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Parents estranged from their children – plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the Japanese government – pose in front of the Tokyo District Court, Japan February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Chang-Ran Kim

FEBRUARY 26, 2020 / 2:58 AM /

Parents’ lawsuit accuses Japan of double standard on child ‘abductions’

TOKYO (Reuters) – A group of parents fighting against child “abductions” by their partners accused Japan in a lawsuit on Wednesday of having a double standard in how it treats domestic instances of such incidents, compared to international ones.

Fourteen plaintiffs in the Tokyo District Court lawsuit say it is unconstitutional that Japan does not have a system to prevent violation of their parental rights, particularly since it has signed an international treaty on such abductions.

The class action will turn up the heat on Japan’s justice system as more left-behind parents decry the effective condoning by courts and law enforcement of a practice other developed countries treat as a crime.

“It’s time for Japan to solve this issue,” said Catherine Henderson, an Australian schoolteacher in Tokyo who says her husband left with their two children last April without warning, despite divorce court proceedings.

“I had no idea that in Japan, the rights of children to see both parents are not upheld by the family court,” the only non-Japanese plaintiff told a news conference.

There was no immediate government reaction on the filing of the lawsuit, and no date has yet been set for a hearing.

No official figures keep track of the number of families affected, but non-profit Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion estimates that 150,000 children lose contact with a parent every year because of estrangement from the non-custodial parent.

“Japan made an agreement internationally but hasn’t aligned its domestic laws to make it wrong,” said lead counsel Tomoshi Sakka. “I’m curious to see how the government will explain this discrepancy.”

Japan became the last G7 country to join the 1980 Hague Abduction Convention just six years ago, following intense pressure from the United States and other nations.

The treaty lets parents petition to have children returned to their country of “habitual residence” if that country considers the removal “wrongful”.

Asked about the discrepancy, a foreign ministry official told Reuters the ministry was not aware of how domestic cases were treated, but that it held mediation based on the notion that parental child abduction was “wrongful”.

Since Japan joined the treaty, the foreign ministry has mediated return orders in about 100 cases, with the largest number from the United States.


Parental abductions: 70 per cent of children suffer significant mental health effects, report finds


Hannah Engdahl.JPG

Hannah Engdahl (l) with her mother Melissa (c) and sister, Cedar (r)

The fallout from the 60 Minutes child recovery saga in Lebanon last month has highlighted the consequences of parental abduction, but little is known about the impact on the children involved.

The most comprehensive study into the long-term effects of international child abduction found more than 70 per cent of the children involved reported suffering significant effects on their mental health.

British researcher and family law specialist Dr Marilyn Freeman conducted the study which was released last year.

She found children who had been abducted spoke repeatedly about their confusion, feelings of shame, self-hate, loneliness and insecurity.

The study concluded more must be done to protect children from parental abduction and its effects.

‘It was like something was taken from me’

Gaudi Rubio-Thorne would be the first to admit what happened to him more than 35 years ago had an enormous impact.

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PHOTO Gaudi Rubio-Thorne (with mother Kayleen Thorne) was taken to Spain by his father 35 years ago.

“It’s definitely influenced the way I think, the way I view the world, the way I interact with others,” he told 7.30.

In 1979, he was just a toddler, living in Launceston with his mother after his parents had separated, but just before Christmas, his Spanish-born father did not return him home after a day out.

His distraught mother, Kayleen Thorne, received a call the next morning.

“He was already in Spain. He said ,’Gaudi’s with me. He’s fine. We’re staying in Spain’,” Ms Thorne said.

She sprang into action. With a 60 Minutes crew along to film the operation, she raced to Spain to retrieve her child, well aware of the possible consequences.

“We would have been in jail, we would have been arrested immediately,” she said.

“We were frightened, but it’s something you do, it’s your mother instinct.”

Guadi and Kayleen

PHOTO Gaudi as a child, with his mother, Kayleen

Gaudi was successfully returned to his home in Tasmania, but says those events shaped his life.

“I had a lot of anger, especially in my teens,” he told 7.30.

“Substance abuse, definite abandonment issues. I love my mother very much but I take it out on her, take it out on my partners.

“Even though I was taken, it was like there was something that was taken from me.”

