News reports like this are extremely worrisome to U.S. left-behind parents as well as parents in other countries with abducted dual citizen children being held in Japan.  A number of these children are believed to be living in or very near the Fukushima radiation zone.  The best interests of the child need to be considered by both the Japanese and foreign governments in cases such as this where the child’s future health is at risk.  Particularly troubling is the finding that “abnormal” traits doubled among the second generation born, with radiation damage intensifying in future generations.

http://news.yahoo.com/japan-nuclear-accident-abnormalities-butterflies-traced-fukushima-plant-153553981–abc-news-topstories.html

Japan Nuclear Accident: ‘Abnormalities’ in Butterflies Traced to Fukushima Plant

By Akiko Fujita | ABC News – Mon, Aug 13, 2012

Japanese scientists say “abnormalities” detected in the country’s butterflies may be a result of radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year. In a study published in Scientific Reports, an online journal, researchers say “artificial radionuclides” from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant caused “physiological and genetic damage” to pale grass blue butterflies.

Scientists first began tracking common butterflies around the nuclear plant two months after the disaster. They collected 121 insects, and found 12 percent of them had unusually small wings. That number jumped more than 5 percent when butterflies collected from the plant site had offspring of their own.

In another group of butterflies collected six months after the disaster, scientists found 28 percent had “abnormal” traits. That number nearly doubled among the second generation born.

“At the time of the accident, the populations of this species were overwintering as larvae and were externally exposed to artificial radiation,” the researchers wrote in their study. “It is possible that they ate contaminated leaves during the spring and were thus also exposed to internal radiation.”

It has been 17 months after the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, and its effects on human health have largely been considered minimal, with no radiation-related deaths or illnesses reported so far. But traces of radioactive cesium exceeding government safety levels have been detected in seafood off the Fukushima coast, limiting the catch for fisherman there.

Tiny amounts of cesium of 137 and cesium 134 were detected in more than a dozen bluefin tuna caught near San Diego in August last year. The levels were 10 times higher than tuna found in previous years, but well below those the Japanese and US governments considered harmful to human health.

http://socialdocumentary.net/exhibit/Clive_France/1584

 

Photographer’s Statement:

I have been documenting the plight of Japan’s so-called Left-Behind Parents, of which there are believed to be over 2 million, since 2011. A recent exhibition of these images at Tokyo’s Foreign Correspondents Club, Japan drew wide media interest in a problem that is generally overlooked in Japan, where it is seen as something that only happens in international marriages or to “other people.” On the contrary, it is an issue that affects families throughout the country, as well as overseas.

This incredible documentary has been/is being internationally censured but seems to be available through these links:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3g3g_0r01c

http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XNDA2MzE2Nzcy.html

 

For those who are unable to view the documentary online, here is the transcript:

Transcript

WILLACY: The cherry blossoms are out for all to see. It’s a spectacular sight that lifts the spirits of Japanese and travellers lucky enough to be here. It’s difficult to imagine a time when Japan was completely isolated from the outside world, but under Sakoku from the 17th to the 19th centuries, no foreigner could enter nor any Japanese leave the locked country on the penalty of death. Eventually Japan opened up and foreigners returned but many of the old insular ways continue to this day.

Just ask parents trapped in the anguish of failed marriage, locked out from the lives of their children and with nowhere to turn.

ALEX KAHNEY: “So I thought my wife can’t kidnap my kids. I’ll just go to the police. The first two or three months I was shattered. The first six months I was numb”.

REGAN: “And when I got home I kind of just fell apart and my true feelings of you know not being able to trust him or being really angry with him came out”.

CRAIG MORREY: “Basically it all came down to I don’t want to be with you, I don’t want to be with you, I’m leaving. I didn’t even know my daughter was born”.

WILLACY: Tonight we reveal how Japan has long condoned one parent snatching children away from the other, not just from within its own jurisdiction but from around the world. This is the story of how Japan became a haven for parents abducting their own children and of the paralysing heartbreak and helplessness of those parents left behind.

Under Japanese law there’s no such thing as dual custody. The courts here almost universally award all legal rights over a child to the one parent – meaning the other parent is frozen out of their child’s life. Often the only contact the forgotten parent is allowed is a few photographs of their child every year.

