12:27 31 May

FEATURE: Japanese mothers tormented by “last-minute” child abductions

By Maya Kaneko
TOKYO, May 31, Kyodo

As Japan’s ratification of an international treaty that helps settle
international child custody disputes awaits Diet approval, some Japanese
mothers are dealing with the distress of having had their children taken
abroad by their non-Japanese spouses shortly before the nation’s endorsement
of the treaty.
Those mothers face difficulties in enlisting wide support, as the issue
of parental child abductions to Japan tends to grab more attention. Tokyo is
not yet a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of
International Child Abduction, with Japan often portrayed as a safe haven for
parents taking their children to the country.
Their cases can also be considered less serious than those of parents who
are totally denied access to their children in Japan, because many of the
countries where their children were taken could award joint custody to them —
unlike their homeland, which has a sole-custody system — increasing chances
of regular access to their kids.
In addition to language barriers and expensive legal costs that often
pose a headache to parents involved in cross-border child custody disputes,
slow progress in Japan’s process of joining the international treaty weighs on
the mothers’ shoulders, as Tokyo’s accession to the convention holds the key
to future parenting arrangements.
A Japanese woman in her 30s living in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo,
has been separated from her two children, in Florida since December 2010, as
her American husband refused to return to Japan and started a new life there
with the kids and their grandmother.
The couple and their Japan-born kids had originally been scheduled to
move to Florida together, but the husband, a former English teacher in Japan,
later refused to sponsor his wife for visa arrangement, saying he no longer
wanted to live with her, citing her problems with child-rearing, the woman
“I think my husband knew that in Japan it would be difficult for him to
gain custody of the kids and that if we got divorced, he could not easily see
them,” the woman said. In Japan, mothers tend to be given sole custody after
divorce and it is not unusual for children to stop seeing their fathers after
their parents break up.
She also said her husband had probably been aware of Japan’s imminent
accession to the Hague Convention, which sets out the rules and procedures for
promptly returning children under 16 to the country of their habitual
residence in cases of international divorce among member countries. Japan
decided to join the pact in May last year.
The treaty is not retroactive and only deals with cases occurring after
its entry into force in the country newly joining it. The pact will come into
effect on the first day of the third calendar month after being ratified by
the nation.
The woman, who communicates with her 4-year-old son and 2-year-old
daughter every other day via Skype Internet telephone service and met them
when she visited Florida last November, is worried that they can no longer
understand Japanese and will forget about their life in Japan.
The couple is now seeking divorce settlements in a Florida court, in line
with a U.S. law that designates a state where children stayed with a parent
for six months in a row as a place for litigation. For the woman, who has
never lived abroad, U.S. court procedures mean a great deal of trouble and
“unfair” situations, she said.
With the woman left with no chance of getting a green card and
difficulties in acquiring other types of visa to live in the United States,
the husband seeks to gain sole custody of the kids, she said.
“As long as Japan remains nonparty to the Hague Convention, the U.S.
court would not allow my children to go to Japan during vacations out of fear
that they would not be returned,” she said. “Japan’s accession is an important
matter to me because it opens up various possibilities.”
Another Japanese woman in central Japan’s Shizuoka Prefecture also has
her two sons, aged 7 and 5, retained in the United States since March last
year, as her American husband refused to go back with the kids due to safety
concerns triggered by the Fukushima nuclear crisis following the March 11
earthquake and tsunami.
The public servant, who declined to be further identified, said her
husband, who moved with the children in May last year to Champaign in
Illinois, where he had found a job, had repeatedly assured her that the
children would return to Japan once cold shutdown had been achieved at the
troubled reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
But as he filed for divorce at an Illinois court in November last year
and the children did not return, even after the Japanese government declared
in December that the plant had been brought to a stable state of cold
shutdown, she learned that her husband “had planned everything in advance and
conveniently used the disaster that hit Japan as an excuse.”
“My husband waited until the kids spent six months with him in Illinois
so that he could start a divorce suit there to alter the situation to his
advantage,” the woman said.
“I was naive to believe his promise to eventually return the children to
Japan but couldn’t force him to do so, as I was concerned about radiation
contamination that could jeopardize the children’s lives,” said the mother.
The woman, who tries to maintain Skype communications with the children,
is also concerned that their memories of Japanese language and culture are
fading. As the children are still registered as citizens in Japan, she
launched a legal action in her home country. However, the process, involving
notification through diplomatic channels, would take a long time.
She said it was frustrating to face difficulties caused by the nuclear
accident and Japan’s position on the Hague Convention that “an individual
cannot change.”
The woman said, however, she would not forcibly take back her children to
Japan because unilateral abduction would only produce a “negative chain
reaction” and limit the children’s access to one parent. She believes that
kind of drastic action will “not solve the problem and never be in the
interest of the children.”
According to a tally by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, its
member lawyers have accepted about 150 consultations on parental child
abductions from Japan to other countries between 2000 and 2011.
Both the Japanese Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department
recognize such abduction cases to the United States, but they can only provide
relevant information and introduce lawyers as Tokyo is yet to join the Hague
Convention, according to the Foreign Ministry.


