http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0004447319

Japan on U.S. list of nations noncompliant with Hague Treaty

 

Jiji PressWASHINGTON (Jiji Press) — The U.S. State Department on Wednesday listed Japan as one of countries showing a pattern of noncompliance with the so-called Hague Treaty that sets procedures to settle cross-border parental child abduction cases.

Japan joined the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in 2014, and it is the first time since then that the nation has been put on the list in the department’s annual report on the issue of children taken by one parent following the breakup of international marriages.

The listing may help put greater pressure on Japan to comply with the treaty, pundits said.

The 2018 report said Japan has made “measurable progress” on international parental child abduction, noting that the average number of children reported abducted to the country each year has decreased by 44 percent since 2014.

While noting that “a strong and productive relationship” between the Japanese and U.S. governments has facilitated the resolution of abduction cases, the report said that “there were no effective means” to enforce court return orders.

As a result, 22 percent of requests for the return of abducted children under the treaty remained unresolved for more than one year, the report said, adding the enforcement process is “extremely long.”

A total of 12 countries, also including China, India, Brazil and Argentina, were on the 2018 list of countries showing a pattern of noncompliance.

“Now is an opportunity for the government of Japan to demonstrate a true commitment to reforming its inability to enforce its own judicial rulings,” said Jeffery Morehouse, who is seeking to gain custody of his son in Japan.

Paul Toland, who hopes to reunite with his daughter in Japan, said, “Japan will need a complete reform of their family law system and will have to change the way they view the rights of a child to know and love both parents after a divorce if they ever want to be compliant with the Hague [treaty].”

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https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/04/11/lawmaker-u-s-needs-pressure-japan-comply-international-child-abduction-laws/508880002/

Lawmaker: U.S. needs to pressure Japan to comply with international child abduction laws

Japan remains a haven for parental child abductions and a U.S. lawmaker Wednesday urged the Trump administration to do more to pressure the country to fulfill its obligations under international law.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said during congressional testimony that between 300 and 400 children of international marriages have been abducted from the U.S. to Japan since 1994, and that more than 35 are still awaiting reunification with their American parents.

“Every day these children are separated from their U.S. parent, the damage compounds,” Smith said before a Congressional subcommittee on global human rights. “We must do better. We must not leave any child behind.”

Under international pressure, in 2014 Japan signed The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. The treaty requires the government to set up a process to allow foreign parents to appeal for visitation or return of their children. But Japan has been slack in administering the convention, according to Smith.

 “How many of these children have come home four years later?” asked Smith. “How many even have access to their left behind parent now?  Almost zero.”

James Cook, a Minnesota medical device specialist trying to gain custody of his four minor children from his estranged Japanese wife, also testified before Congress.

In July 2014, his Japanese wife Hitomi Arimitsu took their children to Japan to visit her family and refused to return. Cook submitted an application for return under the Hague treaty and the case has made its way through both the Japanese and American court system, but Cook has still not been able to see his children.

A Minnesota court ordered the return of Cook’s children in 2017, but the ruling wasn’t carried out in Japan.

A key issue is that Japan does not have a way of enforcing its Hague commitments. It requires the abducting parent to voluntarily turn the children over and doesn’t allow the use of force in extracting the children. There have been numerous cases of parents simply refusing to comply with the Hague rulings.

Cook’s wife petitioned a Japanese court against the ruling to return the children and it was overturned, a decision which Japan’s Supreme Court upheld in December 2017.

“[My wife] has achieved the perfect consequence-free abduction with the aid of Japan’s systemic non-compliance and [the US Department of State’s] inaction,” Cook said in his testimony.

“After over 2.5 years in this process, I have nothing,” he said. “This process has cost me everything.”

Attention to the issue within Japan has been growing in recent weeks. Last month, all EU Ambassadors to Japan signed an official letter of diplomatic protest to pressure Japan to follow international law and enforce decisions which give an international parent custody or visitation rights.

Also in March, Japan’s Supreme Court ruled that a Japanese mother who is refusing to return her child to their father in the United States is “illegally restraining” the child under the Hague Convention.

It was the first such ruling by a Japanese court.

The court ruling and international pressure are a cause for optimism, according to John Gomez, an American who is chairman of the Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion group in Japan.

Gomez said that barriers remain, including an underlying “continuity principle” in Japanese courts means that the abducted child stays with the abducting parent.

“Until the ‘continuity principle’ by which judges in Japan issue rulings is actually discarded and kidnapped children are returned, we must keep pushing to the utmost for the children to be returned to their loving parents,” said Gomez.

Rep. Smith said in his testimony that the State Department needs to apply more pressure on Japan and other countries that have refused to cooperate in returning abducted children. A 2014 law that Smith sponsored, the Goldman Act, requires the State Department to develop an agreement with Japan about children that had been abducted and to hold Japan accountable.

However, Smith said that no action has been taken against Japan for past or current cases, and the State Department hasn’t even listed Japan as “non-compliant” in its annual report on the Hague convention.

“We hope that the State Department will do its job and implement the Goldman Act,” Smith said. “We hope that the Trump Administration will be different than the last.”

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2018/04/01/issues/japans-supreme-court-orders-child-sent-home-hague-parental-abduction-case-maybe/#.WsT-kS-ZPR0

 

Japan’s Supreme Court orders a child be sent home in a Hague parental abduction case. Maybe.

BY COLIN P.A. JONES
 APR 1, 2018

On March 15, Japan’s Supreme Court issued an important decision in a case arising under the Hague Convention on child abduction. Except it wasn’t about the convention, but about habeas corpus. Most press accounts have characterized the ruling as ordering that a child brought to Japan by his mother be returned to the United States, but it’s a bit more complicated.

A pitfall of comparative law is the ease with which familiar-sounding terminology can mislead. “Habeas corpus” is a prime example.