Craig Morrey isn’t just a father. He’s a 24 hour a day carer for his profoundly disabled son Spencer. After terrible complications during birth, Spencer was left with catastrophic brain damage and severe cerebral palsy.

CRAIG MORREY: “He can’t swallow, he can’t move on his own. He obviously can’t sit up. He can’t close his eyes and obviously kids can be very, very resilient but in Spencer’s case he was essentially born dead”.

WILLACY: The Chicago native and reproductive biologist came to Japan 15 years ago to further his research, but he quickly fell for and married a Brazilian-born Japanese woman. While they were both struggling to care for their first born son, Craig Morrey’s wife discovered she was pregnant with their second child and it proved too much for her.

CRAIG MORREY: “So she started to say she wanted a divorce, she wanted to leave. She talked about wanting to you know not necessarily commit suicide but to die”.

WILLACY: Five months into her pregnancy, his wife disappeared leaving Craig Morrey to care for Spencer on his own and shut out of the birth of his second child.

CRAIG MORREY: “I didn’t even know my daughter was born. I found out that she was in the hospital and I went to try to see her with Spencer and she had called security and I was denied to see my daughter”.

WILLACY: “How old was she when you finally got to see her?”

CRAIG MORREY: “Six and a half months in a courtroom for 15 minutes with her mother wailing in the background. Not the ideal circumstances to meet your daughter”.

WILLACY: Craig Morrey has a night job. He’s unable to afford specialist care so he takes his son along to the bar he runs in the town of Okazaki. In between pulling beers, he has to clear Spencer’s airways to ensure he doesn’t suffocate. Despite his wife abandoning their son, the court awarded her guardianship of their baby daughter Amelia and now, still fighting that ruling, Craig Morrey has been placed in an extraordinary dilemma by the court – if he takes his son to the United States where he can get better care for him, he’s been told he’ll lose the right to see his daughter.

CRAIG MORREY: “I’m sort of put in the situation where I either have to abandon my daughter and leave her with someone who I don’t think is a particularly good role model at the moment or go back and get better care for Spencer which is just, for a lack of a better word idiotic”.

WILLACY: But this isn’t just a system layered with rulings many parents regard as idiotic – it’s a system in which court rulings are often flouted or ignored by parents who abduct their children. Englishman Alex Kahney is leaving Japan after 19 years. He’s lost his job, he’s broke and so he can’t afford to stay and that means he’s leaving behind everything he cares about – his two daughters.

ALEX KAHNEY: “They just love their daddy. They were real daddy’s girls. Every time we got in the car there’d be a fight who could sit next to daddy in the front”.

WILLACY: Two years ago with his marriage to his Japanese wife falling apart, Alex Kahney returned home from work one day to an empty house and an empty bank account.

ALEX KAHNEY: “I thought uh oh, something’s wrong here. I went to the police. I said to the police, ‘my wife’s taken my kids out of the house without my permission and we’re not divorced. There’s no agreement in place, there’s no court order and she’s refusing to let me speak to the children’. The policemen laughed. They both had a good chuckle about it”.

WILLACY: Alex Kahney says his marriage broke down after his wife reneged on an agreement to raise their children in England for a while. We tried to get his estranged wife’s side of the story.

YUMI: “We’ve heard your husband’s side of the story. Now we’d like to hear both sides of the story”.

WILLACY: But like other Japanese spouses we contacted, she refused to be part of this programme. Despite a court order giving Alex Kahney monthly access, his wife hasn’t allowed him to see his children since she snatched them two years ago. So his frustration has turned to desperation. It’s a harrowing scene as the father tries every now and then to connect with his daughters as they leave school. [Alex walking alongside them outside school trying to talk to his daughters] His daughters don’t want to listen. They run from their father without saying a word.

ALEX KAHNEY: “They just ignore me. They just ignore me. A child ignoring her own father, you know I’ve been disowned. I’m nothing. I might as well be a ghost”.

COLIN JONES: “When we talk about family law in Japan today, it’s a slight exaggeration but there really isn’t any. There is no body of law called family law”.

WILLACY: At this protest in one of Tokyo’s busiest districts, so-called left behind parents – both Japanese and foreign – have joined forces. They’re a very vocal part of an effort to stop Japan remaining a black hole for international and domestic child abduction. The country’s been under pressure from foreign governments and parents to sign the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Convention sets out the rules for the prompt return of kids abducted across international borders by one of their parents. Every top industrialised country in the world – except Japan – has signed it. Japan says it plans to but nobody here is holding their breath and the courts have been very reluctant to break the mould. According to local media reports, there’s not been one recorded case of a Japanese judge ordering the repatriation of an abducted child.

