FEB2015ACCJARTICLE

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FEBRUARY 2015 • ACCJ JOURNAL

NEW RULES ON CHILD ABDUCTION
Tokyo handles first cases under newly ratified Hague convention

It took time and the application of a degree of pressure—both international and domestic—for Japan’s Diet to approve the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which finally went into effect on April 1, 2014. So far, diplomats, lawyers, and children’s rights activists have broadly applauded the efforts of the Japanese authorities to accede to the spirit of the agreement, pointing out a number of cases in which the pact has been enforced.

They warn, however, that the legislation has been in place for less than a year, and that Japan’s courts have yet to become deeply involved in cases that, all sides agree, are complicated and replete with emotional aspects.
“It’s too early to tell yet,” Steven Maloney, consul general at the US Embassy in Tokyo, told the ACCJ Journal.
“The Japanese government has done a lot of things very well; they have enacted the legislation, set up an office in the foreign ministry, as well as assembled judges, social workers, and lawyers with diverse skills and the ability to do the job properly, and we’re very happy with that. “But how the courts react remains to be seen,” he added.

Before last April, Japan was the only G-8 nation not to have ratified this Hague convention, which generally 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 and without the consent of the other parent.

With ever more international marriages—estimated at 40,000 a year in Japan—ending in separation or divorce, pressure from around the world has been building for Tokyo to enact relevant legislation.

In recent years, embassies in Tokyo were handling around 400 cases annually in which the Japanese parent had violated the terms of the convention. But previously, international authorities had been powerless to act once the child was in Japan.

At present, the US Embassy in Tokyo is dealing with close to 100 cases. “Each [case] is very complicated, and many involve more than one child,” Maloney said. Thirty-one applications for access to US citizen children and two cases for return are currently being handled by the Japanese authorities, and Maloney believes the Japanese authorities deserve credit for that.

“Clearly the government here is treating the issue very seriously, they are acting professionally, they are carrying out training, and they are not stonewalling, but we will know a great deal more in three months from now,” he added.

Jury still out

Concern revolves around an article in the convention that identifies “grave risk” to the physical well-being of the child at the center of a dispute as being grounds for a judge to refuse to sanction the child being returned to his or her country of habitual residence. Critics say that Japanese parents who have abducted a child are aware of this loophole and that they are likely to use it—whether or not there was any physical abuse in the past—to keep the child in Japan.

“If the article is interpreted in Japan as it is interpreted elsewhere, then we do not believe there are any loopholes,” Maloney said.

Taeko Mizuno Tada, a Tokyo-based lawyer with the firm Nagahama, Mizuno & Inoue, has handled international family cases for many years. She says the law was changed largely as a result of pressure from foreign governments.
“I believe the Japanese government agreed to ratify the convention because of overseas pressure, especially from the US government,” Mizuno said. “Over the past 20 years, amendments to the Civil Code related to family matters have been very slow and controversial in Japan.

“But as some children have been returned to Japan from other countries since April 1, we now understand that the Hague convention can be beneficial to Japanese and other residents of Japan as well,” she added.
Without external encouragement, Mizuno believes, it could have taken another 30 years for Japan to sign the Hague pact. But she agrees that the authorities here are taking their new obligations seriously.

“The Japanese foreign ministry has hired many good people to handle Hague convention issues,” she said. “And Japanese courts and the bar association have had a lot of education and training courses for Hague cases.”

Parents still suffering

However, foreign nationals who have been separated from their children for many years say Japan’s failure to ratify the convention earlier condemned them to years without their children, and that they still may never have the right to see their kids again.

“The benefits of Japan signing the convention only apply to cases where the children are under 16 years of age,” said Walter Benda, of Virginia, who has seen his two daughters just once in 20 years.

“Furthermore the Hague convention is not retroactive, so cases such as mine, which occurred in the past, and in which the children are already 16 or older, are not covered under any of the provisions of this treaty,” Benda added. He is joint founder of the Japan chapter of the US-based Children’s Rights Council.

Benda’s wife disappeared with the girls after seeing him off to work one morning from their home in Chiba Prefecture, and she rebuffed all his efforts to make contact with them. As soon as he did find them again, they vanished once more. The only time he has seen them was for a few moments on a street in a Japanese town in 1998, after a private investigator managed to track down the girls and their mother.

