http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/AJ201311240030

 

Divorced parents take to streets in fight for right to see children

November 24, 2013

By SATOMI SUGIHARA/ Staff Writer

Japanese parents fighting for the right to see their children after divorce are taking to the streets to highlight their plight.

In a recent campaign drive, groups of the parents have gathered in front of station terminals and plazas in 16 cities across Japan, including Tokyo and Nagoya.

Wearing yellow-green T-shirts and ribbons with the words “Stop child abduction,” they hand out balloons and leaflets to passers-by to raise awareness for their call that all parents have the right to see their children.

One of the members is a male company employee in his 40s. The man said it has been two years since he last met his children, now both elementary school pupils.

“Four fathers that I know killed themselves while agonizing about the fact they could not meet their children,” he said.

Since his divorce, he said he has been allowed to meet his children only several times, each time with his ex-wife’s lawyer present. In initial meetings, his children were their usually bubbly selves, but their relationship became gradually awkward and distant since they could meet only on rare occasions.

“I want people to realize that forced separation from children produces tragic consequences,” the man said.

The campaign was organized by the “Oyakonet” Parents And Children’s Network and other mutual assistance and awareness groups of divorced parents who are denied opportunities to see their children.

In June 2012, the groups formed a campaign network “Kimidori (yellow-green) Ribbon Project,” adopting yellow-green as their symbolic colors. They are seeking legislation to give divorced parents joint custody over children and ensure the rights of both parents to see their offspring after divorce.

The Civil Code awards custody over children to only one parent, invariably to the mother, after divorce. This often means parents who do not win custody can no longer see their children when custodial partners refuse.

In fiscal 2012, divorced parents sought judicial arbitration and judgment in 11,459 cases for the right to meet their children. The figure was a three-fold increase over 10 years ago.

A survey by the welfare ministry that covered about 1,300 divorced mothers in fiscal 2011 found that in 51 percent of cases children had not seen their fathers regularly.

Joint custody is recognized in the United States, France and many other countries in the belief that continued exchanges with both parents is essential to healthy growth.

In 2012, the revised Civil Code took effect. It requires parents to decide visits to their children at the time of divorce. But it does not outline how this should be done.

By SATOMI SUGIHARA/ Staff Writer

This is an excellent link for statistics and reports concerning U.S. State Department international child abduction cases, including Japan, for 2010-2012. Also useful information on relevant U.S. laws as well as child abduction related forms and documents.

http://travel.state.gov/abduction/resources/resources_3860.html

http://travel.state.gov/abduction/resources/resources_3860.html

These statistics were provided by John Gomez of Kizuna-CPR (http://kizuna-cpr.org/meeting_summary_november_24_2012):

“4.6 million divorces 1992 – 2010, one child per divorce on average, 58% loss of access according to NHK Close Up Gendai yields an estimated 2.7 million children in Japan who have lost their relationship with their parent during this time, which is a human rights violation. It is about 150,000 children per year.”
That means every hour an additional 17 children living in Japan are being shut out of the life of one of their parents.  Considering the cumulative impact, not just in terms of the number of children involved, but also left-behind parents, family members, and others, this problem is having a devastating effect on a sizeable percentage of the Japanese population.

During the past year the U.S. Embassy in Japan deleted a page from its website that included statistics for the U.S., Canada, France, Australia, and the United Kingdom showing the tremondous growth in the number of international child abduction cases by Japanese spouses since 2000, with the number of cases having quadrupled from 2005 to 2009.

It is not clear why this information is being suppressed, but CRC of Japan has retrieved this information and is reposting it on our blog, at the following link:

Rapid Increase in Child Abductions to Japan

This article from the Japan Times online provides an excellent update regarding the status of the Hague treaty being enacted by Japan. 

The article notes that before the Hague treaty can become effective, it still must be passed by the Diet.  Other related bills need to be drafted and passed by the Diet as well, despite widespread opposition to the treaty.  The treaty will not be retroactive to current cases. 

The article mentions the following statistics that the Japanese Foreign Ministry is officially admitting to as being currently active cases “involving Japanese spouses who took their children to Japan” from the following four countries:

U.S.:     100 cases

U.K.:      38 cases

Canada:  37 cases

France:   30 cases

http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20110607i1.html

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

FYI

THE HAGUE TREATY

Hague treaty seeks to balance rights of kids, parents

By MASAMI ITO

Staff writer

Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s administration said in May it would establish legislation as part of preparations for Japan joining an international convention to prevent cross-border abductions of children by their parents.

Despite international pressure to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Japan had been reluctant amid strong opposition from politicians in the ruling and opposition parties, experts and Japanese mothers who took their children to Japan after failed international marriages.

Japan’s decision was welcomed by the international community, but it is still unclear whether the country will actually be able to sign the treaty anytime soon.

What does the treaty entail?

