Tragedy of children abducted from dads and taken to Japan


Parents from the US and around the world are firewalled from children held by estranged spouses – and Japanese parents face similar agonies


JANUARY 16, 2019 4:06 PM (UTC+8) 

Keisuke Christian Collins  with his father Randy Collins. The two have not met since 2008, when the boy was abducted by his  mother. Photo: Randy Collins

Keisuke Christian Collins with his father Randy Collins. The two have not met since 2008, when the boy was abducted by his mother. Photo: Randy Collins

Meanwhile, what is glaringly absent from the debate are the voices of affected children.

“In the beginning of my most recent legal battle in Japan, my son, who was 13 at the time, was asked by his attorney, ‘Do you ever think about your father?’” Morehouse said. “As tears rolled down his face he replied, ‘Sometimes I dream of him at night’.”

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Canadian fights to see son in Japan, where legal system leaves many parents behind

January 6, 2019


Canadian fights to see son in Japan, where legal system leaves many parents behind

Courts don’t have ‘ a lot of coercive powers in cases involving children,’ law professor says

Tim Terstege shows copies of family pictures and previous media coverage of his situation. Even with a court order giving him some visitation rights, Japan’s legal system is not structured to enforce it so he can see his son. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

A Canadian man living in Japan who has spent years trying to reconnect with his son after a marriage breakdown says under the current system, his best chance at restoring visitation would be to move — all the way back to Canada.

Tim Terstege, a 44-year-old Barrie, Ont., native, says he last saw his son during a supervised visit three years ago. Today, he doesn’t know where his wife and son are but suspects they are in the city of Yokohama, about 40 kilometres south of Tokyo, where his wife took his son after the couple split.

When parents divorce or separate in Japan, one parent typically gets custody. Visitation can be part of the arrangement, but parents don’t have a lot of recourse if it doesn’t happen as scheduled. They’re generally sent back to the family court system, where cases can take years to be resolved.

Terstege, who is separated but not divorced, says he’s found the system almost impossible to navigate.

“Everybody knows that family is one of the cornerstones of having a good life,” he said. “That’s one of the great things that we have in this time, and to lose that is just pretty much for me everything.”

Terstege says after he and his wife split in 2012, the pair went into a lengthy mediation process that established visitation rights for Terstege. The Canadian says he wasn’t allowed to see his son while the mediation was underway, but in the end, he was granted 24 hours of supervised visitation per year. But by the time the mediation was over, his wife had already taken their son to live in Yokohama, a four-hour train ride from where Terstege lives in Himeji.

Even though a 2015 Yokohama family court mediation order granted him visitation rights, Terstege says he’s only seen his son for a total of an hour-and-a-half since his wife left. He says he’s fed up with a system that ignores cases such as his and thinks Japan essentially “condones the abduction of a child.”

CBC News has made multiple attempts to contact Terstege’s wife’s lawyer to get her side of the story but has not received a response.

The history of divorce and custody cases in Japan is complex, Tokyo lawyer Marie Sasagawa says. After the Second World War, Japanese courts felt it was more important for children to be with their mothers rather than their fathers, who had previously been seen as the unchallenged heads of families.

“Traditionally, Japanese have relatively negative images for divorce, so the relationships of couples who have reached divorce mediation are assumed to be very bad,” Sasagawa said.

That meant joint custody wasn’t generally considered an option. Granting custody to mothers by default has been challenged in court in recent years, but the system still favours the mother in most cases. Recent media reports have suggested the Japanese government is considering changing the law to allow for joint custody, but when or if that will happen is not yet clear.

Hunting for help

Exasperated by the slow process, Terstege reached out to the Canadian government for help. When contacted by CBC News, Global Affairs Canada said it is aware of the case and that “consular officials in Japan are in close contact with the family and are providing consular assistance.”

A 2016 letter from an official with GAC outlines some steps consular officials have taken, but also notes the limits Canadian officials face working in other countries.

Terstege looks at the sign in front of an elementary school in Yokohama. He knows his son went to school here but has no idea if that is still the case. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

“We recognize the need to continue to raise the issue of parental child abduction cases with Japanese authorities in an effort to bring some closure to affected parents like you,” the letter reads.

