And the true color is the color of money.

In its paper, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations lists a number of “red herrings”  regarding Japan’s ratification of the Hague Convention.  The biggest red herring is that Japan first must stipulate in its domestic law that children should not be returned to their habitual country of residence if they are found to have been abused or subject to violence.

This is a red herring because this point is already adequately addressed in Article 13 of the Hague Convention (http://www.hcch.net/index_en.php?act=conventions.text&cid=24) which states that a State is not bound to order the return of the child if it is established that “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.”

It seems that the Japan Federation of Bar Associations is not so much concerned about the “best interests of the child” as it is in the “best interests of the pocketbook” of its attorney members, who are profiting heavily from the current legal situation of international child abductions.  One Japanese attorney has even admitted to handling 200 such cases per year.  For each of these cases it is not uncommon for each side to spend tens of thousands of dollars for legal fees, with the cases rarely if ever getting resolved.  These cases are basically a bottomless money pit for the parents involved, enriching the lawyers who belong to organizations such as the JFBA.

http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20110223p2g00m0in006000c.html

Lawyers press for child’s best interest under int’l custody pact

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japanese lawyers said Tuesday they have urged the government to try to secure children’s best interests if it decides to sign an international convention designed to help resolve cases in which foreign parents are prevented from seeing children “abducted” to Japan after their marriages with Japanese nationals fail.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations said in a paper submitted to the foreign and justice ministries and the Cabinet Secretariat that Tokyo should guarantee in its domestic law that children should not be returned to their habitual country of residence if they are found to have been abused or subject to violence.

Satoshi Mukai, a JFBA vice president, told a press conference that even though member lawyers are divided over whether Japan should join the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, they compiled the paper to influence ongoing discussions at the government task force on the convention.

The treaty, which currently has 84 parties, stipulates rules and procedures for the prompt return of children to their habitual country of residence when wrongfully removed or retained in the case of an international divorce.

The government launched the task force comprising senior vice ministers in January to examine whether Tokyo should accede to the treaty. Japan is the only country among the Group of Seven major economies that has not signed the pact and it has been under international pressure to join the treaty.

The report said Japan should stipulate in domestic laws guaranteeing the implementation of the Hague Convention that children’s opinions will be appropriately heard and respected when authorities make a judgment on their return to their habitual country of residence.

The lawyers also said the legislation should make it clear that the Hague Convention is not retroactive, or only applies to wrongful child removals or retentions that occur after its entry into force in Japan and that it exempts parental child abduction cases that occur domestically.

They called on the government to raise public awareness of the Hague Convention and set a three-year preparation period before the treaty takes effect in Japan.

Whether to join the Hague Convention has triggered a heated debate in Japan, where it is customary for mothers to take sole care of children after divorces. It is not unusual for children to stop seeing their fathers after their parents break up.

Some critics in Japan argue that even though the pact says children will not be returned to their habitual country of residence if there is “a grave risk of physical or psychological harm,” past judgments have been made based on “limited interpretations” of the clause.

The JFBA urged the nation’s diplomatic missions abroad to provide necessary assistance to Japanese nationals who are involved in child custody disputes.

Naoki Idei, a member of the JFBA’s working group on the Hague Convention, said many member lawyers are concerned the treaty could endanger Japanese parents and their children who have fled abusive relationships.

As a legal remedy, the lawyers’ group called on the Japanese government to ratify optional protocols of international human rights treaties that enable individuals to file complaints for violations of their rights.

Idei said such a mechanism would help redress the situation of parents and children when a return to a child’s habitual country of residence is ordered under the Hague Convention despite claims of abuse.

(Mainichi Japan) February 23, 2011

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ABC conducted a group interview of over a dozen U.S. parents whose children have been abducted to Japan and will be covering this on their “World News” programs on Tuesday, February 15 and Wednesday, Feburary 16, and also on ABC Nightline on February 15.

A related video, photos, and other information is available at the following link:

http://abcnews.go.com/International/american-children-abducted-japan-desperate-fathers-contact-children/story?id=12919762

http://tokyo.usembassy.gov/e/p/tp-20110209-73.html

Press Release

By the Ambassadors and Representatives of Australia, Canada, Colombia, the European Union, France, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America

Tokyo, Japan
Feb. 9, 2011

We, the Ambassadors of Canada, the European Union, France, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, the Political Counsellor of the Embassy of Australia, and the Consul of Colombia, called on Japan’s Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs today to express the importance we continue to attach to the issue of international parental abduction, and to once again urge Japan to ratify the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (“the Convention”).

We are encouraged by the serious consideration that the Government of Japan is currently giving this issue, including by establishing a Vice-Ministerial-level working group to study it. We look forward to Japan reaching a positive decision to ratify the Convention as soon as possible.

The Convention seeks to protect children from the harmful effects of their wrongful removal or retention across international borders, which can be a tragedy for all concerned. The Convention further establishes procedures to ensure the prompt return of children to the State of their habitual residence when wrongfully removed or retained, and secures protection for rights of access of both parents to their children. Under the Convention, a State is not bound to order the return of a child if it is established that 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.