He describes his relationship with his father as broken.

“I’ve seen him three or four times when I was growing up, and when I was 17, I went to Spain and spent three or four months with him,” Gaudi said.

“But he wasn’t used to being a father and I wasn’t used to having one.”

‘It really is a lose-lose situation’

Hannah Engdahl is 15 and lives in Canada, but 10 years ago, she and younger sister Cedar were abducted by their father at the end of a three-week holiday with his family in Australia.

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PHOTO Hannah Engdahl (c) as a toddler, with her mother and father

“It was the day after they were to return,” mother Melissa Engdahl explains.

“I got a call letting me know they wouldn’t be returning and that they had gone to the Middle East.”

Melissa Engdahl took legal action in three different countries to try to bring her daughters home, and eventually hired a team of ex-soldiers and went to retrieve them herself.

Hannah’s father now lives on the other side of the world and for legal reasons cannot come to visit them in Canada.

She misses having him around on a day-to-day basis.

“He wasn’t here for my school plays when I was in elementary school and he’s not here now and he probably won’t be here for my graduation, so I am missing out on really having him here and present in my life,” Hannah said.

“It really is a lose-lose situation when somebody parentally abducts,” her mother, Melissa, added.

“I think there is a lot of guilt for myself, just guilt that I can’t do more to have him more involved in their lives.”


In Japan, foreign parents lead charge against child ‘abduction’

TOKYO (Reuters) – A growing number of foreigners in Japan are speaking out against what they say is a little-known but entrenched system that allows one parent in a broken relationship to take away the children and block the other from visiting them.

The issue of what media in Japan and overseas call parental child “abduction” has regained international attention recently, particularly in Europe where documentaries have been made about European fathers whose children were taken by their Japanese wives.

Japan’s judicial system has drawn global attention with the lengthy detention – and subsequent fleeing – of former auto executive Carlos Ghosn in what critics have characterized as a “hostage justice” system.

Australian Scott McIntyre was the latest foreigner to raise his voice against the estrangement of separated parents from their children in Japan.

McIntyre was detained for 1-1/2 months in Tokyo for trespassing when he went to his in-laws’ apartment to seek information on his two children. He remains married, has no restraining order against him, retains full parental rights, but has not been able to see his children since May, when his wife left with them.

“Sitting here today, I don’t know if my children are alive or dead,” McIntyre told a news conference on Thursday, a day after he received a six-month suspended sentence.

He said he had made numerous requests to the police and his wife’s lawyers – the two are going through a divorce mediation – to let him know whether the children are safe, but that those were ignored.

The wife’s legal representative, Jun Kajita, said he could not go into specifics but there were some facts that were “not consistent” in McIntyre’s claims.

“This is only going to change when Japanese parents speak out as well,” McIntyre said, adding that he had received many letters of support from local parents suffering the same plight. “Children should have access to both parents – it’s a fundamental human right.”

No official statistics exist on how widespread the issue is. But non-profit organization Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion estimates that roughly 150,000 children lose contact with a parent every year in Japan because of estrangement from the non-custodial parent.

Although divorce is increasingly common in Japan – about one in three marriages end in one – it’s still stigmatized, and Japanese society generally accepts the alienation of the non-custodial parent, largely because there is no joint-custody system after divorce.


Many parents say there is a pattern to the problem: one day, your spouse leaves with the children; you go to the police asking for help; they refuse, saying it’s a “family matter”. In some cases, a domestic violence claim is made against you, accepted as fact and never investigated. Your children’s school can also shut you out because the wishes of the co-habiting parent – usually the mother – are uncontested.

Justice ministry officials have said in parliament that the abduction of a child by a parent is a crime, but that individual cases were up to the family courts to deliberate.

Asked about the legality of one parent taking away a child without the other’s consent, a Tokyo Metropolitan Police spokesman said the agency “could not state in general whether it was illegal.”

He said police could also not say in general whether they needed to respond to an estranged parent’s request to investigate an alleged abduction of the children.

“For anyone outside Japan, it’s a crazy system,” said opposition lawmaker Seiichi Kushida, who has been fighting for a joint-custody system in parliament.

