and in Japan a legal means to visit their children.

The so-called Hague Abduction Convention governs cross-border child custody disputes resulting from broken marriages. Under the treaty, if a marriage fails and the parents start living in separate countries, the decision on who receives parental rights to raise children under 16 falls under the jurisdiction of the country where the family lived with the child before the breakup.

Before Japan signed the treaty in January, a number of high-profile cases surfaced about the plight of overseas parents who had no legal way of even contacting their children taken to Japan by their former spouses. However, Japanese parents are also expressing hopes that the treaty will help them be reunited with their children who live overseas.

A Japanese woman living in Chiba Prefecture last month wrote a letter to the parents of her ex-husband, who are currently raising her 14-year-old daughter in the United States.

“I have the right to meet with my daughter,” the 34-year-old woman wrote.

She later received an e-mail instructing her to never again try to contact her daughter.

The woman was married to an American who worked at a U.S. military base in Kyushu. After they divorced, the ex-husband returned to the United States with their 8-month-old child in 2001 without the mother’s consent and asked his parents to raise the girl.

The mother visited the home of her former husband’s parents in the United States two years later, but she was allowed to meet her daughter only three times.

Five years ago, the ex-husband’s family refused to let her to see the child.

The woman said she expects the Hague Abduction Convention to help her in the battle against her ex-husband and his parents.

“I hope the Japanese government will negotiate (with U.S. authorities) as equals,” said the mother. She plans to use the Foreign Ministry to repeat her demands that her ex-husband’s parents allow her to visit her daughter.

Although cases involving children “abducted” before April 1 will be exempt from the convention, parents can still call for governmental assistance in setting up meetings with their children.

A Canadian man moved to Japan in 2011 to see his three daughters.

His ex-wife had returned to Japan with the children and had rejected all of his requests to visit the girls.

The Canadian said he met his children three times last year without prior appointments, and that he expects the convention to make it easier for him to visit his daughters.

The U.S. State Department said it received 24 applications on March 31 from divorced parents calling for meetings with their children overseas. A number of parents, including Morehouse, visited the State Department that day to request measures to set up visits with their children in Japan.

According to the State Department, 58 cases concerning 80 children unfairly taken from the United States to Japan have yet to be settled, the third highest figure after Mexico and India.

A representative of a group of those visiting parents said meetings with the children will be the first step in getting the children returned.

Paul Toland, a co-founder of Bring Abducted Children Home, a U.S. nonprofit organization calling for the return of children taken to Japan, said he wants the Japanese government to quickly take measures under the spirit of the Hague Abduction Convention.

Toland, himself, on March 31 called on the State Department to work with the Japanese government to set up a meeting with his 11-year-old daughter in Japan.

Beth Payne, director of the Office of Children’s Issues in the State Department, promised that the U.S. government will continue efforts to settle cases reported before April 1 by negotiating with Japan’s Foreign Ministry.

The U.S. Congress is currently discussing legislation to enable the president to impose sanctions on nations that fail to take adequate measures to resolve the child abduction problem. The House of Representatives has already passed the bill.

One issue of concern among Japanese parents is how courts will weigh domestic violence in deciding if their children should be returned to the nation where the family resided before the divorce or separation.

Under the convention, Japan’s Foreign Ministry will help foreign parents find arbitration organizations for their demands that their children in Japan be returned to them.

If the Japanese parents refuse the demands, the Tokyo or Osaka family courts will decide whether to issue orders for the children to be sent to the country where the family originally lived.

If the courts recognize the existence of serious domestic violence, the Japanese parents will be allowed to refuse to return their sons and daughters to their former foreign partners.

The Hague convention will also cover cases in which both parents are Japanese and one of them takes the child overseas.

Regardless of the parents’ nationalities, cases involving a divorced husband or wife taking a child elsewhere in Japan will not be subject to the treaty.

Under Japan’s Civil Law, parental rights are granted to one parent after they split. Although a divorced couple can discuss visitation rights at the time of the divorce settlement, the decision is not legally binding.

In many cases, the parents take their children elsewhere in Japan without the consent of their former partners.

Lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties are currently discussing legislation to address such domestic cases.

(This article was compiled from reports by Satomi Sugihara and Tsuyoshi Tamura in Tokyo and Takashi Oshima in Washington.)

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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