Latin for “produce the body,” habeas corpus is a centuries-old judicial procedure that in the Anglo-American system formed the bedrock of human rights law before the concept of human rights existed. A person subjected to arbitrary, unlawful detention could petition a court to issue a writ of habeas corpus. If the writ was issued, the detainer had to bring the detainee to court and explain the grounds for detention. If the detention was found to be unlawful, the detainee was immediately set free.

In England, habeas corpus led to a number of famous court decisions, such as the 1670 judgment establishing that jurors cannot be punished for their verdict, or the one in a 1772 that said nobody on English soil could be a slave. In the United States, habeas corpus was one of the few provisions about human rights contained in the U.S. Constitution before the Bill of Rights was added. In 2008 it was used to challenge the prolonged detentions without trial of terrorist suspects by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay.

Whittling down habeas corpus

Japan also has habeas corpus. Its Habeas Corpus Act was passed in 1948, specifically to give life to the ideals of the freshly minted Japanese Constitution by providing rapid and easy judicial relief for unlawful deprivations of liberty. Depressingly, the legislative history of the act reveals complaints about the old system — police using pretexts to detain suspects for long periods of time, coerced confessions, judges not protecting people’s liberty and so forth — that are similar to those made about the Japanese criminal justice system today.

The Supreme Court immediately used its power to create procedural rules to neuter habeas corpus. One rule it made required courts to reject petitions if there were “any other adequate means whereby relief may be obtained,” unless “it is evident that relief cannot be obtained within reasonable time.” With this, “rapid and easy” relief were excised from the law.

At the time, Japan’s entire code of criminal procedure was also revised to make it consistent with the numerous new constitutional guarantees of personal liberty and procedural justice. So perhaps the court’s thinking was that the procedural protections of the code would make habeas corpus unnecessary in most cases.

Yet seven decades later, the former head of school operator Moritomo Gakuen, Yasunori Kagoike, and his wife have been detained incommunicado for eight months without being put on trial. Ostensibly charged with fraudulently receiving public subsidies, their judicial renditioning is believed by some to be a way to prevent him from disclosing any embarrassing information about dealings with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife. By now, Japanese judges would have approved his prolonged detention multiple times. The Kagoikes’ treatment is not unusual, but habeas corpus is noticeably absent from discussions about him or any of the numerous famous so-called enzai cases — those where suspects were convicted and imprisoned for crimes based on questionable evidence or coerced confessions.

So, it is technically correct to say Japan has habeas corpus. It is also correct to describe the text of the law as providing prompt judicial remedies for unlawful detentions. In fact, habeas corpus offers a wonderful example of how you can state two factually accurate things about the Japanese legal system and still completely mislead your audience.

Old remedy gets second life

The Supreme Court also changed the law through a rule requiring detentions to be “conspicuously unlawful” in order to be eligible for habeas corpus relief. This was significant: “Minor” abuses by police or procedural violations by prosecutors or other judges would not be subjected to scrutiny through a habeas corpus hearing, because the petitions would be rejected for lack of conspicuousness.

It also meant that in the rare case that a petition was granted, the hearing held as a result would be meaningless. Why? Because by granting the petition, the court had already decided the detention was conspicuously unlawful — no bothersome arguing of facts and law in a courtroom for us, please!

The Supreme Court rules created numerous escape hatches for judges to allow even serious deprivations of freedom to continue. Under the rules, a court can grant a remedy other than immediate freedom — for a conspicuously unlawful detention! Another rule says that a petition cannot be brought over the objection of a detainee’s freely expressed objections.

Habeas corpus never became the tool for protecting the Japanese people from the state as originally intended. Instead, for several decades it took on an odd second life as an occasional player in custody battles, becoming the means by which estranged parents sought to recover detained children. Courts used habeas corpus proceedings to decide which parent was “better” and should thus raise the children while their divorce was sorted out.

In a 1993 ruling, however, the Supreme Court decided that even in this narrow context habeas corpus was being overused, and henceforth most disputes of this type should be resolved through the less adversarial proceedings of Japan’s family courts, whose specialized personnel had more suitable expertise. This may have had some logic, but if left parents of abducted children with no real remedies, since family court orders involving children — whether about visitation or transferring them from one parent to another — generally have limited enforceability. Habeas corpus had the advantage that failing to bring the detainee (i.e., the child) to court as ordered subjected the detaining person (parent) to the possibility of criminal penalties.

Since 1993, habeas corpus has served as a remedy that might be available after all others at family court have been exhausted. It certainly has not been a “rapid and easy” remedy, since the “conspicuously unlawful” threshold in the Supreme Court was satisfied only after a recalcitrant parent had steadfastly and repeatedly refused to comply with previous court orders. And an order to bring the child to the court meant that whatever hearing the court was supposed to hold was meaningless, since the fact that it was being held meant the result was a foregone conclusion.

‘Conspicuously unlawful’ case

Last month’s Supreme Court ruling concerned a dispute between a Japanese mother and father living in the U.S. Their marriage failing, the mother unilaterally brought the child back to Japan in January 2016. In July of that year, the father sought a return order from the Tokyo Family Court, which was granted in September.

The mother refused to comply, so civil enforcement under Japan’s Hague Convention implementation act was attempted in May 2017. This involved court enforcement officers going to the mother’s residence and seeking to take custody of the child.

The mother continued her resistance, and the enforcement officer had to forcibly enter through the second-floor window and … tried to convince her and the child to cooperate. The mother obstinately clung to the child under a blanket. The enforcement officer gave up and the effort was deemed unsuccessful. This is as far as civil enforcement will get you in a child custody case in Japan.

Finally we get to habeas corpus: A petition to bring the child to court was filed with the Kanazawa Branch of the Nagoya High Court. The court appeared to have done all the things Japanese courts did before the nation joined the Hague Convention — finding conveniently that the child was happy in Japan despite having been born in and spent the first decade of his life in the U.S., and that he didn’t like his dad. Since the child was freely expressing his objections to the petition and given his age and the circumstances, his “detention” by Mom wasn’t deemed to be conspicuously unlawful. Petition denied.