The plight of such parents last year prompted French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Giuseppe Conte to raise their concerns with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Some Japanese and foreign parents have collectively launched a complaint to the United Nations’ human rights body.

“It’s heartening to see all the attention foreign parents are bringing to this issue,” said Kenjiro Hara, director at non-profit activist group Convention on the Rights of the Child Japan.

“It’s thanks to them that more Japanese people feel emboldened to take action,” he said, noting that several class-action lawsuits have been filed against the government seeking legislation to help reunite parents with their children.

Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

Japan to beef up law to enable handover of children to parents with custody when the other resists


The Cabinet on Tuesday approved a bill revising the enforcement of civil law to enable the handover of a child to a parent who is awarded custody, even if the other parent refuses to abide by a court order to transfer guardianship.

Currently, the law has no clear stipulation on such handovers, leaving court officials to rely on a clause related to asset seizure to enforce child custody orders. The current system has drawn criticism due to the fact it treats children as property.

Legislation implementing the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, an international treaty providing a framework allowing the return of a child internationally abducted by a parent, will similarly be revised.

At present, legislation requires a parent living with a child to be present when the child is handed over to the other parent, but the proposed revision will allow a transfer without both parents being there.

The convention, to which Japan acceded in 2014, sets out rules and procedures for the prompt return of children under 16 to their country of habitual residence when they are taken or retained by one parent, if requested by the other parent.

The bill to modify the Civil Execution Law also includes revisions to allow courts to obtain debtors’ financial information and bar registered crime syndicate members from acquiring foreclosed real estate properties in public auctions.

The amendments are aimed at helping authorities seize money and properties from parents who fail to meet their court-ordered child support obligations and from people who do not pay compensation to crime victims.

The revised execution law will make it easier for courts to require financial and public institutions to provide information on debtors, including data related to their savings and places of employment.

Japan maintains a system of sole custody and, in a large majority of cases, when a dispute reaches court mothers are awarded custody after divorce. It is not unusual for children in Japan to stop seeing their fathers after their parents break up.

Yoko Ono’s Ex-Husband, Tony Cox, Reveals His Strange Life Since Fleeing with Their Daughter 14 Years Ago


February 03, 1986 12:00 PM

Last week a man broke into Yoko Ono’s lavish New York apartment that she had shared with husband John Lennon before his murder in 1980. Yoko was asleep at the time, and the man, apparently deranged, left behind a picture and some notes. That was a bizarre visitation, but even more strange has been the recent emergence of Yoko’s shadowy former husband, Tony Cox, 49, with the first significant news in 14 years about his and Yoko’s daughter, Kyoko. When Cox went underground with the then 8-year-old girl on Christmas Eve, 1971, their disappearance was an international sensation and prompted Yoko and Lennon to launch a massive—but fruitless—manhunt. Cox, an artist and filmmaker, now says he and his daughter spent many of those obscure years as members of a religious cult. An evangelical Christian, Cox has produced and directed a 32-minute documentary film, Vain Glory, about his involvement with an organization called the Walk, from which he says he “escaped” in 1977. Cox accuses the Walk of being a pseudo-Christian cult that prayed for the deaths of Jimmy Carter and David Rockefeller and even thought its prayers had caused Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1968. Kyoko Cox, now 22, is listed as an associate producer of the film, which is soon to be available on videotape. Kyoko has not talked to her mother since 1977 and has not communicated with her at all since 1980, when she and Cox sent a telegram of sympathy after Lennon was shot. Cox says that Kyoko helped him make the film but adamantly refuses to go public. “She really has her own life. I can’t emphasize that enough.” Cox himself has a mania for privacy from long habit. He says he fears reprisals from the Walk because of his film and agreed to be interviewed only if his and Kyoko’s whereabouts were not revealed. For the first time, however, he spoke in detail about the strange course of his life.

Cox relates that he met Yoko in 1961 after he’d become intrigued by some of her work in an anthology of avant-garde art. He tracked her to Tokyo, he says, where she was recovering from a nervous breakdown. “I helped get her out of the hospital.” They married, and their only child, Kyoko, was born in 1963. Cox became a househusband while both he and Yoko continued with their art, a pattern that would repeat itself when she married John Lennon. “That was part of something that Yoko felt very strongly about,” says Cox, “that if she had kids, the husband should help take care of them. I agreed to it before the marriage.” The two collaborated successfully as “conceptual artists” after they’d moved to London in the late ’60s. Yoko met John Lennon at one of her art shows in 1966, and within three years she and Cox had divorced.