COLIN JONES: “Who wants to be the first judge to order a crying child to be taken away from a crying Japanese mother and given back and sent overseas? Nobody, there’s nobody in the system I think who benefits from being the guy who ordered the crying child to be taken away”.

(DISTRESSED WOMAN AT MICROPHONE BREAKS DOWN)

WILLACY: It’s not the sort of meeting they’re used to inside Japan’s parliament complex.

WOMAN: “I just want to spend a normal time with my children every day. And I don’t understand why this has happened”.

WILLACY: These parents of abducted children and a handful of Japanese MPs have come today to learn more about the Hague Convention. The man they’ve come to listen to is Colin Jones, a professor of law and Hague specialist from Kyoto’s Doshisha University – but his message isn’t encouraging.

PROFESSOR COLIN JONES: “Alienations will not end just with this. I don’t think there will be much improvement in international abductions”.

WILLACY: Professor Jones believes Japan could treat the Hague Convention very much like it does the international treaty on whaling – in other words, by using loopholes to largely ignore it and by putting national interest ahead of global cooperation.

PROFESSOR COLIN JONES: “You see this attitude up through the leadership levels in some situations, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the same thing happened with the Hague Convention”.

WILLACY: American mum, Regan Haight, didn’t take long to realise she could never rely on the Japanese legal system to get her children back. Her Japanese husband abducted their son and daughter from their home in Utah and took them to Japan where the police made it very clear to Regan Haight that they regarded this as a family matter.

POLICE: “I’m sorry, we don’t consider your case an abduction or even a crime”.

WILLACY: With no help from the US Government or Japanese authorities, Regan Haight decided to take matters into her own hands. It was a radical and very risky course of action.

REGAN HAIGHT: “I was told that I could do a snatch and grab kind of thing that was ….could be traumatic and most likely unsuccessful …and get myself into trouble”.

WILLACY: Regan Haight turned to this man, former British military special forces operative Steve Johnson is known in the business as a child recovery specialist.

STEVE JOHNSON: “Japan has a reputation around the world as being difficult, some say impossible to recover children from. I am robust, I’m head on, I’m in the face of anyone I’m going up against and I don’t leave until I get the job done”.

REGAN HAIGHT: “It gave me confidence and you know what I needed was support from somebody whose main goal was to help me”.

WILLACY: Steve Johnson soon joined Regan Haight in Japan where the case took another dramatic twist. Regan Haight’s husband Shuta revealed the children had been abducted a second time – this time by their Japanese grandmother who was effectively holding them for ransom.

REGAN HAIGHT: “At one point she told me that I had to sign over, sign my name off the house and that I could see the kids. You know so we did that. Then she wouldn’t let me see the kids after that. You know we had to pay her fifty thousand dollars, then we could see the kids and you know I didn’t…. I didn’t have that money”.

WILLACY: After a period of subtle negotiation, Steve Johnson decided to apply the blow torch at a street side rendezvous filmed by other abandoned parents documenting the traumatic consequences of child abduction.

STEVE JOHNSON: [to Shuta at a road side meeting] “Your mother must understand that things are about to get bad. TV cameras are going to be here, the police are going to be called. Then Interpol will take over. The easiest thing for her to do Shuta is to hand over the children this afternoon, and it all goes away. Everything disappears. If your mum wants to swipe the kids up and run away – then good luck to her”.

WILLACY: With that the ultimatum was delivered and the deadline set. But the odds were well and truly stacked against Regan Haight. How would her ordeal end?

Australian Chayne Inaba believes he knows the perils of pushing too hard to right the wrong of child abduction.

As this video indicates family life seemed pretty happy and contented for the medical trauma specialist. Four days later his wife abducted their daughter Ai and brought her here [family home].

“This is your family home over there?”

CHAYNE INABA: “Yep that’s the family home, the home of the Inova family”.

WILLACY: “And if you went to the house there’d be big problems?”

CHAYNE INABA: “There’d be major problems which I would say the police would be involved and a lot of nasty things would happen yeah”.