The problem was overlooked for many years simply because it was not in the public eye, and there was “a cultural bias” in Japan that supported Japanese parents who had abducted children, Benda said.

“However, as the number of cases kept growing at an ever increasing rate, with parents becoming more and more organized and being able to use the Internet to leverage this issue, it started to catch the attention of leaders in the US, Japan, and other countries,” he explained. “In addition to media coverage, various documentaries, such as From the Shadows, further exposed the problem.

“Rallies and other events held by parents in the US, Japan, and other countries also raised public awareness, as did the passage of various congressional resolutions in the US.

“All of this built up to the point where it started to become an international diplomatic issue that Japanese leaders had to deal with when meeting with their foreign counterparts,” he said. “All of these efforts took about 20 years of hard work and sacrifices by parents who had their children internationally abducted.”

And while Benda concedes that little can be done in his case, he agrees that Japan signing the convention means that other foreign parents may not have to go through what he has endured for two decades.

“We have seen a marked decline in the number of parents contacting our organization for help because of their children being internationally abducted,” he said. “I definitely believe that Japan’s signing of the Hague convention has had a deterrent effect on the number of parental abductions of children of couples with one Japanese spouse and one non-Japanese spouse.”

US nationals seeking advice may contact tokyoacs@state.gov, call 03 3224 5000, or view the State Department’s website at http://travel.state.gov/content/ childabduction/english/about.html.

David Levy

December 31, 2014

David Levy helped inspire the foundation of the Children’s Rights Council of Japan chapter in 1996, and was an active supporter of our activities over the years. Rest in peace, David, and thanks for all you have done to support a child’s rights to both parents worldwide.

DAVID LAWRENCE LEVY

On Thursday, December 11, 2014; David Lawrence Levy of Hyattsville, MD. Beloved husband of Ellen Levy; devoted father of Justin (Ilana) Levy, and Diana (Danny) Moldovan; beloved brother of Carol Levy; cherished grandfather of Corina Levy. Funeral Services will be held on Sunday, December 14, 2014 at 10;15 a.m. at Tifereth Israel Congregation, 7701 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20012. Interment Mount Lebanon Cemetery. Shiva services will be held at the late residence Sunday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Contributions in his memory may be made to Tifereth Israel Congregation. Arrangements by Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home, Inc. under Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington Contract.
– See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/washingtonpost/obituary.aspx?n=david-l-levy&pid=173444933&#sthash.SWnJG6hL.UC6Q7Ein.dpuf

Business Standard
Thursday, November 20, 2014 | 07:19 AM IST

http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/first-japan-linked-child-returns-home-under-abduction-treaty-114111200752_1.html

First Japan-linked child returns home under abduction treaty
AFP | Tokyo
November 12, 2014 Last Updated at 14:30 IST

The Japanese government has helped return a boy to his German home in the first such case since adopting an international treaty on cross-border child custody disputes, an official said today.

The foreign ministry said it intervened in a case involving a five-year-old boy, brought to Japan by his Japanese mother, who left the boy’s German father.

The mother took the boy in June without the father’s consent, a ministry official said.

“In August, the father contacted us to request assistance. We have located the boy, and contacted the mother,” he said.

“In October, the mother took the boy to his home,” he said, adding that the parents will have to work out their difference in Germany.

Tokyo’s official involvement became possible after Japan enacted in April the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

Japan had long been the only member of the Group of Seven major industrialised nations not to ratify the convention, which requires nations to return snatched children to the countries where they usually reside.

Japanese courts virtually never grant custody to foreign parents, which has previously left few legal avenues for those whose former partners have fled to Japan with their children.

Hundreds of US parents have complained that they have been left unable to see their half-Japanese children. At least 120 have filed cases in Japan, invariably to no avail.

Major European nations such as Britain and France have also pressured Japan to join the shared rule among leading powers.

The Japanese government has 13 pending requests from non-Japanese parents for return of their offsprings taken to Japan, the foreign ministry official said.

There are nine cases where Japanese parents are asking for return of their children taken abroad, he said.

The foreign ministry has also accepted 46 requests from non-Japanese parents requesting meetings with their children in Japan but not asking for their return.

There are 13 cases of Japanese parents requesting meetings with their kids taken abroad, the official added.

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

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

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