As Cox remembers it, he was very much a part of the ’60s. “I grew up with the whole scene—I was a beat, then I was a beatnik, then I was a hippie. I went through the whole drug trip. I was taking acid when you could get acid for free. I took my first mescaline and acid before one word had been written about it. I took a lot of acid thinking this was going to improve my mind, and it took me years to discover the opposite was true. All drugs are a very bad scene.”

By 1971 Cox and his second wife, museum curator Melinda Kendall, were living on the Spanish island of Majorca, studying mysticism with a fashionable Indian guru. Though he had been given custody of Kyoko, a bitter battle had broken out over Yoko’s visitation rights. One day John and Yoko “kidnapped” Kyoko from her school on Majorca. The girl was returned, but Cox says he became increasingly afraid that Yoko would one day try to keep the child. He and his family fled to Houston, his second wife’s hometown, where they both became evangelical Christians. Late in 1971, when a Houston judge ordered Cox to let Yoko visit Kyoko, they fled once more. “I was not getting a fair shake at all,” says Cox, who felt that the Lennons’ power and money would eventually cost him his daughter.

This time they sought refuge with a Los Angeles friend who belonged to the Church of the Living Word, also known as the Walk. They soon joined the church, and for the next five years lived with members of the sect in rural Iowa and California. The Walk’s beliefs have been described by a cult expert as a mixture of Pentecostalism, occult practices and Eastern mysticism, and Cox became a prominent figure, a “prophet and set-aside elder.” Cox claims in Vain Glory that cult founder John Robert Stevens, in addition to praying for the deaths of political leaders, considered himself the earthly incarnation of Jesus Christ and practiced “forehead bonding,” a form of mind control and hypnotism, with his disciples. (When Stevens died in 1983, Cox claims, cult members kept his body lying in state for eight months awaiting his resurrection.) Cox says his disenchantment was complete well before his divorce from his second wife, who since has remarried within the Walk. In 1977 he decided to leave.

Kyoko was attending the Walter Reed Junior High School in North Hollywood, Calif. under the assumed name of Ruth Holman. According to Cox, when founder Stevens suspected that Cox planned to quit, the cult had the child escorted to and from the school. Cox says he feared the cult would take Kyoko away to keep him from leaving, so one day, before the guards arrived to take her home, he went to school and took Kyoko himself. “We left with the clothes on our backs. I was afraid even to return home before getting out of town in my old car.

“I’m an unusual case,” says Cox of his cult involvement. “I’m what is termed a ‘walkaway.’ I got up and walked out on my own volition. I was there for five years, and experts in the field say that after five years there’s very little chance someone’s going to get out on their own.” (A spokesman for the Walk categorically denies all of Cox’s assertions about their beliefs and practices as well as their behavior toward Kyoko.)

His daughter, Cox says, weathered the experience well. “Because of our life-style,” he explains, “she was taught with tutors, studied in foreign schools and has a conception of the world that’s very mature for someone her age.” Family friend Eric Pement of Jesus People USA in Chicago has said, “She’s a marvelously bright woman, a real Christian who loves the Lord but is not a real straitlaced fundamentalist.” Adds Cox, “She’s in great shape, really together. She came out of the experience smelling like a rose.”

As for Yoko, Cox declares that he harbors no ill will. “I don’t have any bitterness toward Yoko. We both made terrible mistakes. Although [the Lennons] nearly destroyed me, at the same time she really had tremendous remorse, and when I found that out later, that changed my whole attitude. I really felt sorry for her. Regardless of how much I suffered, she was suffering also, and I’m genuinely aware of that.”

Is there a chance, then, for a reunion between mother and daughter? Cox says the decision is Kyoko’s. “She’s a completely independent individual. After seeing what some of the aspects of public life are about, she realized that was one thing she did not want.”