GAC says it is aware of 24 active consular cases in Japan relating to parental child abductions, noting there could be others who haven’t contacted the department.

Last year at the UN Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review, Canada said what’s going on in Japan is contrary to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and called on the country to establish better enforcement mechanisms to allow both parents access to their child.

A long shot

An official with Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said one possible option for Terstege would be to apply for visitation rights through the Hague.

Japan signed the Hague Abduction Convention in 2014. While the treaty provides a structure for the return of children who are abducted internationally, it doesn’t apply to Terstege’s case because he lost contact with his son within the child’s country of residence.

The treaty, however, allows Terstege to apply for visitation rights if he makes his case from his home country.

The courts can order things, they can declare things, but they really don’t have a lot of coercive powers in cases involving children.– Colin Jones, law professor

If he were in Canada, Terstege could seek assistance from the Japanese government that is not available to him in Japan, including additional mediation sessions and translation services for court petitions. But even if he moved back to Canada, a country he hasn’t lived in for 13 years, and successfully made his case, Terstege doesn’t think he’d make meaningful progress in his bid to actually see his child.

According to Terstege, moving to Canada would be a high-risk decision with the possible reward being a 30 minute video chat every month or two. His estranged wife would still have a say in how that chat unfolded and could ultimately still cut off contact.

Courts lack ‘coercive’ power

Colin Jones, a professor at Kyoto’s Doshisha Law School and the author of a recent book on the Japanese legal system, says the current law only frames visitation as something parents have to think about. It leaves it to them to make arrangements.

“The courts can order things, they can declare things, but they really don’t have a lot of coercive powers in cases involving children,” Jones said.

Parents who ignore an order may be forced to pay a fine, he says, but in most cases, that is as far as punishment goes. Jones says in the case of marriages involving foreigners and Japanese citizens he hears a lot of stories about fathers being the parent left behind.

CBC News has spoken with two other Canadian fathers, as well as an American, who have similar stories as Terstege. They all cite years of frustration, bureaucratic red tape and endless waiting in hope of seeing their children again. Ultimately, they say, it’s the children who end up paying the price for an ineffective and unfair system.

As for Terstege, he says the last few years have taken a toll on his health. He has gained weight and developed a skin condition that his doctor attributed to stress. He says he is considering his next move but that he won’t stop trying to see his son again.

“He is my everything.”

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Tillis reignites fight against international parental child abduction

January 5, 2019

Tillis reignites fight against international parental child abduction

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) this week told the U.S. State Department that its approach to return American children abducted abroad back to the United States isn’t working and more needs to be done.

“As United States senators, we cannot simply sit by and watch the State Department continue to issue ineffective demarches while countries continue to shelter those who abduct our citizen-children. We are committed to ensuring the return of every American child abducted abroad and we will not stop working on their behalf,” Sen. Tillis wrote in a bipartisan Jan. 2 letter sent to State Department Secretary Mike Pompeo. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) also signed the letter.

Each year, several hundred American children are abducted by one parent and taken to a foreign country, according to a statement from Sen. Tillis’ office, which added that such abductions may negatively impact a child’s mental, physical and emotional health and well-being.

Congress in 2014 approved the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, which provided the State Department with tools to compel foreign governments to return abducted American children back home, according to the senator’s statement. Such tools include official public censures and withdrawing development assistance.

Nevertheless, since the legislation became law, the State Department has continued to use demarches — or diplomatic communications — as its sole means of attempting to secure a child’s return, according to the senator’s statement.

“Unfortunately, a comprehensive review of past annual reports shows that the State Department rarely, if ever, goes beyond issuing a demarche,” the senators wrote to Pompeo.

And demarches aren’t effective, according to the senators’ letter, which noted that some countries, like Japan, have received several demarches, “but no additional, formal action was taken to address the problem of parental child abduction to Japan,” which continually harbors abducted American children.

In fact, both a 2018 State Department annual report and action report show that the department still isn’t using all of the tools it has at its disposal to rectify the situation, they pointed out.

“This approach is clearly failing,” the lawmakers wrote. “The number of children kidnapped from and then returned to the U.S. has shown no measurable improvement over the years. Simply issuing demarches, raising cases with foreign government officials and empty threats are not bringing children home.”