To date, 84 countries have joined the Convention, including the eleven countries that jointly carried out today’s demarche, and all 27 member states of the European Union, which, moreover, has enshrined the principles laid down in the Convention into EU law. In the past year alone, three additional countries – Morocco, Gabon and Singapore – have joined the Convention, making it an increasingly universal standard for the handling of cross-border abduction cases. Japan is the only G-7 nation that has not signed the Convention. Currently the left-behind parents of children abducted to or from Japan have little hope of having their children returned and encounter great difficulties in obtaining access to their children and exercising their parental rights and responsibilities.

In our meeting with Parliamentary Vice-Minister Yamahana, we emphasized the high priority our governments place on the welfare of children affected by the breakdown of international marriages, and stressed that children should grow up with access to both parents. We also noted that Japanese ratification of the Convention would benefit Japanese nationals as much as those of other countries, since, as revealed by a recent web survey by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there are many cases where Japanese parents and their children have lost contact because of abduction to other countries. We further urged Japan to identify and implement measures to enable parents who are separated from their children to maintain contact with them and ensure visitation rights, and to establish a framework for resolution of current child abduction cases. Finally, we emphasized that the Convention has provisions to prevent children from being returned to abusive or otherwise threatening situations in other countries, as well as the existence of protective provisions against domestic violence within the legal systems of our countries.

Japan is an important partner for all of our countries in innumerable ways, ranging from vibrant political and economic relations, to the people-to-people ties of which international marriages are emblematic. All our governments continue to stand ready to assist Japan in its consideration of the Hague Convention, with a view to helping parents and children affected by this painful issue.

 

David Hearn and Matt Antell are two film makers who have been working on a documentary film for several years now about the international child abduction issue in Japan.  They have interviewed dozens of left-behind parents for this documentary.  The film is called “From the Shadows” and will be screened  at the Cardozo Law School in New York City next week.  This will be the first audience that hasn’t either been well aware of the situation before viewing or are not persons from the world of film and TV. There will also be a Q and A session and reception afterward.
David and Matt are also applying for the following five film festivals to be held later this year:
1. Los Angeles Film Festival – Submission: Feb. 24th, 2011, – Event June 16-26th, 2011, – Los Angeles
2. Silver Docs (Documentary festival) – Submission: March 4, 2011, – Event June 20-26th, 2011, – Silver Springs MD.
3. Cannes Film Festival – Submission: March 11th, 2011, – Event May 11-22nd, 2011, – Cannes, France
4. Toronto Film Festival – Submission: April 1st, 2011, –  Event Early Sept 8-18. 2011, – Toronto, Canada
5. Telluride Film Festival – Submission: Mid-April, 2011, –  Event Early Sept. 2011, – Telluride, Colorado

To learn more about this project and when the film might be screened in your area, visit the website:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12358440

Japan custody heartache for foreign fathers

By Roland BuerkBBC News, Tokyo

Thousands of Japanese people marry foreigners every year. Many are happy – but if the marriage breaks down the foreign spouse may end up cut out of the children’s lives.

Alex KahneyAlex Kahney often visits the places he used to take his children

Alex Kahney, who works for a medical publisher, still lives in what was once the family home, now nearly bare of furniture but full of memories.

There are photographs of his daughters on the walls of the small four-storey town house in one of the nicer Tokyo neighbourhoods.

Their favourite stuffed toys, a dog and a mouse, are on the back of the sofa – reminders of the little girls, aged nine and seven, who he has not seen for months.

His Japanese wife took them with her, along with much of the contents of the house, when their marriage broke down, and is refusing to let him see them.

Mr Kahney first tried the police.

But when he told them that his wife had abducted their children, they laughed at him.

What makes it more painful is that their new home is just down the road.

Pressure for change

“They’re on a second-floor apartment,” he says. “I can hear them talking inside. I go and stand underneath the balcony listening to them. It’s tough.

“For the first few months I cried, I howled. For half an hour sometimes. I hardly sleep. I’m usually awake most of the night. And I have dreams, I dream about my children every night.”

Lef-Behind Parents demonstratingMany Japanese parents are also campaigning for change

In Japan, the courts normally give custody to one parent after a marriage breakdown and it is up to that parent if they let the other parent have any access.

Many separating couples come to amicable agreements, but it is not unusual for one parent to be cut out of their children’s lives forever.

When the former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi divorced, he got custody of his two eldest sons, who have not seen their mother since.

She was six months pregnant at the time, and Mr Koizumi has never met his youngest son.

But now there is pressure for a change in the law.

Every few weeks Alex Kahney joins a demonstration organised by a group called Left-Behind Parents, Japan.

They have lobbied members of the Diet, and on a recent Sunday they marched, more than 100 strong, through the centre of Tokyo.

Among the demonstrators were many Japanese parents.

Courts defied

There are a quarter of a million divorces in Japan every year, which is relatively low by international standards, but a dramatic increase from earlier generations.

