Children’s Rights Council of Japan and the case of Walter Benda, co-founder of CRC of Japan, are both discussed in this Christian Science Monitor article.
Japan no longer sanctions child abduction in mixed-marriage cases
Tokyo lawmakers unanimously approve Hague convention to settle child custody in broken international marriages. But Japanese domestic laws and legal loopholes still need to change, say scholars.
By Justin McCurry, Correspondent / May 22, 2013
Walter Benda had no inkling of what was to happen after he and his Japanese wife and their two small daughters moved from Minnesota to Tokyo in 1992.
Three years later, Mr. Benda returned home from his job at a trading company one evening to find his wife and children gone. For the next three-and-a half-years he had no idea of their whereabouts. He did not know it then, but his wife had taken their daughters, then aged 6 and 4, effectively ending their 13-year-marriage and Benda’s relationship with his children.
Benda is one of hundreds of foreign spouses of Japanese citizens who — after a marriage breaks down — are denied all access to their children.
But now after years of pressure from “left-behind” parents, human rights activists, and several governments, Japan’s parliament on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill paving the way to join the 1980 Hague convention on international child abductions. That brings Japan in line with 89 other signatories. With the unanimous agreement, Japan is expected to become a signatory by the end of March 2014.
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Under the treaty, children under 16 who are taken away by one parent after a failed marriage must be returned to the country in which they normally live, if action is requested by the other parent. It also protects the access rights of both parents.
“I have never had a scheduled face-to-face meeting with my daughters since they were abducted and have not been able to communicate with them by phone or online,” Benda told the Monitor. “I have mailed them hundreds of letters, cards, and gifts over the years, but have never received a personal reply.”
During his search for his family, Benda received no help from the Japanese police and authorities. He took his case all the way to the Japanese Supreme Court, without success. Unable to find a new sponsor for his visa, he was forced to return empty-handed to the US, where a federal grand jury indicted his wife, in absentia, on charges of international parental abduction.
“Even though US law enforcement authorities have sought the return of my ex-wife to face the international parental kidnapping charge in the US, the Japanese police authorities refuse to cooperate because Japan does not consider parental kidnapping a crime covered under the extradition treaty it has with the US,” he said.
But it may soon.
Good news, but loopholes remain
Legal experts welcomed Wednesday’s decision, but said the treaty would have little effect unless it is accompanied by changes in Japan’s domestic law. Courts in Japan routinely favor the Japanese parent – usually the mother – in custody cases involving international marriages.
“I am concerned that Japan won’t implement the convention at face value,” says Takao Tanase, a law professor at Chuo University in Tokyo. Mr. Tanase points to numerous loopholes in Japanese family law that could be cited to prevent the return of children to their original country of residence, including the suspicion – without any burden of proof – that the child could be exposed to harm or that the mother’s welfare could be affected.
“Japanese law and the convention contradict each other, and this can be used as an excuse not to return the child,” he said. “The tradition of awarding sole custody was introduced 60 years ago, but Japanese society has changed dramatically since then.”
Yuichi Mayama, an upper house politician who has pushed for the legal change, was more optimistic. “This is a meaningful development,” he said. “I’m delighted that Japan is finally catching up with the rest of the world.”
But he added: “The tradition in Japan is to award sole custody, and that’s supported by the law. Unless we change that we won’t be able to use the convention properly. We take a very traditional view of the family in Japan, and changing that is going to take time.”
The number of foreign parents who are denied access to their children in Japan has increased along with a rise in the number of international marriages to around 40,000, according to Mr. Mayama. Inevitably, the trend has resulted in more divorces: Almost 18,000 Japanese and international couples divorced in 2011, according to government statistics.
The US, which is pursuing at least 100 recognized abduction cases involving its nationals, has worked alongside Canada and the UK in pressuring Japan, the only nonsignatory among the G8 nations, to fall into line. In February prime minister Shinzo Abe told President Obama that Japan was moving toward ratification during their summit in Washington.
Tokyo previously refused to sign the treaty, citing the need to protect Japanese mothers from abusive foreign husbands. Japan’s resistance earned it a reputation as a haven for child abductors, and in 2010 prompted the US House of Representatives to pass a nonbinding resolution condemning the retention of children in Japan “in violation of their human rights and United States and international law.”
The momentum for change grew in 2009 when Christopher Savoie, a US citizen, was arrested in Japan after trying to take back his children as they walked to school. Although Mr. Savoie had been granted full custody by a US court, his ex-wife took their children from their home in Tennessee back to her native Japan.