To its credit, not only did the Supreme Court find the lower court in error, it even acknowledged the possibility that children unilaterally deprived of contact with one parent might express views unduly influenced by the other, abducting parent. It questioned whether the child was freely expressing his will, and further noted that in international cases such as these, children face the added burdens of dealing with different cultures and languages and, if they are dual nationals, possibly ultimately a choice in nationality. The court also made a clear ruling that absent special circumstances, failure to comply with a return order under the Hague Convention should be considered “conspicuously unlawful” for the purposes of granting habeas corpus relief.

All good stuff, but the end result was to remand the case back to the lower court so that it could procure the child’s presence in the courtroom and consider the matter further. Given that 18 months has passed since the child’s return was ordered, you have to wonder if that court appearance will actually happen.

Moreover, given that as far back as 2003 the Supreme Court upheld the conviction for international kidnapping of a foreign father trying to remove his child from Japan, it seems odd that it has taken the court so long to conclude that abductions going the other way might be “conspicuously unlawful.”

Habeas corpus could have been used to remedy child abductions to Japan long before the nation signed the Hague Convention. The real problem has always been the judiciary’s lack of willingness to take action. Perhaps this decision is a harbinger of long-overdue change.

Colin P.A. Jones is a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto. The views expressed are those of the author alone.

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https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/03/15/national/crime-legal/supreme-court-breaks-new-ground-ruling-favor-u-s-based-japanese-father-international-custody-battle/#.Wq2LdGaZNsN

Supreme Court breaks new ground, ruling in favor of U.S.-based Japanese father in international custody battle

BY TOMOHIRO OSAKI

STAFF WRITER

The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in favor of a U.S.-based Japanese father seeking to reunite with his teenage son, who was taken by his estranged wife to Japan in 2016, concluding that the wife’s dogged refusal to abide by an earlier court order mandating the minor’s repatriation amounts to her “illegally confining” him.

The ruling is believed to be the first by the Supreme Court on cases where return orders by courts have been refused. It is likely to send a strong message regarding domestic legislation that is often slammed as impotent on cross-border child abductions, despite Japan’s commitments under the Hague Convention, following mounting criticism that return orders issued by courts have been ignored.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Nagoya High Court.

This latest case involved a formerly U.S.-based Japanese couple whose marital relationship began to deteriorate in 2008. According to the ruling, the wife unilaterally took away one of her children, then aged 11, in January 2016 and brought him to Japan where the two have since lived together.

Upon a complaint by the husband, a Tokyo court issued in September the same year a “return order” for the child under the Hague Convention, but the wife didn’t comply. When a court-appointed officer intervened to recover the child the following year the wife “refused to unlock the door,” prompting the officer to enter her residence via a second-story window, the ruling said. The mother then put up a fierce fight to retain the child, who also articulated his wish to stay in Japan.

On Thursday the top court overturned a Nagoya High Court ruling that acknowledged the child’s desire to stay in Japan. The latest ruling judged the minor was “in a difficult position to make a multifaceted, objective judgment about whether to remain under control of his mother,” citing his “heavy reliance” on her and the “undue psychological influence” she was likely exerting upon him in his life in Japan. The apparent lack of his free will, the ruling said, meant the mother’s attempt to keep the child equated to detention.

“It’s very common for taking parents to alienate the child against their left-behind parents,” said John Gomez, chairman of nongovernmental organization Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion, noting the lower court ruling ignored “the undue psychological influence, the alienation, by the taking parent against the other parent.”

“Previously, when the children give their opinion, ‘Oh I don’t want to return,’ the enforcement process would stop … But this ruling recognizes we shouldn’t only listen to the words themselves, but we should consider the context that they’ve been influenced,” Gomez continued. “It’s a very critical development.”

Japan belatedly signed the Hague Convention in January 2014, signaling a step toward overcoming its longtime notoriety as a “safe haven” for parents who abduct their children from other countries. But questions have long remained over the effectiveness of its domestic legislation tied to the treaty.

Since the pact entered into force in April the same year, there have been six cases where return orders resulted in bailiffs being dispatched to achieve the handover of children, but none were ultimately successful, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Under the law, a fine is first imposed on parents who refuse to comply with a court order to repatriate their children.

Should the parents still refuse to relinquish their control of the children, court-appointed enforcement officers will be dispatched to confront them. The bailiffs, who are tasked with convincing the parents with custody to hand over the children, are authorized to enter and search their premises as well as physically restrain them. But the law also stipulates that the officers are prohibited from exerting any physical force on the children themselves, compromising their ability to ensure the children’s return.

“So if it’s a case where a child is willing to leave but a parent is refusing to let go of the child, an enforcement officer can resort to physical force to restrain the parent. But if it’s the child who is protesting by clinging on to the parent, for example, the officer cannot do the same,” a Foreign Ministry official said.

In its 2017 Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction, the U.S. government expressed concern over Japan’s “ability to quickly and consistently enforce return orders.”

While courts in Japan have ordered returns under the Convention, the Japanese authorities “were not regularly able to enforce these orders,” the report said, citing one particular case that remained pending for more than 12 months in which law enforcement failed to enforce the return order.

https://japantoday.com/category/national/update1-enforcement-measures-eyed-to-settle-child-custody-battles

 

Enforcement measures eyed to settle child custody battles

18 Comments

An advisory panel to the Japanese Justice Ministry has proposed that measures be enforced on divorced parents who take custody of their children against a court order to pay fines.

If the parents continue to refuse to let the children go, court officials will be entitled to take away the children, the panel said in an interim report on the reform of the nation’s child custody system.

The proposal has been made at a time when critics say there is inconsistency on the state’s handling of such disputes between domestic and international marriages as the latter were already subject to rules of the so-called Hague treaty.

Japan in 2014 acceded to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which sets out rules and procedures for the prompt return to the country of habitual residence of children under 16 taken or retained by one parent, if requested by the other parent.

The Justice Ministry plans to solicit public comments on the report later this month. After reporting the outcome to the panel, the ministry is expected to submit a bill to revise the civil execution law to the Diet in 2018 at the earliest.