The Hague treaty aims “to secure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed to or retained in” a member state. The treaty covers children up to age 15.

A typical example of what the treaty tries to address would be a case in which an international marriage has failed and one of the spouses takes offspring out of the country where the child has been living without the consent of the other parent. Such a physical removal may also be in defiance of a court custody decision, such as in cases of divorce when both estranged spouses have certain custody and visitation rights.

If offspring are spirited away from a country, the parent who thus lost custody would file an abduction complaint with the government, or “central authority” that handles such matters.

If both the nation that the offspring are removed from and the one they are taken to are Hague signatories, the designated central authorities of the two nations would seek to ensure the safe return of the child to its “habitual residence.”

But if the nation where offspring are taken to is not a member of the treaty, such as Japan, it is not obliged to hand over the offspring. This can cause bilateral friction on a political level, and also lead to charges of felony abduction being leveled at the parent who took the child or children away.

As of April, the treaty had 85 signatories, including Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, South Africa and Spain. Of the Group of Eight countries, only Japan and Russia have refused to join.

What prompted Japan to move toward joining the Hague treaty?

Although not the first child abduction case involving a Japanese parent, an incident in September 2009 brought Japan’s stance on the issue into the international spotlight.

Christopher Savoie of Tennessee came to Japan to reclaim his children from his Japanese ex-wife, who had brought them to the country without permission.

Savoie was arrested by Japanese police for allegedly attempting to “kidnap” minors, but prosecutors didn’t file criminal charges against him. The case was widely reported by both the foreign and Japanese media and became a bilateral diplomatic headache.

International pressure to sign the Hague treaty has increased since then.

According to the Foreign Ministry, there are 100 cases involving Japanese spouses who took their children to Japan from the U.S., 38 who brought offspring here from the U.K., 37 from Canada and 30 from France. But these are just the numbers reported to the ministry. The actual number is believed to be higher and to stretch back many years.

Why has Japan been reluctant to sign the treaty?

The government feared that Japanese mothers who claimed to have been victims of domestic violence would be forced to return their children to the abusive environments they fled from.

“If Japan were to sign the Hague Convention, (my child would) be forced to live with an abusive father and be exposed to violence again,” said a women who attended a government panel discussion on the Hague treaty in March. “And I will become a (declared) criminal.”

The Hague treaty in principle is geared toward returning offspring to their country of habitual residence.

Cultural and legal differences have also been noted, as many Western countries have a joint-custody system. Japan uses a system that grants sole custody, usually to the mother.

Are there circumstances under which a child is not returned to the country of residence?

-Article 13 also says a state is not obligated to return a child if “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.”

But experts have pointed out that the clause is vague and opponents argue that it does not include abuse against mothers.

According to the data collected by the Hague Conference on Private International Law released in 2008, only 20 percent of all global return applications were either rejected or judicially refused.

How will Japan address the strong concern about cases of domestic violence?

The outline of a draft bill approved by the Cabinet stipulates that the return of the child will be denied if the child has experienced physical or verbal abuse “and is in danger of being subjected to further abuse if returned to its habitual residence.”

In addition, the child will not be returned if the spouse has been the victim of “violence that caused the child to suffer from psychological trauma” and that the parent was in danger of further abuse if he or she returns with the child back to the country the offspring was taken from.

Experts, however, noted that the conditions for rejecting the return are extremely strict.

“The draft lists various conditions, not making it easy for the spouse to claim domestic violence to make sure that the child would not be returned,” attorney Mikiko Otani said. “And the parent would also need to prove that there was domestic violence.”

What are the positive aspects of Japan joining the treaty?

There are Japanese parents whose children have been taken away to another country by their ex-spouses. Japan, not being party to the treaty, has been powerless to rectify these situations.

Otani, an expert on family law, pointed out that there are many cases in which the ex-spouse is from a member country of the convention and that government has the responsibility to deal with these international parental kidnapping cases.

In Japan, the responsibility falls on the individual because Tokyo has not signed the treaty.

Otani also expressed concern that if Japan continues to delay joining the treaty, other member states will take harsher measures.

In the U.S., for example, several Japanese mothers are on the FBI website, wanted for “parental kidnapping.”

“I think it comes down to the fact that the Hague treaty is the active international rule,” Otani said. “If Japan refuses to join the convention, all the (member states) can do is make sure that the children cannot be taken out of their countries. They already have a tendency to do so, but I think they will make it even harder for the children to leave.”

In many cases, court orders are issued ordering the child not to leave the country.

Does this mean that Japan will immediately conclude the convention?

No. Even if the Japan signs the treaty, it needs Diet ratification. Related bills must also be drafted and passed.

According to the draft legislation, the “central authority” will be the Foreign Ministry, which will be in charge of overseeing cases related to the Hague treaty, including locating abducted children, taking measures to prevent child abuse and advising parents on the voluntary return of children.