WILLACY: Chayne Inaba has already had a run in he thinks was all about scaring him off. Not long after being warned by his wife’s family to stay away from his daughter, he was attacked inside his own home.

CHAYNE INABA: “I walked inside, closed the door, walking down towards the living room and I was attacked by a brick from the bathroom. I had two black eyes, fractures – I had a lot”.

WILLACY: He has his suspicions about who was responsible but the police weren’t interested.

CHAYNE INABA: “The brick had skin and hair and blood on it and they said, to my knowledge, that they told the Australian Consulate that the brick wasn’t the weapon”.

PROFESSOR COLIN JONES: “Parental abduction is an effort to eliminate the other parent from the child’s life and the sad cases we see here repeatedly are the child can’t talk to their father or sometimes their mother anymore. They’re taken away at a young age, they don’t get exposed to their foreign parent’s native language, they only speak Japanese. The foreign parent doesn’t speak Japanese. It’s a destruction of one half of the child’s identity to do that”.

WILLACY: Government MP Masae Ido is a leading sceptic of the Hague Convention and a chief defender of Japan’s approach to family law.

MASAE IDO: “While Westerners call it abduction it’s common among the Japanese that a mother and child return to the mother’s parents’ home after a divorce”.

WILLACY: She has a better understanding of this issue than most because as her political opponents gleefully advertise on the internet, she snatched her three children away from her first husband.

MASAE IDO: “Like other parents, I left a note so the other parent knew where the children were and understood that they were at a safe place. Not many people think of this as kidnapping or a crime. If anything, they think it’s not a bad thing. It’s really a custom”.

WILLACY: It’s a day out for happy families at the Osaka aquarium, but the group handing out these balloons is also dishing out a blunt message. Craig Morrey and other left behind parents have launched a public education campaign about an issue few Japanese are even aware of.

CRAIG MORREY: “Do you know that they only have a sole custody system in Japan”.

FATHER: “I’m sorry, I don’t really know”.

WILLACY: This custom of sole custody has torn apart parents and children from all corners of the world. But while local awareness of the issue is limited, Japanese do figure prominently among the victims. Every year 150,000 divorced Japanese parents join the ranks of the dispossessed.

RYOMA TAKAHASHI NEW: “My love for my children and my desire to see them has not changed”.

WILLACY: Ryoma Takahashi is one such parent and because of his profile, the recent abduction of his children has sparked media interest. His wife took their sons for a short break but never returned and the renowned local artist has now been frozen out of their lives.

RYMOA TAKAHASHI: “My mind went blank – what I thought and what to do – it was really blank. It was as if I lost sight of tomorrow… I lost sight of the future. I didn’t know what to do. The point is that my children were abducted by her and they were stolen from me. It’s become a country where whoever abducts children wins. In my case the judge told me on the first day, ‘You haven’t seen your children for seven months now. Did your children contact you? No, right? Your sons don’t want to see you anymore’.”

WILLACY: He’s trying desperately to win back his children but his wife has countered with a claim of domestic violence. The abuse? That Takahashi suggested his wife should give up work because of the stress it was causing her.

RYMOA TAKAHASHI: “She’s accusing me of verbal violence – but just what is verbal violence? It seems like my suggestion that she quit her job was verbal violence. I think it’s a major problem that the police accept that as domestic violence”.

PROFESSOR COLIN JONES: “Basically anything can be abuse. Verbal abuse is covered…. financial abuse. I’ve seen literature which includes ignoring someone as a form of abuse”.

WILLACY: For Regan Haight there was a happy ending. After months of trying to get her son and daughter back from the clutches of her Japanese husband’s family, the efforts of her private child recovery specialist paid off. The children were surrendered.

REGAN HAIGHT: “It was, it was amazing. It was a surprise. I didn’t expect them to walk through this door. I was expecting that you know that this was going to go on for a long period of time and then the sliding glass door opened and they came through and it was just, it was a relief. It was just, it was amazing”.

WILLACY: For the man who helped get her children back, it’s proof that kids can be saved from Japan’s black hole of abduction.

STEVE JOHNSON: “There is only one way to recover children that have been abducted and that’s to get on a plane, to land in country and get on with it, and confront people and upset people, ruffle feathers”.

WILLACY: But the happy endings are rare indeed, overwhelmed by the thousands of stories of heartbreak, American Craig Morrey will continue to care for his son Spencer and continue to fight to be with his daughter Amelia and he’ll continue in his struggle to change the system in Japan.