Savoie’s case and others have been taken up by the Children’s Rights Council Japan [www.crcjapan.com], a nonprofit organization launched in 1996 to offer support and resources to affected parents. The council has submitted a proposal to the Japan’s justice ministry and the US State Department calling for a humanitarian access program that would grant left-behind parents regular and meaningful contact with their children.
In 1998, a private investigator located Benda’s daughters, who are now in their 20s. He has seen them only twice since they were taken and for only brief periods on the street. “But they have always resisted my efforts to communicate and I have been unable to speak with them,” he said.
He agrees with skeptics that Japan’s belated about-turn will do little to help him and countless other foreign parents. “While it does reflect the fact that the Japanese government is finally recognizing that there is a problem, I am doubtful it will have any immediate, noticeable effect on cases such as mine,” he said.
“International pressure must continue until all loving parents who are separated from their children in Japan are able to have direct and meaningful access to them.”
May 22, 2013
JAPAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CHILD ABDUCTION TREATY
Japan is the only member of the Group of Eight major industrialised nations that has not ratified the 1980 Hague Convention, which requires nations to return snatched children to the countries where they usually reside.
Hundreds of parents, mostly men from North America, Europe and elsewhere have been left without any recourse after their estranged partners took their half-Japanese children back to the country.
Unlike Western nations, Japan does not recognise joint custody and courts almost always order that children of divorcees live with their mothers.
US lawmakers have long demanded Japan fall into line on the issue, one of the few open disputes between the close allies. In February, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised action after White House talks with US President Barack Obama.
The upper house of parliament on Wednesday voted unanimously for Japan to join the treaty, following a similar move by the more powerful lower house last month.
But Japan must still clear various governmental and legislative hurdles before the Hague Convention can take full effect. The government has said it aims for final ratification by the end of this fiscal year — March 2014.
A central authority will be set up in the foreign ministry to take charge of locating children who have been removed by one parent following the collapse of an international marriage, and to encourage parents to settle disputes voluntarily.
If consultations fail, family courts in Tokyo and Osaka will issue rulings.
The newly enacted law will, however, allow a parent to refuse to return a child if abuse or domestic violence is feared, a provision campaigners say is vital, but which some say risks being exploited.
The law will allow for parents who separated before its enactment to apply to get a child returned, but contains a provision stating that the application can be refused if a child has been resident in the country for a year or more and is happily settled.
Detractors say the lumbering pace of Japan’s justice system, where cases can take months or even years to be heard, will reduce the chance of a foreign parent making a successful applicant to have their child returned.
Under growing pressure from Washington and other Western capitals, Japan has repeatedly pledged to sign the treaty into domestic law, but it has until now never made it through parliament.
Domestic critics of the convention have previously argued that the country needs to protect its women from potentially abusive men, but supporters say this is overblown and point to a cultural reluctance over things foreign.
Japanese courts virtually never grant custody to foreign parents in a divorce.
Rep. Chris Smith pushes for federal action on NJ child abductions
May 10, 2013
David Goldman, Monmouth County, is one of the only known left-behind parents to retrieve his child from Brazil.
Malia Rulon Herman
WASHINGTON — Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey continued to hammer the U.S. government Thursday over a string of international child abduction cases that remain unresolved, including several from his home state.
“The status quo is simply not adequate,” Smith said at a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on global human rights and international organizations, which he chairs.
Bindu Philips of Plainsboro, N.J., told committee members that while on a family trip to India in December 2008, her ex-husband, Sunil Jacob, left her at a cousin’s home and began a new life with their children — removing all contact.
“Every day I awaken to the heart-wrenching reality that I am separated from the children that I love more than anything in the world,” she said. “I implore you, members of Congress, to help me in my quest to be reunited with my children.”
Philips has an active case with the State Department, has been in touch with the Indian consulates in New York and Washington, and was awarded full custody of both boys by the family division of New Jersey’s Superior Court.
Michael Elias, a former Marine Corps sergeant and now a Bergen County sheriff’s officer, experienced a similar ordeal. It also started in December 2008, when his ex-wife, Mayumi Nakamura, took their two children to Japan and cut off all contact.
He was awarded full custody of the children in Bergen County Superior Court, and the children were ordered to be returned under the Hague Convention, which outlines policies and practices in international abduction cases.
Neither Japan nor India are signatories of the convention.
“As long as your government allows Japan to continue to disregard our children, the number of parental kidnappings will continue to rise,” Elias told lawmakers.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Jacobs, the State Department’s special advisor for children’s issues, told the committee that through the Hague Convention, hundreds of children are returned to the United States each year, many of them from Mexico.