The senators urged the Department of State to utilize the tools and resources provided by law to bring home abducted American children.

“We hope you recognize the seriousness of the issue and will make it one of your top priorities,” according to their letter.

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Foreign divorced parents fight in vain for child custody in Japan

October 23, 2018


Foreign divorced parents fight in vain for child custody in Japan


By Karyn Nishimura-Poupee

Emmanuel, Stephane, Henrik and James come from very different backgrounds, but they share the same painful experience of battling Japan’s legal system — in vain — for access to their children after divorce.

Once married to Japanese women, they say they were prevented from contact with their children when their relationships disintegrated, sometimes even after court rulings in their favor.

Tough laws and patriarchal cultural norms that overwhelmingly see mothers granted sole custody after a divorce — 80 percent of the time, according to official figures — mean that fathers rarely see their children again.

Frenchman Emmanuel de Fournas has spent years battling for access to his daughter after his Japanese ex-wife moved back to Japan.

Despite winning a court order in France and filing a case under The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in September 2014, he is still fighting for the right to see his daughter.

“I thought I could benefit from the clear rules of The Hague Convention, but… they aren’t respected in Japan,” he told AFP.

“I’ve lost everything, my savings, my job,” he said tearfully. AFP was not able to contact the mother.

His experience is not unusual.

Henrik Teton from Canada and James Cook from the United States have similar stories to tell.

“What kind of justice system is it if decisions are not implemented? There is room to do more and better,” says Richard Yung, a French senator who came to Japan to plead the cases of several French parents.

Although Japan has signed The Hague Convention designed to prevent a parent from moving a child to another country and blocking access for the former partner, Tokyo demonstrates “a pattern of noncompliance” with the pact, according to the U.S. State Department.

For foreign parents, most often fathers, “this poses major problems, because they have a different mentality and they can’t comprehend losing custody or the right to visit their child,” said Nahoko Amemiya, a lawyer for the Tokyo Public Law office.

Even when foreign parents win their case in a Japanese court, enforcement is patchy.

The State Department’s 2018 report described “limitations” in Japanese law including requirements that “direct enforcement take place in the home and presence of the taking parent, that the child willingly leave with the taking parent, and that the child face no risk of psychological harm.”

With opinion divided on what causes the most trauma to children, the longer a child is separated from one parent, the more reluctant authorities are to intervene, citing a “principle of continuity”.

“It’s not that Japanese courts favor the Japanese parent, it’s that they favor the ‘kidnapper,'” who is living with the child, said John Gomez, founder of the group Kizuna, which advocates for parents separated from their children.

Japan’s government defends its record, saying most of the 81 cases filed under The Hague Convention since 2014 have been settled.

“The majority of the cases in which we intervened have been resolved, but we are aware of six or seven where the return decision could not be implemented,” said Shuji Zushi, a foreign ministry official.

“In these cases, there is a very strong conflict between the two sides and that leads to media attention or political action,” he said.

Stephane Lambert spent years fighting to see his son after his wife and child moved away from their home in Japan — a case not covered by The Hague convention.

“The Japanese police don’t do anything in this kind of case,” he said. “On the basis of a court ruling, I saw my son for a total of 14 hours for the whole of the following year, and not at all after that, because my wife refused the visits. I can’t think about my son anymore. Looking at a photo of him tears me apart. I’ve learned to forget him.”

There are some signs of change: a panel of experts met in June to discuss new ways to enforce court orders, as well as the issue of joint custody and changes to the law.

But regardless of changes to the law, the pain of parental separation is always traumatic — as demonstrated by the case of Joichiro Yamada, who was 10 when his Japanese father and American mother split up.

“My dad told me: You live with me now,” the 20-year-old told AFP, crying at the “horrible shock” of being separated from his mother. “I spent a year with him. I wanted to go back to my mother. A year felt like an eternity.”

© 2018 AFP

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Justice panel drafts rules to facilitate child custody exchanges

September 2, 2018

Justice panel drafts rules to facilitate child custody exchanges


SEP 1, 2018

The Justice Ministry’s legislative council subcommittee on Friday drafted rules to facilitate child custody exchanges between divorced parents, including greater power for enforcement officers.