CRAIG MORREY: “Every three minutes a child loses contact with a parent in Japan through divorce. Every three minutes. And you know the government doesn’t want to acknowledge that because they don’t know how to deal with it and they’re not willing to deal with it”.

CHAYNE INABA: [footage of his children] “Sometimes it’s hard to watch”.

WILLACY: Chayne Inaba continues to fight for his daughter in the courts but he knows he may not get to see her for many years.

CHAYNE INABA: “And she’ll know that her father [upset]…… her father did everything humanly possible to keep the family together and protect her. She’ll know that”.

WILLACY: They once loved to play music together but for Englishman Alex Kahney, it’s sayonara to Japan and the daughters he can’t see and who will no longer speak to him. While recently packing up his Tokyo home he discovered a note left for him by one of his daughters before she was snatched away. He turned it into a song for them called “Someday We Can Meet”.

ALEX KAHNEY: “I didn’t want you to be out of my life, or for me to be out of yours. It wasn’t me that did this to you. I’ve done my best to get you back. I think about you all the time. If you want anything I’m here and I’m looking forward to that day”.

Left-behind parents in Tokyo have intensified efforts in advance of Secretary of State Clinton’s July 8 visit to Japan:

http://www.kizuna-cpr.org/

http://www.meetup.com/Left-Behind-Parents-Japan/events/72028092/?a=md1.1_grp&rv=md1.1

http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201206080014

 

INTERNATIONAL MARRIAGE: Changing Japan as a safe haven for parental abductions

June 08, 2012

By HIROSHI MATSUBARA/ AJW Staff Writer

In February, 61-year-old Masahiro Yoshida was arrested for “abducting” his 7-year-old daughter from her elementary school in Ehime Prefecture the month before.

It marked the second time that Yoshida, a former professional jazz drummer, was driven to desperation and snatched his daughter, since his ex-wife has parental custody over his daughter, and he is not allowed to have any contact with her.

In Japan, courts do not recognize shared custody, and mothers retain custody in about 90 percent of court-mediated divorces involving minors.

In response to mounting criticism that Japan is a safe haven for parental abductions, the government finally submitted a bill to ratify the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which provides for the return of unlawfully abducted children.

The legislation is unlikely to pass in the current Diet session, as deliberations of controversial bills to hike the consumption tax are taking center stage. But if enacted, the convention, which has 87 signatory countries, will mandate that Japan return children whom its nationals took from other countries in a divorce, unless it harms the child’s welfare.

The public’s perception in Japan is that such post-divorce disputes are taking place only between Japanese mothers and fathers from Western countries. But many Japanese parents now claim that the justice system here is equally tormenting those who lost custody over their children following a divorce.

The case involving Yoshida has much in common with the well-publicized arrest of an American man in 2009 after attempting to abduct his son and daughter and flee to the U.S. Consulate in Fukuoka.

According to Yoshida’s mother, Michiko, an 87-year-old former liquor store operator in Yokohama, it was her daughter-in-law who “abducted” her grandchild five years ago in an attempt to gain parental custody.

Michiko’s son is currently on trial at the Matsuyama District Court.

As Masahiro is likely to be given a prison sentence this time, Michiko said there must be fundamental flaws in the country’s justice system, which made her son a “criminal for just wanting to see his daughter.”

 

IS “GAIATSU” LAST RESORT?

 

In a nearly identical case, former family court judge Masanori Watanabe, 53, was arrested for abducting his daughter, then an elementary school third-grader, from a train station in Fukuoka in October 2005.

Watanabe, then a Yokohama-based lawyer, was subsequently given a suspended three-year prison sentence, dismissed from the bar association and cannot practice law.

“I certainly knew the consequences, but I thought it was my last opportunity to persuade her to come back to me when she becomes old enough to make her own judgments,” Watanabe said.

While waging court battles to gain custody of or visitation rights to their children, Yoshida and Watanabe campaigned for the Hague Convention, which they thought would help their causes.

“The convention means Japan’s last chance to review its cruel tradition to completely dismiss one parent’s right over children after divorce,” Watanabe said. “It is also my last resort to clear my name as a kidnapper.”

While the convention does not directly affect Japan-based families, Japanese and foreign parents here who lost custody pin hopes on their hopeful “gaiatsu,” or foreign pressure, scenario.