Yoko Ono responded to her ex-husband’s unexpected reappearance with an extraordinary open letter to her long-lost daughter:

Dear Kyoko,

All these years there has not been one day I have not missed you. You are always in my heart. However, I will not make any attempt to find you now as I wish to respect your privacy. I wish you all the best in the world. If you ever wish to get in touch with me, know that I love you deeply and would be very happy to hear from you. But you should not feel guilty if you choose not to reach me. You have my respect, love and support forever.

Love, Mommy


Tragedy of children abducted from dads and taken to Japan


Parents from the US and around the world are firewalled from children held by estranged spouses – and Japanese parents face similar agonies


JANUARY 16, 2019 4:06 PM (UTC+8) 

Keisuke Christian Collins  with his father Randy Collins. The two have not met since 2008, when the boy was abducted by his  mother. Photo: Randy Collins

Keisuke Christian Collins with his father Randy Collins. The two have not met since 2008, when the boy was abducted by his mother. Photo: Randy Collins

Meanwhile, what is glaringly absent from the debate are the voices of affected children.

“In the beginning of my most recent legal battle in Japan, my son, who was 13 at the time, was asked by his attorney, ‘Do you ever think about your father?’” Morehouse said. “As tears rolled down his face he replied, ‘Sometimes I dream of him at night’.”

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Canadian fights to see son in Japan, where legal system leaves many parents behind

January 6, 2019


Canadian fights to see son in Japan, where legal system leaves many parents behind

Courts don’t have ‘ a lot of coercive powers in cases involving children,’ law professor says

Tim Terstege shows copies of family pictures and previous media coverage of his situation. Even with a court order giving him some visitation rights, Japan’s legal system is not structured to enforce it so he can see his son. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

A Canadian man living in Japan who has spent years trying to reconnect with his son after a marriage breakdown says under the current system, his best chance at restoring visitation would be to move — all the way back to Canada.

Tim Terstege, a 44-year-old Barrie, Ont., native, says he last saw his son during a supervised visit three years ago. Today, he doesn’t know where his wife and son are but suspects they are in the city of Yokohama, about 40 kilometres south of Tokyo, where his wife took his son after the couple split.

When parents divorce or separate in Japan, one parent typically gets custody. Visitation can be part of the arrangement, but parents don’t have a lot of recourse if it doesn’t happen as scheduled. They’re generally sent back to the family court system, where cases can take years to be resolved.

Terstege, who is separated but not divorced, says he’s found the system almost impossible to navigate.

“Everybody knows that family is one of the cornerstones of having a good life,” he said. “That’s one of the great things that we have in this time, and to lose that is just pretty much for me everything.”

Terstege says after he and his wife split in 2012, the pair went into a lengthy mediation process that established visitation rights for Terstege. The Canadian says he wasn’t allowed to see his son while the mediation was underway, but in the end, he was granted 24 hours of supervised visitation per year. But by the time the mediation was over, his wife had already taken their son to live in Yokohama, a four-hour train ride from where Terstege lives in Himeji.

Even though a 2015 Yokohama family court mediation order granted him visitation rights, Terstege says he’s only seen his son for a total of an hour-and-a-half since his wife left. He says he’s fed up with a system that ignores cases such as his and thinks Japan essentially “condones the abduction of a child.”

CBC News has made multiple attempts to contact Terstege’s wife’s lawyer to get her side of the story but has not received a response.

The history of divorce and custody cases in Japan is complex, Tokyo lawyer Marie Sasagawa says. After the Second World War, Japanese courts felt it was more important for children to be with their mothers rather than their fathers, who had previously been seen as the unchallenged heads of families.

“Traditionally, Japanese have relatively negative images for divorce, so the relationships of couples who have reached divorce mediation are assumed to be very bad,” Sasagawa said.

That meant joint custody wasn’t generally considered an option. Granting custody to mothers by default has been challenged in court in recent years, but the system still favours the mother in most cases. Recent media reports have suggested the Japanese government is considering changing the law to allow for joint custody, but when or if that will happen is not yet clear.

Hunting for help

Exasperated by the slow process, Terstege reached out to the Canadian government for help. When contacted by CBC News, Global Affairs Canada said it is aware of the case and that “consular officials in Japan are in close contact with the family and are providing consular assistance.”

A 2016 letter from an official with GAC outlines some steps consular officials have taken, but also notes the limits Canadian officials face working in other countries.