The panel compiled the draft in response to several cases in which custody exchanges did not succeed due to uncooperative parents who lost guardianship rights.

In 2017, handovers took place in only 35 of the 106 cases where such requests were filed, according to the Supreme Court.

Enforcement officers acting on court orders have little recourse when parents stripped of custody rights refuse to cooperate, sources familiar with the matter said.

After the panel’s rules are submitted to the justice minister, the government plans to present a bill to revise the law to the extraordinary Diet session expected to be convened in the fall.

There is no legal provision to force parents who are divorced or separated to handover children. Children are handed back to enforcement officers in the presence of the parent who lost custody but is living with them.

The rules call for giving more power to enforcement officers and allowing handovers to take place only in the presence of parents with custody rights, on condition sufficient consideration is paid to the sentiment of the children.

To help, the panel also called a legal revision to implement the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which is used to settle cross-border custody disputes arising from breakups of international marriages.

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Parental child abduction places Japan on blacklist

September 2, 2018

Parental child abduction places Japan on blacklist

Different views on family hamper compliance with Hague convention

The U.S. State department noted in a May report that Japan has no effective means of enforcing the Hague Abduction Convention, which leads to a pattern of noncompliance. (Photo by Wataru Ito) 

TOKYO — Japan is facing criticism over noncompliance with an international treaty that sets rules for cross-border parental child abductions as the government is slow to enforce court orders on its own citizens who have taken their children to escape overseas custody battles.

Japan was among the 12 nations singled out in a U.S. report in May for “demonstrating a pattern of noncompliance” with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

As criticism grows amid the rise in international marriages, the country is being forced to rethink its traditional family views that assume that children should stay with their mothers.

Japan, which appeared on the list for the first time, is accused of not having effective measures to enforce court orders demanding that abducting parents return children to the countries where they previously resided.

Despite the “measurable progress” Japan has made on international parental child abduction, “in cases where taking parents refused to comply with court return orders, there were no effective means to enforce the order, resulting in a pattern of noncompliance,” the U.S. State Department report says.

Japan is the only Group of Seven country among the 12, which also includes China, India, Brazil and Argentina.

Since the Hague Abduction Convention came into force in 1983, a total of 98 countries have joined the treaty. It is aimed at facilitating the return of children removed from their “habitual residence” in violation of custody agreements.


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Japanese high court orders mother to return son to father in US

July 18, 2018

Japanese high court orders mother to return son to father in US

NAGOYA (Kyodo) — A high court in central Japan ordered a woman on Tuesday to return her son to his father in the United States, saying her failure to comply with an international convention on child abduction is illegal.

The Nagoya High Court ruled in favor of the father in a dispute between parents, who are both Japanese, over the custody of their American-born son who was brought to Japan by his mother without the father’s consent in 2016.

Presiding Judge Hisashi Toda of the high court said although the son “claims he wants to stay in Japan, he has been living in the country being largely dependent on his mother, who wields illegal psychological influence on him.”

The mother had been ordered by the Tokyo Family Court to return the son to the United States based on the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

But she ignored the order, prompting the father to file a habeas corpus appeal with the high court’s Kanazawa branch.

The high court branch rejected his claim last November, saying, “Custody transfer would go against the son’s will.”

However, the Supreme Court in March overturned the ruling, saying it sees “clear illegality” in the mother’s failure to comply with the order, and sent the case back to the high court.

The Hague treaty sets out rules and procedures for the prompt return to the country of habitual residence of children under 16 taken or retained by one parent as a result of failed marriages, if requested by the other parent. Japan joined the convention in 2014.

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Left-behind dad’s last resort: Impeach Japan’s Supreme Court judges

June 6, 2018


Left-behind dad’s last resort: Impeach Japan’s Supreme Court judges

JUN 3, 2018

James Cook is relentless.

His four children were abducted to Japan from Minnesota by his Japanese wife in 2014. This was after Japan acceded to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, so he might have had hope in the early days.