She said reaching out to countries that have not yet joined the convention is one of the department’s top priorities and an issue that Secretary of State John Kerry raised with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida during a visit last month.
Smith said the U.S. government should do more. On Thursday, he re-introduced the Sean and David Goldman Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, a bill named for a Tinton Falls, N.J., man who fought for five years to win the return of his son from Brazil.
The bill would empower the president and State Department with 18 actions and penalties to secure the return of abducted American children.
Goldman, who also testified at Thursday’s hearing, said a “complete culture change” is needed at the State Department.
“Nothing short of being extremely bold and principled is going to do much to change the status quo,” he said.
Hearing: Resolving International Parental Child Abductions to Non-Hague Convention Countries
Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations (Committee on Foreign Affairs)
Thursday, May 9, 2013 (10:00 AM)
Washington, D.C. 20515-6128
Ms. Patricia Apy
Attorney, Paras, Apy & Reiss, P.C.
Mr. Colin Bower
Father of children abducted to Egypt
Mr. Michael Elias
Father of children abducted to Japan
Mr. David Goldman
Father of child abducted to Brazil
The Honorable Suscan Jacobs
Special Advisor for Children’s Issues, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State
Ms. Bindu Philips
Mother of children abducted to India
First Published: May 2, 2013 at 10:02 AM
May 2, 2013
Notice: A Pilot Project towards concluding the Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction
April 30, 2013
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will offer a telephone information service concerning cases of international parental child removal and retention on a trial basis.
The Government of Japan is now making preparations towards concluding the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (hereinafter “Hague Convention”), including the planning of a Central Authority to be established within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for its part, has decided to launch a pilot project designed to offer a telephone information service by a lawyer on the Japanese legal framework for parties to such cases residing in and outside Japan, as it anticipates that the Central Authority, once established, will receive phone calls seeking consultation. The idea is to put the experience gained through this project to good use in facilitating the implementation of the Hague Convention after the launch of the Central Authority.
For parties to a case of international parental child removal and retention who reside outside Japan
This pilot project will provide an information service by a Japanese lawyer on the Japanese legal system for parents whose child has been removed to Japan and who reside outside Japan, and are seeking a solution to the issue but unfamiliar with the Japanese legal framework. This service will be available in English or Japanese via Skype or telephone, free of charge.
1. Who is eligible to use this service?
Parents residing outside Japan whose child has been removed to Japan.
(Only a parent of the removed child can apply.
A grandfather, grandmother or other close relative of the child, as well as friends and acquaintances of the parent, are not eligible.)
2. When is this service available?
9:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. (Japan Standard Time), from Monday through Friday (a day of the week), from May 1st, 2013 through March 31st, 2014 (Japanese Standard Time)
Please note that this service might be terminated earlier than the date specified above, depending on the number of applicants and the launch of the Central Authority. Any changes will be posted at this page.
3. How many times and how long may I use this service?
One session only per applicant; up to one hour
4. Do you speak English?
The lawyer speaks English and Japanese.
5. What information can I get from this service?
Information on Japanese family law, family court proceedings and other aspects of the Japanese legal framework. (Please note that in this service the lawyer in charge will not offer professional consultation to solve an individual case.)
6. I’d like to use this service. What should I do?
Step 1: To arrange an information session with a Japanese lawyer in charge, send an email to the address below that includes the following information. The lawyer will report back to you regarding the time and date of the session via email.
Note: The email address below is not hyperlinked. Please type this email address.
Time and date (based on Japan Standard Time) you prefer: Provide three or more options in order of preference in the period described in Section 2 above. Please consider the time difference between your location and Japan.
The lawyer in charge might be unavailable at your requested time, so please give a number of preferred day and time slots.
i) 1st June, from 9 am (JST)
ii) 5th June, from 11 am (JST)
iii) 10th June, from 3 pm (JST)…
The specific information you want to know
Your contact phone number (including country code) or Skype name
Your country/region (if your country has multiple time zones, please also provide your city name.)
Step 2: The lawyer will call you on the date specified.
Charges for the international call to you by the lawyer will be paid by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. However, you will need to pay any incoming call charges incurred on a cellphone roaming service or the like if you use such a service. If you use Skype, you will need to pay the charges for internet access for that purpose.
The lawyer will not give you professional consultation on your specific case. This pilot project is designed to allow you, who reside outside Japan, to gain a deeper understanding as to what scheme currently available in Japan might be of help to you.
The emails to be sent under Section 6 Step 1 above will be only for the purpose of arranging a telephone information session, not for seeking or giving professional consultation on your specific case.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the lawyer will treat the information you give with complete confidentiality.
Foreign Policy Bureau