There is currently no stipulation in Japan’s legal system regarding parents who do not abide by a court order to give away children to their former marital partners. Such disputes have been handled based on regulations regarding the seizure of assets.

According to the proposal in the interim report, divorced parents who refuse to give away their children in defiance of a court order will be fined until their surrender to encourage them to voluntarily abide by the court decision.

If the parents continue to ignore the court order for two weeks, court officials will be allowed to take away the children and put them in the hands of the other parents.

If divorced parents fail to pay expenses to raise children, the report also proposes enabling courts to make inquiries to financial institutions on information about such parents’ financial assets.

© KYODO

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/japan-signed-abduction-treatybut-forleft-behind-parents-that-doesnt-mean-much/2017/07/14/ffb02096-677a-11e7-83d7-7a628c56bde7_story.html?utm_term=.e11b42aef732

Japan signed abduction treaty but for ‘left-behind’ parents that doesn’t mean much

July 16
James Cook wants his four children home in Minnesota. His estranged wife, Hitomi Arimitsu, says they want to stay with her in Japan. And so they have been going around in circles through the courts for almost three years.

If child custody battles are messy, expensive affairs when the parents live in the same country, they’re exponentially more so when the parents live in different countries and are fighting over where the children should live and which place should have jurisdiction.

Japan signed The Hague Abduction Convention, the treaty that governs international child abductions, in 2014 but is struggling to put its provisions into effect.

That is where the Cook family is caught.

“For three years of their lives, these kids have not had their dad. Kids need their dad, they need both their parents,” Cook said via Skype from his home in Minnesota. “I can’t describe to you the hell that this has been.”

Cook, who studied Japanese in college, and Arimitsu, a Japanese woman who attended a university in Minnesota, had lived in the United States for almost the whole time they had been together. But three years ago this week, with their marriage on the rocks, Cook agreed that Arimitsu could take their four children to Japan for the summer — with a notarized agreement that she would bring them back.

When that ended, they agreed that Arimitsu and the children would stay on a little longer, while Cook, who had lost his job, looked for work.

By the end of the year, Cook realized his family wasn’t coming back.

In the past two years, the pair has been going through acrimonious court battles in Osaka and in Minnesota, and each has won some and lost some rounds.

As is common in such cases, they have wildly different versions of events and focus on the rounds they’ve won.

But Arimitsu, through her lawyer Tomoko Kamikawa, said that because the Osaka High Court in February rejected Cook’s request to have the children returned, there is no valid return order under The Hague Convention. Cook has appealed this ruling to Japan’s Supreme Court.

The children do not want to return to the United States, Kamikawa said.

The crux of the problem, Cook and other “left-behind parents,” say, is that Japan — unlike other signatories — has no way of following through on its Hague commitments.

“Enforcement is one of the key problems,” said John Gomez, an American who heads the Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion group in Tokyo and is helping Cook. “Every country has to create implementation legislation to enforce their orders, but Japan basically cannot enforce their orders.”

The legislation that Japan passed to implement The Hague provision forbids the use of force, and stipulates that the children must be retrieved from the premises of the parent who has taken them. The “taking parent” must be present. The enforcement officers are basically bailiffs who are more used to repossessing washing machines than extracting children from emotionally charged situations.

This essentially means that enforcement involves an official at the gate calling for the children to come out, while the taking parent is inside with them.

“All of this was completely predictable,” said Colin Jones, a law professor at Doshisha University in Kyoto and an expert on child custody law in Japan. “Without dealing with enforcement methods, it was just a matter of time until a case like the Cook case happened.”

The U.S. government has expressed misgivings about Japan’s implementation of The Hague convention provisions. “The [State] Department is concerned about Japan’s ability to quickly and consistently enforce return orders,” it said in its 2017 annual report on international child abductions.

But the Japanese government says that it is making good progress.

“It’s been only three years since Japan entered into The Hague Convention,” said Hajime Ueda, director of The Hague Convention Division in the Foreign Ministry. “It takes time because every case is unique. From that point of view, we have been doing quite a good job.”

Eight children involved in five cases have been returned to the United States since Japan signed The Hague Convention, Ueda said.

The convention was a politically charged issue in Japan, with a substantial amount of opposition to signing it, so even becoming a signatory in 2014 was a major achievement. Experts note that it took other signatories some time to change domestic legislation to allow enforcement of The Hague Convention provisions; Germany, for instance, took about five years.

The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo is dealing with about 70 child abduction cases, 42 of them filed since Japan signed the convention, and 10 of those seeking the return of children to the United States.

The other cases just involve access — another thorny issue in Japan, where there is no concept of joint custody.

The prevailing wisdom in Japan says it is upsetting or disruptive for children to continue to see both parents after a marriage breaks down, so one parent — almost always the mother — gets full custody and the other parent usually has two hours’ access to the children each month.

“Visitation is the most problematic thing with Japan. A lot of cases about return orders are actually about access, about the noncustodial parent being able to maintain a relationship with their child,” said Jones of Doshisha University.

According to Gomez’s research, about 3 million children in Japan have lost access to one parent after divorce in the past 20 years – about 150,000 a year.

Children age out of the system at 16, so time is on the taking parent’s side, according to people involved in custody disputes.

And nothing will change for international custody cases until the domestic system that favors sole custody changes, experts say.

This is difficult because Japan has a family registry system, which operates as the foundation for all documentation. A person can be on only one family registry so after a divorce, children are usually removed from their father’s family registry and placed on their mother’s.

“The parent who becomes noncustodial loses all of their parental rights and effectively becomes a stranger to the child,” said Bruce Gherbetti, another “left-behind” parent who is advocating for change through the Kizuna group.

Until joint custody becomes commonplace in Japan, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to make it the norm in international cases, Gherbetti said.

For now, that leaves Cook, who has found work with a medical device company, sitting in Minnesota, having no contact with his children.