Using the baroque procedural regime the Diet passed for the sole purpose of implementing the Convention, he sought a return order for his children in the Osaka Family Court. The court granted a return order, but only for the younger two — twins, both 7 at the time — not the older pair, who were 12 (and also twins). In doing so, the judge demonstrated what many of us in this area already know: that family court judges — even those tasked to a Hague court — don’t have a [bad word]-ing clue about children or what is good for them. Basic family law common sense says you don’t separate siblings, particularly when they have already been deprived of one parent.

Maybe the judge was deliberately trying to foist this case on a higher court. In any case, cutting the babies in half didn’t work and both Cook and his estranged wife appealed.

To its credit, the Osaka High Court then issued a return order for all four children (golf clap). Then came the efforts to enforce this order. These can be frustrated by a “taking parent” (as they are known in Hague parlance) simply not cooperating.

This is because the rules around enforcement of such orders are literally designed to ensure they will only work if the taking parent and the children involved play along. Sometimes they do and it is succcessful, but in this case it did not. The only sanctions for not cooperating are financial, and collecting those is similarly problematic. Last month the U.S. State Department cited lack of enforceability as a factor in describing Japan as showing a “pattern of noncompliance” just four years after it signed the convention.

It also probably didn’t help that the process is also allowed to facilitate alienation of the left-behind parent by the taking parent. Cook had virtually no contact with his children during this time, which of course makes it easier to get kids to say they want to stay in Japan to authority figures when necessary.

Cook’s wife appealed the high court ruling to the Supreme Court but lost. From there, you might imagine it would be just a matter of pursuing the enforcement process persistently enough until it paid off — maybe.

One more bite of the apple

However, Japan’s Hague implementing statute includes a procedure for moving for a new hearing, even after appeals are exhausted. This is odd, since the point of the convention is to get children back expeditiously, not give the taking parents as many bites at the apple as possible.

Cook’s wife petitioned the Osaka High Court to reconsider the return order, essentially arguing that he had been rendered insolvent by the long legal struggle she had triggered and was not capable of looking after the children in the U.S. The court bought it and rescinded the return order — conveniently ignoring that (according to his impeachment petition) she also owed him close to $100,000 in fines for noncompliance with earlier enforcement orders. Cook appealed to the Supreme Court and lost, thereby establishing a nice road map for future abductors.

I had thought this meant “game over” for Cook, as it sadly does for so many other parents, Japanese and foreign alike, who lose contact with their children in Japan through the nonfeasance or even abetment of the nation’s courts, Hague Convention notwithstanding. But did I mention Cook is relentless?

In April of this year he filed a petition with the Judge Impeachment Committee of the Diet — against the five Supreme Court judges who upheld the Osaka High Court’s Mulligan.

Windmills may also be involved, but the quixotic quest for justice by people who could do other things with their time is where a lot of important law comes from. The judges will never actually be impeached, for reasons I will get to, but power to Cook for hammering at every crack as hard as he can.

Obscure, barely used process

Judicial impeachment is a U.S.-style separation-of-powers check-and-balance that was incorporated in Japan’s Constitution. Article 64 of said Constitution requires the Diet to set up an impeachment court for the removal of judges, and Article 78 protects judges from removal other than by impeachment or for reasons of mental or physical incapacity.

Impeachment is a two-stage process. First there is a Judge Impeachment Committee comprised of members of both houses of the Diet that reviews petitions for impeachment in nonpublic proceedings. Those it deems worthy are referred to the Judge Impeachment Court, which is also comprised of members of both chambers.

Not a lot of petitions are considered worthy of referral to the court. From 1948 through the end of 2017, the committee had received petitions complaining about 19,814 judges (the actual number of petitions is much, much larger, since the committee statistics treat multiple complaints about a particular judge as a single incident). Of these, most were filed by regular citizens, a much smaller number by lawyers and others. The majority cited “wrong decisions” as the grounds for the petition. Of course, impeaching judges for rendering a decision one party doesn’t like would see all of them out of a job. Unsurprisingly, most petitions don’t go anywhere, but still, in 70 years the commission has referred only nine judges to the court for trial and “suspended” prosecution of seven others.