International Parental Abduction Open House


Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State Washington, DC
May 21, 2012

Thank you, Janice. Let me start by saying I’m sorry you’re here. I really truly am. I’m sorry that you’ve had this terrible experience of being separated from your child or your children. One day is too long, years is just unthinkable. There’s really not much that I or any of our officials can say that will fill the anger and frustration, disappointment, the big hole in the center of your hearts, but we wanted you to come today so at least you would know what we are trying to do to help you be reunited.

I have worked on children’s issues my entire adult life and when I got to the State Department, I became much more familiar than I even had as a Senator or First Lady with the growing problem of abducted children. The world in which we live where we are all so much more mobile and there are so many opportunities for people to move quickly and there are so many countries that still yet fail to understand the human costs of shielding abductors; so, I decided that we would redouble, triple our efforts to do everything we possibly could. Assistant Secretary Janice Jacobs was eager to partner with me to try to figure out a path forward.

I appointed the first ever Special Advisor for Children’s Issues Ambassador Susan Jacobs and she has been literally on the road, going from country to country; she just got back from the UK, Tunisia, and Morocco. We have also increased our collaboration with the FBI, Interpol, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and many nongovernmental organizations who are working with us on this critical matter. We have also made it a priority even amongst our senior officials who do not have direct responsibility, so when they are meeting with officials in a country where we know there are abducted children it’s raised at the highest level. I have personally raised it time and time again; I’ve raised specific cases, I know President Obama has as well on occasion. During the last three years the State Department has doubled the number of officers handling abduction cases and I can attest to they come to work every day thinking of what more they can do that day to get your children home.

I know many of you speak with them on a regular basis and we welcome your input, your ideas that perhaps could lead to a successful outcome. We are pursuing every available avenue and we’re also trying to prevent abductions in the first place from occurring or reoccurring through our Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program and we are pushing The Hague Abduction Convention; we’re making slow but steady progress. When we started there was a huge void in Asia, countries had not adopted the convention were moving them forward, were getting closer to full accession in a couple of places.

We believe that The Hague Convention is the best tool for deterring and resolving abductions so we want more and more countries to join. We pursue this separate and apart from every other diplomatic issue that we have with any country, because we think this crosses boundaries this is such a universal matter, and there are cases of abductees in our country and so we make it very clear that we expect reciprocity we expect people to work with us just like we are trying to work with them. So there are a lot of efforts taking place and you’ll hear in more detail today about them and I encourage you to ask every question, make every point that you possibly feel is important to you because we want to be your partners in bringing about the return of your child or children.

I guess the final thing I would say is that I cannot pretend to understand the pain and frustration that you individually suffer it’s just unimaginable to me and I can certainly appreciate the sleepless nights and the internet searches and the conviction that something more could be done and needs to be done right away; if there is, we want to hear, but I can tell you we rack our brains, we do everything we can think of to do. That doesn’t mean there aren’t good and other ideas that doesn’t mean we can’t be more effective because that’s part of the reason we invited you here is to give us your constructive criticism and your best thinking; but I want you to know this Department is one hundred percent committed and the people you’ll meet today and you’ll talk to led by Janice and Susan are absolutely trying in every way they can to reunite you.