“I’m sad we are in this mess and I’m concerned about my children,” he said. “This is the heartbreak of being a ‘left behind.’ ”

An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Hitomi Arimitsu. The story has been updated.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/05/05/national/social-issues/parental-abduction-victims-hold-rally-push-joint-custody-rights/

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Parental abduction victims hold rally to push for joint custody rights

BY 

STAFF WRITER

Parents deprived of their children held a rally Friday to push for introducing joint custody to the Japanese legal system and to raise awareness of the plight faced by their offspring when marriages fall apart.

Marching through the Asakusa district in Tokyo’s Taito Ward, about 30 Japanese and foreign participants held up a multilingual banner reading, “Stop Parental Child Abduction!”

Demonstrators also carried signs reading “More visitation time” and “Affection from both parents to children” during the hour-long march on Children’s Day.

It was the first rally organized by Kodomo no Kenri wo Mamoru Bekkyo Oya Forum (Forum for Left-Behind Parents Protecting Children’s Rights) to address the problem of parental child abduction in Japan.

“I want people to know that children have the right to see both of their parents and that parents are responsible for accomplishing that,” said Daisuke Tanaka, the organizer of the event.

Tanaka has been struggling to spend time with his daughter since his wife whisked her away in March 2016. Since then, he has only been allowed to meet her twice a month for three hours at a time, he said.

Other participants told The Japan Times similar stories.

In most cases, a spouse abruptly leaves with the children before filing for divorce or custody rights. Tanaka said child abductions will only continue to fester unless Japan approves the concept of granting joint custody.

“It’s usual for the court to give custody to the parent who lives with the child, and that’s why there are so many cases of abduction. If there’s joint custody, better conversations and negotiations would likely take place,” he said.

Michihiko Sugiyama, a lawyer who participated in the demonstration, said the biggest issue is that Japanese law only allows custody to be awarded to one parent. Once separated from his family, he decided to take part in the rally to share his experience.

The civil code requires parents to decide on visitation and custody arrangements, but research shows people are increasingly forgoing such discussions and heading straight to court mediation. In fiscal 2015, 12,264 cases of mediation involving visitation rights were accepted in family courts nationwide, almost double from 10 years earlier, according to court data.

A group of lawmakers is drafting a bill to help divorced or separated parents see their children more easily, but the issue has yet to gain traction. Some are concerned that parents with a history of domestic violence are too dangerous to be granted visitation rights.

Rally participant Susumu Ishizuka, 48, claimed there must be better awareness of the issue because the current perception is that abandoned parents may have committed domestic abuse.

“People who are against such a bill are linking left-behind parents with domestic violence too easily without sufficient understanding,” said Ishizuka, whose spouse ran off with his 5-year-old child three years ago. Their divorce has not been finalized, but according to the court’s decision, he is only permitted to see his child for two hours every two months.

“I can only meet my child in an appointed place, and I’m not allowed to give them presents. This is far from a parent-child relationship,” he said.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2017/04/26/how-tos/help-seeking-left-behind-parents-japan/#.WQkeEhiZPVp

Help for those seeking left-behind parents in Japan

BY 

SPECIAL TO THE JAPAN TIMES

Two adult daughters contacted Lifelines hoping to get help with issues related to their fathers. One is looking for information pertaining to a legal case over her late father’s health while he served in the U.S. armed forces in Okinawa.

First, however, is M.Z., the daughter of a foreign mother and Japanese father. She was taken from Japan as a young child and has not seen her father in 25 years, but she would now like to reestablish contact with him.

Japan formally joined the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction in 2014, which states that children under 16 should be returned to their country of “habitual residence” if taken across international borders by one parent. According to the Foreign Ministry, this move has helped reduce abductions to Japan, and has aided in the successful return of children both to and from Japan. However, the treaty is not retroactive, so it has no bearing on cases that occurred before it came into effect.

M.Z. writes: “My father instructed me to contact him but I was scared and confused, so I didn’t. Now I’m looking for my family in Japan so they can know my children. I have language limitations because I don’t speak or read Japanese. Are there any organizations that help children to contact their Japanese families?” M.Z. adds that she had tried contacting various groups on her own but had met with little support.

I contacted John Gomez at Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion (Kizuna CPR), a Japan-based NPO group that advocates for left-behind parents and their children.

“We are working to enable children in Japan to have loving relationships with both of their parents,” says Gomez. “To achieve this, we support changes in public policy, raise public awareness and help individual cases.”

Sadly, losing contact with a parent is all too common for children of divorce in Japan.

“Within Japan, the research that we have done indicates that since 1992 there have been an estimated 3 million children who have lost access to one of their parents after divorce,” says Gomez. “This is about 1 in 6 children. This figure was derived by looking at divorce statistics and surveys from the Ministry of Health Labor and Welfare, showing what percentage of parents do not visit their children after divorce in Japan. Japanese government officials acknowledge this number when they cite about 150,000 children per year losing access to one of their parents after divorce.”

Gomez adds that in international cases of abduction from the U.S. to Japan alone, more than 400 children have been reported abducted between 1994 and 2015 and almost none of these U.S. children have ever been returned by a Japanese court order.

Gomez encourages M.Z. and others like her to reach out, as many parents have also been seeking their children over the years. He notes that social media and the internet are useful tools for enabling such reunions, and that he has personally witnessed some.

“Never lose hope, never give up,” he advises. “With effort and perseverance, amazing results can occur. As the social mind-set in Japan changes, more reunions will happen. It is a human right for children to have a relationship with both of their parents and among the most important things for any person to experience in their life. This is an important part of what makes us human. Recovering this relationship makes us whole again.”

In a follow-up email to Lifelines, M.Z. echoes this sentiment, explaining that she has developed a new perspective on her situation over time and after becoming a parent herself.

“I didn’t speak about what happened for 20 years,” she writes. “One day browsing on the internet, I found an article about children’s rights in Japan. Until this time I had always thought I grew up in a violent environment, but I have discovered it was so much more complex than that. I’m talking as a daughter, as a mother and as a part of a multicultural family.”