The summaries of cases of suspended impeachment on the committee’s website are revealing. Examples of judicial behavior deemed egregious but still worthy of mercy include: switching judgments already rendered in order to hide a mistake (1953); failing to shush a group of defendants calling for a moment of silence to commemorate the death of Stalin (1954); appearing to have agreed with police and a mayor, over drinks, to fix a bribery case against the mayor (1954); and churlishly allowing a “private letter” from a senior judge not involved in a constitutional case recommending how the case should be decided (1965 — the senior judge never got even a suspended impeachment, of course).

Supremely suspicious math

So what about the nine cases referred to impeachment? First there are two from 1948, both involving judges caught dealing in the black market. Possibly because everyone needed to do that to survive the deprivation of the postwar period, both were acquitted.

The remaining seven cases all saw the offending judges losing their jobs, for the following transgressions: doling out blank signed warrants; being entertained by a party to a case; pretending to be a top prosecutor in order to call the prime minister and providing a tape of the resulting conversation to the press; accepting gifts from a lawyer; using child prostitutes; stalking a female court employee; and using a cell phone to take pictures up a woman’s skirt on a train. Two other judges were also recently busted for similar behavior, but since they were on secondment to the Ministry of Justice and technically prosecutors at the time (separation of powers!), they could not be impeached but lost their jobs through other procedures.

The Judge Impeachment Act enables the Supreme Court to file a petition for impeachment if it discovers a judge behaving badly. This may seem perfectly reasonable, but the fact that the number of times the Supreme Court has done this (eight) is almost identical to the number of impeachments that have occurred is interesting. The records of impeachment trial available on the impeachment court websites do not show who brought the complaints resulting in referrals or impeachment. Yet it would arguably be bad for the system if it turned out the Supreme Court bringing a complaint determined whether impeachment actually happened.

Unfortunately, it is easy to imagine that being the easy path for the Diet member “judges” on the impeachment court: “Hey, if the Supreme Court wants to impeach him, he must be guilty.” After all, the same logic seems to apply in criminal cases: “Prosecutors wouldn’t be prosecuting him if he wasn’t guilty” — 99.9 percent conviction rate, anyone?

The Supreme Court bureaucracy already has numerous tools for sanctioning naughty judges. These include administrative tools such as formal cautions, postings to isolated branch or family courts, or simply not recommending them for reappointment at the end of the constitutional 10-year term all but those on the Supreme Court serve. Above this there is an entire internal trial system that can be used to discipline misbehaving judges or even remove them if they are found mentally or physically unfit.

That the impeachment court might simply be functioning as a top-level disciplinary tool does not say much for separation of powers. Nor, of course, does the fact that while the impeachment commission members may be Diet members, its administrative functions are performed in part by judges on secondment from the judicial court system.

So anyway, this is why the likelihood of Cook’s petition to impeach five judges at the very top of this system has zero chance of success. But at least it was accepted. Although the Judge Impeachment Act says “any person” can file a petition, the impeachment committee website says one from a foreign national will first be reviewed and, if it has merit, submitted by the committee on its own authority.

Such pointless discrimination clothed in technicality is perhaps just another indicator of why expectations about the Hague Convention should continue to be set low.

Colin P.A. Jones is a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto. The views expressed are those of the author alone.

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Japan on U.S. list of nations noncompliant with Hague Treaty

May 20, 2018

Japan on U.S. list of nations noncompliant with Hague Treaty


Jiji PressWASHINGTON (Jiji Press) — The U.S. State Department on Wednesday listed Japan as one of countries showing a pattern of noncompliance with the so-called Hague Treaty that sets procedures to settle cross-border parental child abduction cases.

Japan joined the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in 2014, and it is the first time since then that the nation has been put on the list in the department’s annual report on the issue of children taken by one parent following the breakup of international marriages.

The listing may help put greater pressure on Japan to comply with the treaty, pundits said.

The 2018 report said Japan has made “measurable progress” on international parental child abduction, noting that the average number of children reported abducted to the country each year has decreased by 44 percent since 2014.

While noting that “a strong and productive relationship” between the Japanese and U.S. governments has facilitated the resolution of abduction cases, the report said that “there were no effective means” to enforce court return orders.