Terstege looks at the sign in front of an elementary school in Yokohama. He knows his son went to school here but has no idea if that is still the case. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

“We recognize the need to continue to raise the issue of parental child abduction cases with Japanese authorities in an effort to bring some closure to affected parents like you,” the letter reads.

GAC says it is aware of 24 active consular cases in Japan relating to parental child abductions, noting there could be others who haven’t contacted the department.

Last year at the UN Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review, Canada said what’s going on in Japan is contrary to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and called on the country to establish better enforcement mechanisms to allow both parents access to their child.

A long shot

An official with Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said one possible option for Terstege would be to apply for visitation rights through the Hague.

Japan signed the Hague Abduction Convention in 2014. While the treaty provides a structure for the return of children who are abducted internationally, it doesn’t apply to Terstege’s case because he lost contact with his son within the child’s country of residence.

The treaty, however, allows Terstege to apply for visitation rights if he makes his case from his home country.

The courts can order things, they can declare things, but they really don’t have a lot of coercive powers in cases involving children.– Colin Jones, law professor

If he were in Canada, Terstege could seek assistance from the Japanese government that is not available to him in Japan, including additional mediation sessions and translation services for court petitions. But even if he moved back to Canada, a country he hasn’t lived in for 13 years, and successfully made his case, Terstege doesn’t think he’d make meaningful progress in his bid to actually see his child.

According to Terstege, moving to Canada would be a high-risk decision with the possible reward being a 30 minute video chat every month or two. His estranged wife would still have a say in how that chat unfolded and could ultimately still cut off contact.

Courts lack ‘coercive’ power

Colin Jones, a professor at Kyoto’s Doshisha Law School and the author of a recent book on the Japanese legal system, says the current law only frames visitation as something parents have to think about. It leaves it to them to make arrangements.

“The courts can order things, they can declare things, but they really don’t have a lot of coercive powers in cases involving children,” Jones said.

Parents who ignore an order may be forced to pay a fine, he says, but in most cases, that is as far as punishment goes. Jones says in the case of marriages involving foreigners and Japanese citizens he hears a lot of stories about fathers being the parent left behind.

CBC News has spoken with two other Canadian fathers, as well as an American, who have similar stories as Terstege. They all cite years of frustration, bureaucratic red tape and endless waiting in hope of seeing their children again. Ultimately, they say, it’s the children who end up paying the price for an ineffective and unfair system.

As for Terstege, he says the last few years have taken a toll on his health. He has gained weight and developed a skin condition that his doctor attributed to stress. He says he is considering his next move but that he won’t stop trying to see his son again.

“He is my everything.”

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Tillis reignites fight against international parental child abduction

January 5, 2019

Tillis reignites fight against international parental child abduction

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) this week told the U.S. State Department that its approach to return American children abducted abroad back to the United States isn’t working and more needs to be done.

“As United States senators, we cannot simply sit by and watch the State Department continue to issue ineffective demarches while countries continue to shelter those who abduct our citizen-children. We are committed to ensuring the return of every American child abducted abroad and we will not stop working on their behalf,” Sen. Tillis wrote in a bipartisan Jan. 2 letter sent to State Department Secretary Mike Pompeo. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) also signed the letter.

Each year, several hundred American children are abducted by one parent and taken to a foreign country, according to a statement from Sen. Tillis’ office, which added that such abductions may negatively impact a child’s mental, physical and emotional health and well-being.

Congress in 2014 approved the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, which provided the State Department with tools to compel foreign governments to return abducted American children back home, according to the senator’s statement. Such tools include official public censures and withdrawing development assistance.

Nevertheless, since the legislation became law, the State Department has continued to use demarches — or diplomatic communications — as its sole means of attempting to secure a child’s return, according to the senator’s statement.

“Unfortunately, a comprehensive review of past annual reports shows that the State Department rarely, if ever, goes beyond issuing a demarche,” the senators wrote to Pompeo.

And demarches aren’t effective, according to the senators’ letter, which noted that some countries, like Japan, have received several demarches, “but no additional, formal action was taken to address the problem of parental child abduction to Japan,” which continually harbors abducted American children.

