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

Japanese mother gains custody of child abducted by Australian father during 2011 tsunami

posted on MARCH 20, 2013


The Family Court of Australia has granted sole custody of a little boy to his Japanese mother, after his Australian father abducted the child during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The court said that the boy was not at an “unacceptable risk” from radiation exposure if brought back o Japan.

The father first met the Japanese woman, a farmer’s daughter, when he was still married to his first wife who was pregnant at that time. After the 2011 disasters took place, when the man and the Japanese woman were already married and had their son, he convinced her to go back to Australia to fix their “trouble marriage”. He soon left her to go back to Japan, and when it looked like he wasn’t coming back, she was forced to hand legal guardianship of the boy to her in-laws while she went back to Japan to sort things out with him. She caught him cheating with a woman who would later become his next fiancee and future third wife (we’re sensing a pattern here). When she called her now ex mother-in-law to get her son back, she was told the boy was being shipped off to New Zealand. A bitter legal battle then ensued, with the mother eventually getting the boy back.

Justice Stuart Fowler decided to award sole parental responsibility to the mother and both were allowed to return to Japan. On the side, the judge hoped that Japan would eventually sign the Hague Abduction Convention. During Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent trip to the United States, he promised President Barack Obama that Japan would finally sign the treaty. Japan is the only Group 8 country that is not a signatory to the convention, which aims to protect and to return abducted children to their usual place of residence in case of failed international marriage.

[ via Courier Mail ]

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 is an excellent report from the Australian perspective:

Japan proves safe haven for abducted kids


Posted September 07, 2011 21:09:00


Japan has not signed the Hague convention so it’s becoming notorious as a safe haven for parents who abduct their own children after a relationship has broken down.


Sarah Dingle


Source: 7.30 | Duration: 8min 45sec


Topics: divorcecrimefamily-lawparentingaustraliajapan




CHRIS UHLMANN, PRESENTER: Japan is gaining an unwanted reputation as a black hole for international child abductions. Alone of all the industrialised nations, it hasn’t signed the Hague convention, which mediates international custody disputes, so it’s becoming notorious as a safe haven for parents who abduct their own children after a relationship has broken down. In Australia, a small but increasingly vocal group of so-called “left-behind parents” are suffering the pain of having their children held in a distant country against their wishes. Sarah Dingle reports.

SARAH DINGLE, REPORTER: After a separation, some parents will go to enormous lengths to secure access to their child.

Matthew Wyman has come to Japan. But the visit has turned ugly.

There are no winners in domestic disputes, but in Matthew Wyman’s case, his desperation runs deep.

He says his two sons were abducted.

MATTHEW WYMAN: Around Christmas 2008 my wife informed me that she wanted to take the kids back to Japan for a holiday, and I was a little bit surprised because I was thinking, “We don’t have that much money to go to Japan.” After a few weeks, I got a phone call from her just literally telling me that, “I’m not coming back.”

SARAH DINGLE: Matthew Wyman realised not only was the marriage over, but his role as a father was in jeopardy. He’s returned to Japan with his own parents to try to spend time with his children.

MATTHEW WYMAN: In Australia, we have dual custody, we have shared custody, but in Japan there’s only – it’s basically possession is nine tenths of the law. Whoever has the children keeps the children.

SARAH DINGLE: In Japan, the issue of international left-behind parents is getting harder to ignore.

At a recent protest in Tokyo, timed to coincide with the visit of US Vice President Joe Biden, parents said they’d had enough.

PROTESTOR: Just gotta bring back our children. We have rights to see our children, parents have rights to see their children.

IAN KENNEDY, FAMILY LAWYER: There is a feeling that Japan is a superior place culturally and – in terms of its social mores and that it’s the ideal place for Japanese children or children perceived to be Japanese to live and be brought up.

SARAH DINGLE: Family lawyer Ian Kennedy has advised on a number of cases of abduction to Japan. Unlike more than 80 nations, Japan still has not signed the Hague convention on international child abduction.

IAN KENNEDY: The principles that apply in most parts of the developed world in particular don’t apply to Japan and there’s not the automatic ability for the Japanese courts to send the children back to their country of habitual residence under the convention.