As a result, 22 percent of requests for the return of abducted children under the treaty remained unresolved for more than one year, the report said, adding the enforcement process is “extremely long.”

A total of 12 countries, also including China, India, Brazil and Argentina, were on the 2018 list of countries showing a pattern of noncompliance.

“Now is an opportunity for the government of Japan to demonstrate a true commitment to reforming its inability to enforce its own judicial rulings,” said Jeffery Morehouse, who is seeking to gain custody of his son in Japan.

Paul Toland, who hopes to reunite with his daughter in Japan, said, “Japan will need a complete reform of their family law system and will have to change the way they view the rights of a child to know and love both parents after a divorce if they ever want to be compliant with the Hague [treaty].”

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Lawmaker: U.S. needs to pressure Japan to comply with international child abduction laws

April 12, 2018

Lawmaker: U.S. needs to pressure Japan to comply with international child abduction laws

Japan remains a haven for parental child abductions and a U.S. lawmaker Wednesday urged the Trump administration to do more to pressure the country to fulfill its obligations under international law.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said during congressional testimony that between 300 and 400 children of international marriages have been abducted from the U.S. to Japan since 1994, and that more than 35 are still awaiting reunification with their American parents.

“Every day these children are separated from their U.S. parent, the damage compounds,” Smith said before a Congressional subcommittee on global human rights. “We must do better. We must not leave any child behind.”

Under international pressure, in 2014 Japan signed The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. The treaty requires the government to set up a process to allow foreign parents to appeal for visitation or return of their children. But Japan has been slack in administering the convention, according to Smith.

 “How many of these children have come home four years later?” asked Smith. “How many even have access to their left behind parent now?  Almost zero.”

James Cook, a Minnesota medical device specialist trying to gain custody of his four minor children from his estranged Japanese wife, also testified before Congress.

In July 2014, his Japanese wife Hitomi Arimitsu took their children to Japan to visit her family and refused to return. Cook submitted an application for return under the Hague treaty and the case has made its way through both the Japanese and American court system, but Cook has still not been able to see his children.

A Minnesota court ordered the return of Cook’s children in 2017, but the ruling wasn’t carried out in Japan.

A key issue is that Japan does not have a way of enforcing its Hague commitments. It requires the abducting parent to voluntarily turn the children over and doesn’t allow the use of force in extracting the children. There have been numerous cases of parents simply refusing to comply with the Hague rulings.

Cook’s wife petitioned a Japanese court against the ruling to return the children and it was overturned, a decision which Japan’s Supreme Court upheld in December 2017.

“[My wife] has achieved the perfect consequence-free abduction with the aid of Japan’s systemic non-compliance and [the US Department of State’s] inaction,” Cook said in his testimony.

“After over 2.5 years in this process, I have nothing,” he said. “This process has cost me everything.”

Attention to the issue within Japan has been growing in recent weeks. Last month, all EU Ambassadors to Japan signed an official letter of diplomatic protest to pressure Japan to follow international law and enforce decisions which give an international parent custody or visitation rights.

Also in March, Japan’s Supreme Court ruled that a Japanese mother who is refusing to return her child to their father in the United States is “illegally restraining” the child under the Hague Convention.

It was the first such ruling by a Japanese court.

The court ruling and international pressure are a cause for optimism, according to John Gomez, an American who is chairman of the Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion group in Japan.

Gomez said that barriers remain, including an underlying “continuity principle” in Japanese courts means that the abducted child stays with the abducting parent.

“Until the ‘continuity principle’ by which judges in Japan issue rulings is actually discarded and kidnapped children are returned, we must keep pushing to the utmost for the children to be returned to their loving parents,” said Gomez.

Rep. Smith said in his testimony that the State Department needs to apply more pressure on Japan and other countries that have refused to cooperate in returning abducted children. A 2014 law that Smith sponsored, the Goldman Act, requires the State Department to develop an agreement with Japan about children that had been abducted and to hold Japan accountable.

However, Smith said that no action has been taken against Japan for past or current cases, and the State Department hasn’t even listed Japan as “non-compliant” in its annual report on the Hague convention.

“We hope that the State Department will do its job and implement the Goldman Act,” Smith said. “We hope that the Trump Administration will be different than the last.”

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