In fact, both a 2018 State Department annual report and action report show that the department still isn’t using all of the tools it has at its disposal to rectify the situation, they pointed out.

“This approach is clearly failing,” the lawmakers wrote. “The number of children kidnapped from and then returned to the U.S. has shown no measurable improvement over the years. Simply issuing demarches, raising cases with foreign government officials and empty threats are not bringing children home.”

The senators urged the Department of State to utilize the tools and resources provided by law to bring home abducted American children.

“We hope you recognize the seriousness of the issue and will make it one of your top priorities,” according to their letter.

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Foreign divorced parents fight in vain for child custody in Japan

October 23, 2018


Foreign divorced parents fight in vain for child custody in Japan


By Karyn Nishimura-Poupee

Emmanuel, Stephane, Henrik and James come from very different backgrounds, but they share the same painful experience of battling Japan’s legal system — in vain — for access to their children after divorce.

Once married to Japanese women, they say they were prevented from contact with their children when their relationships disintegrated, sometimes even after court rulings in their favor.

Tough laws and patriarchal cultural norms that overwhelmingly see mothers granted sole custody after a divorce — 80 percent of the time, according to official figures — mean that fathers rarely see their children again.

Frenchman Emmanuel de Fournas has spent years battling for access to his daughter after his Japanese ex-wife moved back to Japan.

Despite winning a court order in France and filing a case under The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in September 2014, he is still fighting for the right to see his daughter.

“I thought I could benefit from the clear rules of The Hague Convention, but… they aren’t respected in Japan,” he told AFP.

“I’ve lost everything, my savings, my job,” he said tearfully. AFP was not able to contact the mother.

His experience is not unusual.

Henrik Teton from Canada and James Cook from the United States have similar stories to tell.

“What kind of justice system is it if decisions are not implemented? There is room to do more and better,” says Richard Yung, a French senator who came to Japan to plead the cases of several French parents.

Although Japan has signed The Hague Convention designed to prevent a parent from moving a child to another country and blocking access for the former partner, Tokyo demonstrates “a pattern of noncompliance” with the pact, according to the U.S. State Department.

For foreign parents, most often fathers, “this poses major problems, because they have a different mentality and they can’t comprehend losing custody or the right to visit their child,” said Nahoko Amemiya, a lawyer for the Tokyo Public Law office.

Even when foreign parents win their case in a Japanese court, enforcement is patchy.

The State Department’s 2018 report described “limitations” in Japanese law including requirements that “direct enforcement take place in the home and presence of the taking parent, that the child willingly leave with the taking parent, and that the child face no risk of psychological harm.”

With opinion divided on what causes the most trauma to children, the longer a child is separated from one parent, the more reluctant authorities are to intervene, citing a “principle of continuity”.

“It’s not that Japanese courts favor the Japanese parent, it’s that they favor the ‘kidnapper,'” who is living with the child, said John Gomez, founder of the group Kizuna, which advocates for parents separated from their children.

Japan’s government defends its record, saying most of the 81 cases filed under The Hague Convention since 2014 have been settled.

“The majority of the cases in which we intervened have been resolved, but we are aware of six or seven where the return decision could not be implemented,” said Shuji Zushi, a foreign ministry official.

“In these cases, there is a very strong conflict between the two sides and that leads to media attention or political action,” he said.

Stephane Lambert spent years fighting to see his son after his wife and child moved away from their home in Japan — a case not covered by The Hague convention.

“The Japanese police don’t do anything in this kind of case,” he said. “On the basis of a court ruling, I saw my son for a total of 14 hours for the whole of the following year, and not at all after that, because my wife refused the visits. I can’t think about my son anymore. Looking at a photo of him tears me apart. I’ve learned to forget him.”

There are some signs of change: a panel of experts met in June to discuss new ways to enforce court orders, as well as the issue of joint custody and changes to the law.

But regardless of changes to the law, the pain of parental separation is always traumatic — as demonstrated by the case of Joichiro Yamada, who was 10 when his Japanese father and American mother split up.

“My dad told me: You live with me now,” the 20-year-old told AFP, crying at the “horrible shock” of being separated from his mother. “I spent a year with him. I wanted to go back to my mother. A year felt like an eternity.”

© 2018 AFP

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