Lifelines wishes M.Z. success in her search for her father. Contact info@kizuna-cpr.org or visit www.kizuna-cpr.org for more information about Kizuna CPR. If anyone has any tips or personal experience in a case like M.Z.’s, please share your story.

American reader A.P. is looking for anyone who knew her father, Howard Grisso:

“My dad served as a weatherman at Naha and the Kadena Air Force Base (in Okinawa) from 1965 to 1966. Last year he passed away from angiosarcoma, which is caused by Agent Orange, according to his oncologist. He began the fight with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs prior to his death, but they have denied his case twice and now we are waiting on a hearing/appeal. We have been instructed to get buddy statements and do research on the base. We would like to hear from anyone who may have known Howard Grisso, or has any pictures of the base during that time or any other information.”

If you can help A.P., please contact Lifelines and we will put you in contact with her.

Send your queries and comments to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2017/05/01/issues/three-years-japan-signed-hague-parents-abduct-still-win/#.WQkWUBiZPVo

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Three years after Japan signed Hague, parents who abduct still win

BY 

SPECIAL TO THE JAPAN TIMES

As he sat waiting in a van near his estranged wife’s family home in Nara, where his four children were living, James Cook felt very alone. It was an emotion he’d become all too accustomed to in the years since his wife had taken the children on a holiday to Japan and never returned, leaving him the sole inhabitant of their former family home in Minnesota.

“I was alone in our family’s home,” Cook says. “Alone with our children’s rooms just as they left them on July 13, 2014. My location was different, but the feelings of being all alone were the same.”

Meanwhile, at the his wife’s family home just across the road, the most important thing in Cook’s life — whether or not he would be reunited with his children — was being determined in his absence. It was Sept. 13, 2016, and after years of seemingly endless court motions, filings, petitions, decisions and appeals in both the U.S. and Japan, finally, in theory at least, he would have his children — two pairs of twins, now aged 9 and 14 — returned to him.

Through the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, Cook had successfully petitioned to have his children returned to their home in the United States and a “return order” had been issued by the Osaka High Court. However, the children’s mother, whose name is being withheld out of consideration for the children, was still refusing to hand the children over, so the case had moved to the final “direct enforcement” phase.

The day before, Cook and his mother, who had come with him to Japan to help with the children, met with officials from the Japanese Central Authority (JCA), the Foreign Ministry agency responsible for handling Hague-related matters, at Nara District Court to formulate a strategy to ensure the handover of the children.

“Maps of streets and the neighborhood with locations of each group were displayed on the large conference table in the NDC conference room,” Cook recalls. “It looked very well planned and gave me a sense of hope that we might be successful.”

Cook and his mother departed their hotel in Osaka before dawn to make the 5:25 a.m. train that would take them, accompanied by their lawyers, to Gakuen-mae Station in Nara.

At a rendezvous point, Cook’s party met with JCA officials, got into a van and waited for instructions. Shortly after, a call came through to Cook’s attorney that Nara court enforcement officers had approached the house and confirmed that Cook’s wife and the four children were present. At 6:55 a.m. they entered the building.

While Cook and his mother waited in the van, a total of 17 people were now present at the Cook’s wife property just down the street: Cook’s wife, the four children, their Japanese grandparents, two police officers, Cook’s two attorneys, a JCA official, two JCA-appointed psychologists, a Nara court bailiff and two officials from the U.S. consulate in Osaka.

At around 8 a.m., Cook’s attorney delivered the news that the children were very upset and did not want to see him, although later they did agree to see Cook’s mother. Cook was left alone in the van with his thoughts.

At 10 a.m., Cook’s mother returned looking “very traumatized,” but he still believed that finally, his turn to see the children must have arrived. “My emotions were welling up and I was putting on my emotional armor in preparation. As I looked up to find my way out of the van, I was stopped by a sad look on my attorney’s face. She told me our children still refused to see me and that NDC officers had called off enforcement already. I was a block away for three hours from my children, waiting for my turn. I was in shock and just sat in my seat.”

Shackled by legal limits

Three years have passed since Japan became a signatory to the Hague Convention, which is designed to ensure the timely return of children to their country of residence after abduction by one parent to another member country.

The Foreign Ministry’s Hague Convention Division is quick to point out that of the requests to repatriate children from Japan made in the first two years after signing the convention, about 90 percent have been resolved. But the details of how these cases were “resolved” are less clear, as judgments are not published and the ministry will not comment on specific cases.

According to the ministry, of the 68 requests to return children to a foreign country under the convention in the past three years, 18 have resulted in returns. Twelve more requests were “dismissed,” 19 have been “settled not to return the child to a foreign state” and another 19 cases are still open. In other words, just under 30 percent of requests for the return of children made in the past three years have resulted in children leaving Japan.

The ministry confirmed that in two cases during the first two years of Japan having signed the Hague, direct enforcement was carried out. It added that there had been a “limited number of cases in which the children’s release has not been achieved” through direct enforcement, without offering exact figures. Based on these unsuccessful attempts, the Hague Convention Division said by email, “We will keep monitoring these cases and continue to review our implementation of the Hague Convention closely as necessary.”

In its 2016 Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction, the U.S. government concluded that “Japan failed to comply with its obligations under the Hague Abduction Convention in the area of enforcement of return orders.” Citing a case in which a Japanese return order issued in early 2015 was still unresolved by the end of the year, the report raises concern that there may be “a systemic flaw in Japan’s ability to enforce return orders.”

Bruce Gherbetti, a director with the Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion nonprofit organization, believes that failed direct enforcement procedures are inevitable considering the legal limitations placed on officials charged with carrying them out.

“They are following … Japanese domestic law, which is tied to the Hague Convention, and they are doing everything within their power, but their power is so extremely limited that … they are either requesting of the taking parent or requesting of the abducted child that they come voluntarily,” he explains. “So it is essentially asking permission of the kidnapper in order to enforce the return order. I mean it is a court order, yet they are begging and pleading.”