Continue reading the main story 

Number of cases

Twelve countries have been urging Japan to sign up to the Hague Convention:

  • US: 131
  • Canada: 38
  • UK: 38
  • France: 30
  • Germany 2
  • Australia, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand and Spain – no figures available
  • Belgium and Colombia – 0 cases

It is the cases involving foreigners, though, that are drawing the most attention.

Japan’s customs around divorce have become a diplomatic issue because the country has yet to sign up to the 1980 Hague Convention on child abduction. As a result, Japanese parents who bring their children home after a divorce abroad can defy joint custody orders made by foreign courts.

The British embassy is dealing with 38 cases involving children, other embassies many more.

“There are 12 embassies involved in this,” says David Warren, the British ambassador in Tokyo.

“We have been making frequent representations to the Japanese government. We’ve been saying to them that Japan cannot any longer go on without becoming part of the international legal framework for resolving these cases.”

Abusive relationships

Japan is considering ratifying the Hague Convention.

A newspaper report earlier this month said an announcement could come as soon as the spring.

Continue reading the main story 

‘Women look after the children’

Osamu, who doesn’t want to use his full name, got divorced five years ago and his daughters are now 17 and 14. He sees the younger girl once every two months, the older girl about twice a year.

“I thought about their best interests,” he says. “So I gave in and let their mother have custody.”

Osamu says that at the time of the divorce he thought of splitting up his daughters, with the parents having custody of one each. But he decided it would not be good for them.

“In Japan traditionally men go out to work and women look after children. We tend to think women will be better off taking care of them, especially when they are small.

“Of course, there are exceptions. Maybe the father’s family has a business and needs the next generation to take over.”

Osamu added that men tend to think they can go on, get married again and start a new family more easily than women. From his experience it’s usual for fathers not to see children at all.

But implementation is likely to be a long process.

It would mean a change from the expectation that families should largely work things out for themselves, to the state enforcing agreements on access and child-support payments.

Some people are also worried that the convention could hinder Japanese trying to flee abusive relationships abroad.

Akiko Oshima is a marriage counsellor who has worked as a mediator in the family court.

“These women who come back, do not do it because they want to,” she says.

“They feel this is the only way out. They want their child to be brought up in Japan, and not in the host country where the father is abusive and she has no control over her children’s education, and so forth. Not even, say, getting a job to support herself. This is the problem.”

Alex Kahney spends a lot of time visiting places he went with his children, like the playground near his home.

He says he was a good parent and his daughters were daddy’s girls.

If he is to see them again he must only hope their mother takes pity on him.

The results of this rather unscientific poll, offered online in Japanese language only, actually are not as divided as this article suggests.  Of 64 respondents, only 17 were against Japan joining the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.  Interestingly, 18 of the respondents were self-admitted abductors, which pretty closely matches the number of respondents who opposed the Hague Convention.

 

http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20110203p2g00m0dm035000c.html

 

Survey shows divided views on Japan’s signing of child custody pact

TOKYO (Kyodo) — An online survey by the Foreign Ministry showed Wednesday that people who have directly been involved in the so-called parental “abductions” of children as a result of failed marriages were divided on Japan’s accession to an international treaty to deal with child custody disputes.

Of 64 respondents to the questionnaire posted on the website of the Foreign Ministry and its 121 diplomatic missions abroad between May and November last year, 22 were in favor of Japan joining the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, while 17 were against the idea.

The remaining 25 respondents did not make their stance clear, said Parliamentary Vice Foreign Minister Ikuo Yamahana at a press conference.

The convention provides a procedure for the prompt return of children to their habitual country of residence when they are wrongfully removed or retained in the case of an international divorce. It also protects parental access rights.

Those seeking Japan’s accession to the convention said Tokyo should no longer allow unilateral parental child abductions as the country is perceived overseas as an “abnormal” nation for defending such acts.

People opposed to Japan’s signing of the treaty said the convention “doesn’t fit with” Japanese culture, values and customs and urged the government to protect Japanese nationals fleeing from difficult circumstances such as abusive spouses and problems in foreign countries.

Some pointed to the disadvantages faced by Japanese parents seeking a local court settlement on child custody abroad, such as expensive legal fees and the language barrier.

Yamahana said the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan will further examine the possibility of joining the convention based on the results of the online survey. “We will discuss what we can do to ensure the welfare of children,” he said.

International pressure on Tokyo to act on the parental abduction issue has been growing, with legislative bodies in the United States and France recently adopting resolutions that call for Japan’s accession to the treaty.

At present, 84 countries and regions are parties to the Hague Convention. Of the Group of Seven major economies, only Japan has yet to ratify the pact.

Of the 64 respondents, 18 said they have abducted children and 19 said their children have been taken by their former spouses. A total of 27 said they have been slapped with restrictions on traveling with their children because Japan is not a party to the Hague Convention.

By country, 26 respondents were linked to parental abduction cases in the United States, followed by nine in Australia and seven in Canada.

(Mainichi Japan) February 3, 2011