But there is still strong domestic opposition among the public, as well as in both the ruling and opposition camps, and it is unclear how soon Japan will be able to conclude the treaty and enact related domestic laws.

If Japan joins the treaty, would it apply to current cases?

No. The treaty will only apply to cases that are brought against Japan after it signs the Hague Convention. Experts say it will be up to the government to decide how to handle the cases that occurred before Japan signs the treaty.

Otani pointed out that there were cases in which the mothers eventually want their children to make the most of their dual nationality, such as visiting the country they were taken away from, but can’t for various reasons, including the mother’s fear of being arrested if she were to accompany the offspring to a nation where she is listed as a fugitive.

“It may be impossible to resolve all cases or return the children, but there may be some fathers who would just be happy to be able to have access to their children,” Otani said. “The benefits of these children are being robbed . . . and I think that it is necessary to establish a (bilateral) scheme for those who want to resolve their case so that the children” can visit both countries freely.

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays. Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to hodobu@japantimes.co.jp

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

 

On its website, the U.S. Embassy in Japan has compiled statistics for the U.S., Canada, France, Australia, and the United Kingdom showing the tremondous growth in the number of international child abduction cases by Japanese spouses since 2000, with the number of cases having quadrupled from 2005 to 2009.  The chart shows that there are about 400 reported cases just for these 5 nations since 2005, and many of these cases involve more than just one child.

http://tokyo.usembassy.gov/e/p/tp-20100122-85.html

 

NOTE:  The U.S. Embassy in Japan has deleted the above link.  CRC of Japan has retrieved this page and reposted it at the following link:

 

Rapid Increase in Child Abductions to Japan

CRC of Japan estimates cumulative cases of internationally abducted children in Japan to number in the thousands–

This is a very rough approach, but we think it’s pretty close.

How we came up with our numbers when we first calculated them a few years ago:

1.  According to a widely cited 1990 U.S. Department of Justice study called “National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children,” 354,100 abductions per year are committed by family members in the U.S. Based on the 1990 U.S. population of 248,709,873, this works out to a U.S. per capita family abduction rate of 0.0014237.

2.  Assuming that this per capita family abduction rate is about the same for the Japanese population, based on the July 2006 estimated population of 127,463,611, the total number of estimated abductions per year in Japan by family members works out to 181,470.  Even if we are off by 20% or more in making this assumption, we will make a conservative adjustment further below that more than makes up for any possible error in this step.

3.  Looking at recent periods, such as for example 2000-2003, 4.8% of all Japanese marriages involved a foreigner marrying a Japanese. Assuming the frequency of family abductions is about the same for Japanese married to Japanese as it is for Japanese married to foreigners, we can apply this 4.8% percentage to the estimated 181,470 family abductions in 2006, and can conclude that about 8,710 of the estimated family abductions in Japan involve an international marriage between a Japanese and a foreigner.

4.  Although most of the international child abductions involving children in Japan seem to be committed by the Japanese parent, for the sake of argument  we will assume that family abductions in Japan are done equally frequently by the foreign spouse as by the Japanese spouse.  This would mean that half of the 8,710 estimated international marriage family abduction cases, or approximately 4,305 cases, involve children of international marriages abducted to or retained in Japan by the Japanese spouse.

5.  With U.S. citizens accounting for about 4.5% of the international couples, 194 of the estimated 4,305 cases would involve U.S. children being abducted to or retained in Japan.

6.  To provide for a very conservative margin of error, and adjust for the assumptions in step 2 above and other assumptions we have made, we will reduce our estimates from above by 50%.  Even so, this would mean that there are more than 2,000 international cases PER YEAR of children of international marriages being abducted to or retained in Japan, with almost 100 cases PER YEAR involving U.S. children.

Cummulatively, adding together all the cases for the past 5 or more years, the total easily could be more than 10,000 international cases and over 500 cases involving U.S. children.

Most cases, especially those where the foreign parent resides in Japan, never get reported to the U.S. State Department or other agencies in Japan or other countries.  These numbers are very hard to determine without using an estimation process as above since  there are no missing children organizations or official records about abducted/missing children in Japan.

At a town hall meeting about international parental child abduction to Japan held on September 17 in Washington, D.C., Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice L. Jacobs announced the latest statistics for the number of cases involving child abductions to Japan.  From 1994 to June 30, 2010 214 cases involving 300 children were opened with the U.S. State Department.  Currently there are 95 active cases involving 134 children.  These statistics are higher than statistics previously released by the State Department.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Dr. Kurt M. Campbell also announced at the meeting that the international child abduction issue would be brought up by President Obama at a scheduled bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan in New York on September 23, when President Obama will be speaking before the United Nations General Assembly.

The town hall meeting was the fourth such meeting held in Washington within the last 12 months and was attended by approximately two dozen left-behind parents with active child abduction cases involving children being held in Japan.