Under domestic legislation introduced to help Japanese authorities implement Hague returns, the only physical contact permitted is for a court bailiff to restrain the abducting parent if he or she tries to stop the child from voluntarily leaving.

Last year, the justice minister asked an advisory panel to look into revising the Civil Execution Law to set down specific procedures for enforcing court orders on the handover of children between divorced parents. The government is expected to submit a bill based on the committee’s findings next year.

However, Colin P.A. Jones, a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto, doubts this process will result in more Hague returns. “I think experts expected the enforcement procedures adopted for Hague cases would ultimately become the standard for domestic cases as well. So I don’t expect much more than that. I certainly don’t expect it to result in any improvements in enforcement of Hague return orders,” Jones says. “Absent a significant change of policy — starting to impose criminal sanctions for noncompliance, for example — the basic limits on how to forcefully transfer ‘possession’ of a child without harming the child physically or emotionally will always apply, and taking parents will continue to be able to effectively use the children as ‘human shields’ against the judicial process.”

Time is on the abductor’s side

Gherbetti believes time is a critical factor in abduction cases, and this issue is at the heart of Japan’s failure to successfully return abducted children.

The Hague treaty “calls for six weeks of adjudication because they don’t want the child held outside their habitual residence longer than that,” he says.

Gherbetti says that although the international standard for Hague returns tends to be closer to six months than six weeks, in Japan the process often takes considerably longer — around 18 months or more — giving the abducting parent time to bond with the children and acclimatize them to their unfamiliar new surroundings.

Gherbetti blames an over-emphasis in Japan on the mediation portion of the convention for drawing out the process.

“So, similar to their domestic system, they try to have an amicable resolution,” he argues. “They much prefer mediation and an agreed-upon solution than an actual court order.”

Article 13 of the Hague Convention outlines situations where signatory states are not bound to order the return of a child. One such situation outlined in Clause B of the article is when “there is a grave risk that his or her return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.”

When crafting domestic legislation to handle Hague cases, Japan’s lawmakers “came up with a document that allows them to greatly expand the 13B grave-risk category, and they have created a number of loopholes that ensure they don’t actually have to be in compliance with the convention,” Gherbetti says. “The ‘grave risk of return’ is originally intended for situations where you have a child abuser — you are not going to return a child to someone who has physically or emotionally, etc., abused that child and there is clear evidence of such. To say that someone has habituated to the new environment doesn’t fall under the original intention of 13B. That is for certain.”

Parental alienation syndrome

On Sept. 15, two days after the unsuccessful attempt to enforce the return order in the Cook case, a second direct enforcement attempt was carried out at his estranged wife’s house.

This time, Cook’s two youngest children were away on a school camping trip, but Cook was allowed into the house on the condition he would not take the children back to the U.S. that day. Cook says he spoke to his two older sons from a distance, although did not actually see them, as they were hidden elsewhere in the house.

Cook says the boys called out “You’re not my father anymore,” “I don’t want to know you” and “Can’t you see we are happy here and don’t want anything to do with you anymore?”

Cook believes his wife and her family deliberately turned the children against him, a classic case of parental alienation syndrome. He also thinks they coached his children to make these types of statements, which are similar to those they used in interviews with court officials during the mediation process.

Noriko Odagiri, a professor of clinical psychology at Tokyo International University, says that although she is unable to comment on specific cases, the risk of children who are victims of parental abduction developing parental alienation syndrome is very high, and children up to the age of 12 are especially vulnerable.

Odagiri says this condition, which she calls a form of “brainwashing,” develops due to the material circumstances the child is forced into, and also the behavior and attitudes of the taking parent. She adds that it is a violation of the will of the child. “The child has no choice because they are dependent on the alienating parent both financially and emotionally,” Odagiri says. “They come to believe the alienating parent is the best parent and they can’t live without them.”

Odagiri believes this is a form of child abuse that can have a serious, long-term negative impact on mental health that can remain through adulthood. “When they grow older they recognize the whole map of their life and what happened to them as a child,” she says.

Cook’s wife failed to comply with a Minnesota court order to surrender the children’s passports to the U.S. Consulate in Osaka by April 7 and release them into Cook’s care by April 23. Cook flew to Japan and was present at the consulate in the hope that he would be reunited with his children. But again, he left alone.

Cook is appealing a decision made by the Osaka High Court in February to revoke the earlier judgment granting him the return of his children, based on its opinion that Cook lacks the means to support the children in the U.S. He was granted the right by that court to take his appeal to Japan’s Supreme Court and is now preparing arguments.

“I am a loving parent and a loving parent never gives up, never gives in, never manipulates their children and, above all, recognizes that their children possess the same human rights as they do,” he says. “Children are not property, children love both their parents and a part of a child dies when they are denied the other parent.”

The Japan Times made a number of attempts to contact Cook’s wife for comment by telephone but she could not be reached, and no replies to emails sent to her address were received. An attempt was also made to reach her through her lawyer, Tomoko Kamikawa. Kamikawa declined to comment and said she was unable to assist with contacting her client, because she was not representing her in relation to her communications with the media.

Loving from a distance

Paul Halton’s children were abducted to Japan from the U.K. by his Japanese ex-wife in 2014, a year after the couple divorced. Dual custody of the three children was awarded in the English courts during divorce proceedings.

The courts also stipulated that the children should live in the U.K. and placed a travel embargo on the mother taking the children to Japan that applied until the country implemented the Hague Convention. Japan signed the convention on April 1, 2014, and in August of that year the children were abducted. On March 31, 2015, the Osaka Family Court ruled that the children should be returned to the U.K. under the Hague Convention . The mother’s appeal was rejected three months later and a return order was issued by the courts.

After Halton’s ex-wife continued to refuse to comply and return the children to the U.K., an order for “indirect enforcement” was carried out. Indirect enforcement, a mandatory part of the Hague return process, involves attempting to make the abductor pay fines to the other parent, usually ¥5,000 per day per child. This step must be carried out before direct enforcement is attempted. Halton says he never received any money from the mother, as she was able to avoid making payments by claiming welfare and thereby obtaining beneficiary status.