SARAH DINGLE: Japan’s failure to sign doesn’t just hang over the heads of parents whose children are already gone. This Sydney father of two, who we can’t identify, is trying to stop his Japanese ex-wife taking the children to Japan on holiday.

ANONYMOUS MAN: The main fear is obviously, you know, my kids returning to Japan, to the black hole of Tokyo, and not getting to see them, having no legal rights to see them. Their names’ll probably be changed, they’ll probably move address and I won’t know where they are and it’ll be basically like I’m a dead parent.

SARAH DINGLE: After separation, he realised his true predicament, where any short Japanese holiday could become forever.

ANONYMOUS MAN: The first step was to hide their passports, and I hid the passports and then found out that she had the Japanese passports. So then I put them on airport watch list. The way the law works, the father normally loses out and she’ll probably get a holiday and I’ve gotta pray that she’ll return, but the chances are she won’t.

SARAH DINGLE: He’s now filming a documentary about a group of Australian left-behind parents with children in Japan to publicise their plight.

MATTHEW WYMAN: I do think it’s very important for the Australian public to be aware that Australian kids are being abducted to Japan.

SARAH DINGLE: Matthew Wyman did manage to spend time with his children during this visit. 7.30 contacted his ex-wife, who says they’re still in mediation and she rejects claims of abduction.

A spokesman for the Japanese consulate in Brisbane told 7.30 Japan is aware of Matthew Wyman’s case and has advised him to seek assistance from the Australian embassy in Tokyo.

In May, after years of international pressure, Japan said it would prepare to sign the Hague convention, but since then, there’s been no action.

ROBERT MCCLELLAND, ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It would probably take about 18 months, I suppose, from signature to an inquiry by the treaties committee to the development of legislation. You’d have to assume you’d be looking at least that in Japan if they decide to exceed to the convention.

SARAH DINGLE: How much confidence do you have that Japan will actually sign the Hague Convention.

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: Oh, look, I’m quietly confident that they will sign.

SARAH DINGLE: But in the meantime, the international loophole occupied by Japan is so large that even non-Japanese couples can be caught up in it.

So this is the last time you saw him?

ANONYMOUS WOMAN: Yes, this is the last visit and that’s the day we had to say goodbye.

SARAH DINGLE: This Australian woman’s 10-year-old son has been held in Japan by his Australian father since the boy was three. We can’t show you her face because it could jeopardise when she’s next allowed to see her child.

ANONYMOUS WOMAN: We went over and while we were there, he took the passport and I wasn’t able to return with our son and he’s been holding him there ever since. I contacted the embassy first up -’cause I really didn’t know the complications it would cause. I just assumed we were Australian and they’d be able to help us. But they basically said there’s nothing they can do and I need to get a lawyer in Japan.

SARAH DINGLE: You’re not Japanese and your partner’s not Japanese, and yet your child is being held in Japan against your wishes.

ANONYMOUS WOMAN: It just seems like a safe haven for parents that want to take their child – keep their child from the other parent.

SARAH DINGLE: For this group of left-behind parents, their meetings are their only source of support and comfort. And for most here, there’s little hope in sight. The Attorney-General has revealed that whatever Japan does, their situation will not improve.

If Japan signs the Hague convention, is it your understanding that that will apply retrospectively to existing cases?

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: Unfortunately, no is the answer to that. It – the obligations apply once the convention has been ratified, so it won’t apply retrospectively, as I understand it, to existing cases.

ANONYMOUS WOMAN: It’s just really sad that I’ve missed so much of his life. I have to just accept that I see my son once a year and wait – basically wait until he’s an adult and can make his own choices.

MATTHEW WYMAN: I’ve come to the realisation that they won’t be returned to Australia. I have to accept that. And I have to remind my wife and her mother that please remember that they’re not 100 per cent Japanese; they’re also 50 per cent Australian.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Sarah Dingle with that report.




Below are links to two articles relating to Japanese child abduction just published online in the Modern Tokyo Times:

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.


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

This is good news for all left behind parents with children in Japan.  The U.S. and 7 other countries (Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand and Spain) told Justice Minister Keiko Chiba that Japan should sign an international convention on child abduction and set up ways to allow foreign parents to visit their children.