So I encourage you to not only get the most out of today, but to stay in touch with us, to keep providing any information, ideas that you have and to know that we’re going to be there with you as your partner in trying to end what has been for each of you a very painful time. So Janice and Susan I guess you’ll come up and tell everybody what’s next on the program and I’ll get a full readout and report and I’ll look forward to continuing to work for you and with you. Thank you all very much.


Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has introduced Senate Resolution 449 calling for the return of abducted US children from all countries.


Divorced parents lack ways to meet kids / Ministry has asked local govts to help out, but so far only Tokyo has taken active steps

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The welfare ministry has asked local governments to encourage meetings between divorced parents and their children by arranging and overseeing such encounters, but little progress has been made.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry started a project this fiscal year to increase opportunities for parents to meet their children after a divorce by encouraging prefectural governments and those of 20 ordinance-designated major cities nationwide to help out.

But among them, only the Tokyo metropolitan government has decided to begin to offer relevant services by the end of this fiscal year. The other 66 local governments will do so later, or have no plans.

Though the local governments admitted the project is necessary, they said the services cannot be provided because they have no officials with know-how about such meeting arrangements.

Thus it is an urgent task to train personnel who can implement the services.

Experts have said that meeting with parents after they get divorced is important for the children’s growth.

But in many cases, meetings by those directly involved are difficult to hold because of emotional conflicts.

According to the Supreme Court, applications for parent-child meetings in 2010 numbered 7,749, an about 3.2-fold jump from 10 years ago.

There have been many cases in which parents who have been refused permission to meet their children have taken matters into their own hands and absconded with them.

Private organizations offering to arrange and oversee such meetings do exist, but there are too few of them to meet nationwide demand. Consequently, only a limited number of people can use the services of such organizations.

A man in his 30s living in Hiroshima Prefecture apart from his wife and child while the couple’s divorce proceedings are under way said, “As my trusting relationship with my wife has been lost, I can’t even directly contact her.”

He said an arbitration service by a nonprofit organization cost 18,000 yen for two hours. He said, “Public assistance is necessary.”

In response to such opinions, starting in this fiscal year, the ministry decided to subsidize part of the costs if local governments of prefectures, major cities and regional core cities implement their own parent-child meeting services.

The public services cover low-income earners with children under 15, and the services are free of charge.

The idea is for officials of the local governments or other public entities to coordinate times and places for the meetings and also accompany the persons involved.

Since autumn last year, the ministry has asked the local governments to proactively implement the services.

However, in a survey conducted in April by The Yomiuri Shimbun on prefectural and major city governments, only the Tokyo metropolitan government replied it planned to introduce the service within this fiscal year.

Forty-six of the local governments, or 69 percent, said they were still considering whether to introduce the service. Twenty, or 30 percent, replied that they had no plans to do so.

On why such a service had not yet been introduced, a question for which multiple responses were permitted, 32 of the governments, or 48 percent, said they do not have officials or outside experts with expertise about such meetings, and 21 of them, or 32 percent, said they could not secure budgets for the purpose.

Most of the surveyed local governments admitted the project is necessary. But the Kochi prefectural government said the project means that public entities will get involved in the participants’ private affairs and thus careful consideration is necessary.

The Fukuoka prefectural government said that local governments alone have a limit on what can be done because difficult adjustments will be necessary in some cases, and it will be necessary to establish a system in which local governments will closely cooperate with lawyers, family courts and other experts.

A ministry official said, “We’ll take the opinions into consideration so that more local governments will implement the project.”

Waseda University Prof. Masayuki Tanamura, an expert on family law, said: “Maintaining interactions between parents and children after a divorce is important for the children’s growth. As there are many parents who say they can allow children to meet divorced spouses with third-party oversight, the project is significant.

“Because this is the first attempt of its kind, the local governments seem to be reluctant due to fear of possible trouble. But it’s useful even just to coordinate meeting schedules or contact parents on behalf of the other spouses. It’s necessary to actively provide the services,” he said.

(May. 10, 2012)