With two years having passed since he’d seen his children — now 12, 10 and 7 — Halton decided to take the next step and proceed with direct enforcement. This was attempted on Nov. 29 and Dec. 1 of last year.

Officials and social workers were unsuccessful in executing the return order. However, they did manage to persuade his ex-wife to let Halton take the children for a day trip to Universal Studios Japan in Osaka a few days later, which he says was “a fantastic moment to spend some time with the children.”

A very special day for the four of them wrapped up at a branch of the children’s favorite Italian chain restaurant near the drop-off spot.

“Dinner again was wonderful, full of memories”, Paul recalls. But, he says, “I could now feel every second pass as drop-off time approached.”

Halton says he was tempted not to hand the children back at the end of their day trip, as he had the backing of both the Japanese and British governments to legally return home to the U.K. with his children. “But what would that do to my children?” he asks. “I couldn’t force them, rip them from their mother and for a second time turn their world upside down.”

Halton says that since this visit the situation has improved a little. Skype chat sessions have resumed, and gifts and cards to the children in Japan seem to get through, but the situation is still very fragile and out of his control. He and his ex-wife are supposed to be negotiating long-term, fixed arrangements about contact with his children, but no real progress is being made.

“Since I’ve reached the end of the current legal road, I fear that the children will have to grow up without me in their lives,” Halton says. “I hang on to the hope that one day my ex-wife will agree that the children and I can visit each other, at least in that I will have a few weeks a year to help them grow and learn, as a father should be doing.

“It’s a horrible reality to think that I will miss my three kids’ childhoods,” he says. “The next time I see them could be when they’re old enough to break free from their mother and independently seek me out, by which time they will be adults potentially with careers and families of their own. We’ll know each other but we won’t be close as nature intended.

“The likelihood is that they will remain in Japan for the rest of their lives and so even my unborn grandchildren will be distant and possibly unknown to me,” Halton says. “This is a thought that haunts my everyday life and I doubt will ever fade.”

Halton’s father, Richard, says that although parental child abduction hurts the children most of all, and then the left-behind parent, many others who were connected to the children are also deeply affected.

“Both I and Grandma find that it isn’t the same with these three small faces missing, and I know that other family members feel the same. The other children, their cousins, wonder where they’ve gone and why. We all feel a pervading sense of loss. We know that the children are safe but we never see them. Are they truly happy?” he asks.

Richard adds that the situation is made far worse in the case of parental child abductions because the “family that tries to correct the wrongs done has to contend with official indifference and inaction” and also bear a considerable financial burden in the hope of seeing the children again. “We are supporting our son Paul emotionally and financially in his quest, but the system is loaded in favor of the abductor and we have all come to the conclusion that the Hague Convention is an expensive waste of time.”

Your comments and Community story ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp

 

http://www.kaaltv.com/article/stories/S4447812.shtml?cat=10728
April 07, 2017 05:27 PM

A Maple Grove man is asking the Trump Administration to pressure Japan to give his children back.

James Cook was in Washington D.C. Thursday fighting for his kids.

He testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. They’re investigating international treaties to return children abducted by a parent.

Cook’s wife took their four kids to Japan in 2014. He has been awarded custody, but can’t get them back.

Cook told the congressional committee he hopes Vice President Mike Pence will help when he visits Japan in late April.

“I hereby respectfully request that Vice President Mike Pence speak with these Japanese officials and ask them to have Japan meet their international obligation to comply with the Hague convention and return our children to their habitual residence in Minnesota,” he said.

“Excuses may be offered why they cannot, but I know Japan will force their return if required.”

Cook said Congressman Erik Paulsen has been supportive of his efforts.

“This is a situation no parent or child should ever have to go through, and I completely sympathize with James and his children during this trying episode,” Paulsen said in an emailed statement.

“My office and I have been exploring various channels to reunite James with his four kids and hope we can help the Cook family reach a resolution soon.”

The issue of international family abduction is complicated. And it’s something many don’t hear much about.

Cook has been working with Jane Straub from the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center to figure out how to get his children back.

The last time he saw them was 2015.

“I have two sets of twins,” he said. “I have 14-year old-boys and I have a 9-year-old boy and girl.”

Cook said his wife Hitomi Arimitsu took the children to see her family in Japan in September of 2014, then stopped communicating with him.

He showed court rulings he’s won locally and internationally, including Japan, that give him custody.

“So (in) total (I’ve) probably won 10 cases up to this point,” he said.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached Cook’s wife Hitomi Arimitsu in Japan.

She said international child abduction is not what is going on in this case. She claims she and James had an agreement she would take the children to Japan.

“I have made numerous attempts to facilitate contact between him and the children,” Arimitsu said.

“James does not take advantage of any of them. I want them to have a relationship with their father. Regardless of my disagreements with him regarding our marriage, I think it is important for him to be in their life.”

Arimitsu’s attorney said that in February a Japanese court reversed a previous order about jurisdiction, moving the power to make legal decisions and judgments from Minnesota to Japan.  Cook says Hennepin County court possess jurisdiction over their children, not Japan.  He says is appealing the ruling to a higher court in Japan.

Japan has signed treaties that are supposed to prevent international child abduction.

But Cook said Japan has been non-compliant from the beginning.

He said custody battles in Japan are considered private, and children basically belong to the parent who has them.

“And that’s how they view children, quite honestly – as possessions,” he said. “Not as human beings, but as possessions.”

Straub said a case like Cook’s doesn’t always get the attention in should.

“You know working at the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, people think (the) only people that take children are strangers,” Straub said.

“We know parent-child abductions happen. And just because that person is a parent, it doesn’t mean that that child is safe.”

Cook said he won’t give up the fight for his kids.

“It’s important to remember these are four little people,” he said. “Four human beings, four U.S. citizens. They’re literally being held hostage in a foreign land.

“And we have the power as a country to get them back.”

 

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