Parental abduction victims hold rally to push for joint custody rights



Parents deprived of their children held a rally Friday to push for introducing joint custody to the Japanese legal system and to raise awareness of the plight faced by their offspring when marriages fall apart.

Marching through the Asakusa district in Tokyo’s Taito Ward, about 30 Japanese and foreign participants held up a multilingual banner reading, “Stop Parental Child Abduction!”

Demonstrators also carried signs reading “More visitation time” and “Affection from both parents to children” during the hour-long march on Children’s Day.

It was the first rally organized by Kodomo no Kenri wo Mamoru Bekkyo Oya Forum (Forum for Left-Behind Parents Protecting Children’s Rights) to address the problem of parental child abduction in Japan.

“I want people to know that children have the right to see both of their parents and that parents are responsible for accomplishing that,” said Daisuke Tanaka, the organizer of the event.

Tanaka has been struggling to spend time with his daughter since his wife whisked her away in March 2016. Since then, he has only been allowed to meet her twice a month for three hours at a time, he said.

Other participants told The Japan Times similar stories.

In most cases, a spouse abruptly leaves with the children before filing for divorce or custody rights. Tanaka said child abductions will only continue to fester unless Japan approves the concept of granting joint custody.

“It’s usual for the court to give custody to the parent who lives with the child, and that’s why there are so many cases of abduction. If there’s joint custody, better conversations and negotiations would likely take place,” he said.

Michihiko Sugiyama, a lawyer who participated in the demonstration, said the biggest issue is that Japanese law only allows custody to be awarded to one parent. Once separated from his family, he decided to take part in the rally to share his experience.

The civil code requires parents to decide on visitation and custody arrangements, but research shows people are increasingly forgoing such discussions and heading straight to court mediation. In fiscal 2015, 12,264 cases of mediation involving visitation rights were accepted in family courts nationwide, almost double from 10 years earlier, according to court data.

A group of lawmakers is drafting a bill to help divorced or separated parents see their children more easily, but the issue has yet to gain traction. Some are concerned that parents with a history of domestic violence are too dangerous to be granted visitation rights.

Rally participant Susumu Ishizuka, 48, claimed there must be better awareness of the issue because the current perception is that abandoned parents may have committed domestic abuse.

“People who are against such a bill are linking left-behind parents with domestic violence too easily without sufficient understanding,” said Ishizuka, whose spouse ran off with his 5-year-old child three years ago. Their divorce has not been finalized, but according to the court’s decision, he is only permitted to see his child for two hours every two months.

“I can only meet my child in an appointed place, and I’m not allowed to give them presents. This is far from a parent-child relationship,” he said.


Child’s right to see an absent father: Law to help millions from broken  homes

  • Government to draw up radical changes to the  1989 Children’s Act
  • £10m will be pledged to help couples settle  out of court
  • Figures show one in five children lose  contact with a parent after separation

By James Chapman UPDATED:19:14 EST, 2 February 2012

Millions of children from broken homes are to  be granted new rights to a ‘full and continuing relationship’ with both their  parents.

The move is designed to ensure that the  parent who leaves the family home – most commonly the father – cannot be cut out  of their children’s lives following an acrimonious separation.

Ministers have decided that a change in the  law is vital in the face of heartbreaking evidence that huge numbers of  youngsters whose families split up lose contact with one parent for  ever.

Ministers decided a change in the law is vital to prevent youngsters whose families split up from losing contact with a parentMinisters decided a change in the law is vital to  prevent youngsters whose families split up from losing contact with a parent

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke have been at odds over the proposals
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke have been at odds over the proposals

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Justice Secretary  Kenneth Clarke have been at odds over the proposals

Courts will be put under a duty to ensure  that unless their welfare is threatened by staying in touch with either their  mother or father, children have an ‘equal right to a proper relationship with  both’.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith  and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have dismissed objections from Justice  Secretary Kenneth Clarke and overturned the findings of a major review of family  law which was published last year.

On Monday, the Government will announce a  ministerial working group that will draw up radical changes to the 1989 Children  Act.

The Act states that the child’s needs come  first in law courts, but campaigners for fathers’ rights complain that judges  repeatedly pander to the idea that mothers are ‘more important’ than  fathers.

Unmarried fathers say they are often at a  particular disadvantage, having to apply for a ‘parental responsibility order’  through a court or have one granted through an agreement with the  mother.

‘The Act is going to be rewritten,’ said a  Government source. ‘The welfare of children must of course remain paramount – but alongside that there will be an equal right for a child to have a proper  relationship with both parents.

Children's Minister Tim Loughton said courts are 'rarely the best place' for resolving conflicts between parents about the care of children
Children's Minister Tim Loughton said courts are 'rarely the best place' for resolving conflicts between parents about the care of children

Children’s Minister Tim Loughton (right) said courts are  ‘rarely the best place’ for resolving conflicts between parents about the care  of children

‘There should be no inbuilt legal bias  towards the father or mother, and where there are no welfare issues, we want to  see this principle reinforced through law.

‘This is about children. We want to be clear  that both parents should have a full and continuing role in their children’s  life after a separation.’

Ministers will pledge £10million for  mediation services to encourage more couples to settle their disputes out of  court.

Children’s Minister Tim Loughton told the  Mail: ‘The courts are rarely the best place for resolving private disputes about  the care of children. That’s why we want to see greater use of mediation to  solve parental disputes out of court.

Betrayal of the family

‘It is also right that we continue to  encourage fathers to take responsibility as equal parents and to be fully  involved with their children from the outset.’

The decision overturns the main finding of a  family justice review, conducted for the Ministry of Justice by businessman  David Norgrove, which was published in November.

It concluded that giving fathers shared or  equal time, or even the right to maintain a meaningful relationship  with  their children, ‘would do more harm than good’.

The proposals immediately sparked a Cabinet  revolt, led by Mr Duncan Smith and Mr Clegg, who insisted that the law must be  amended to strengthen fathers’ rights.

Official figures show that one in five  children from broken homes lose touch with their absent parent, usually their  father, within three years and never see them again.

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