Lawyer Mikiko Otani, a member of the Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice on the Hague Convention, said ratification will bring positive changes to the family courts here, which will examine and rule whether to return a child in accordance with the convention.

The family courts will need to examine and rule on what types of child-taking are unlawful and what serves as the best interest of children in ways that are convincing to foreign authorities.

If the expatriation of children becomes a common practice, courts need to break free from traditional reluctance in using force in family conflict cases. It will discourage parents from simply taking away their children, even by force, as is widely occurring today, she added.

“Ultimately, Japan will need to approve a form of shared custody, which is the norm in most of the countries that are signatory to the convention,” Otani said.

But gaiatsu inevitably draws a backlash. To the relief of Japanese parents who flee with their children from overseas, the proposed domestic legislation to set court procedures for a child’s repatriation sets strict criteria for judges to do so.

The vaguest and most potentially controversial clause among the six requirements is that courts need to ensure there will be no possibility that the concerned child suffers “physical or psychological” abuse once returned.

“Can courts expatriate its nationals, minors, over public opinion? I don’t think that can happen,” said a Japanese mother who fought a lengthy, exhausting court battle in Australia with her ex-husband over custody of their two children.

 

BACKLASH FOR CHANGE

 

Interestingly, parties opposing the convention, and moves that can lead to the idea of shared custody, include both those from conservative and liberal camps.

Conservatives say that the single custody system is vital to maintaining the integrity of “koseki,” or Japan’s family registry system.

Kensuke Onuki, a lawyer who has represented Japanese mothers who have brought their children to Japan, agrees that one of the divorced parents must back away, in order to make a child’s new environment more stable.

“I don’t think many Japanese can stand the Western way of communication between children and their divorced parents, in which both parents participate in their children’s growing-up process,” Onuki said.

A head of a parents’ group seeking visitation rights said that even many of its group members, mostly fathers, will find it too burdening to fulfill shared custody, given the limited roles they played in child-rearing before their divorce.

Recalling his days on a family court bench in the mid-1990s, ex-judge Watanabe expressed regret that he and his colleagues had no doubts that it serves the interests of children to grant custody to their mothers.

He added that judges believe that courts must respect women’s parental rights, because it was historically denied to them and they had to gain them through postwar feminism.

“I also remember my boss telling me that the court should give men a ‘free hand’ to start a new life by eliminating responsibility to raise their children, and I really did not find much wrong with it,” Watanabe said.

“Now I know how painful, how cruel it is for a parent, regardless of the mother or father, to have their access denied.”

Watanabe added that he knows that the signing of the Hague Convention may be just the beginning of change for Japanese society.

“But I won’t give up, because this is the only way left for me to show my love for my daughter,” he said.

By HIROSHI MATSUBARA/ AJW Staff Writer

This is extremely disappointing considering the millions dollars of resources the U.S. State Department has invested for several decades now in this seemingly futile endeavor and all the false hope it has created for American left-behind parents.  It’s time for the State Department to think outside the box and try some new strategies on this issue that will actually bring American children back into the lives of U.S. left-behind parents.

 

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/editorial/T120603002362.htm

 

Excerpts from this article:

The end of the current Diet session will soon arrive on June 21, but the results so far are astonishingly poor.

Only 20 of the 81 bills submitted by the government to the Diet in this session have been passed. The ratio of enacted bills is about 25 percent–usually about half the submitted bills have passed the Diet at this point in a session.

Also untouched in the Diet are a bill to establish a Japanese Embassy in South Sudan–where Japan has been assisting nation-building through such efforts as sending Self-Defense Forces personnel on a U.N. peacekeeping mission–and a bill asking the Diet to approve Japan’s joining the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Hague convention stipulates procedures among member states to resolve child custody issues in failed international marriages.

Please help support this documentary if you can:

http://www.indiegogo.com/From-The-Shadows?c=home&a=559062

Below is a link to a condensed version of a Japanese court video that up to now has been available through the Japanese courts on a highly restricted basis.  This video openly talks about the importance of access to one’s child after separation.  It hopefully reflects a step in the right direction in Japanese court attitudes regarding a child’s access to both parents after a separation or divorce.
 http://www.courts.go.jp/video/kodomo_video/flv/kodomo_bb_01.html

http://accjjournal.com/left-behind/

 

LEFT BEHIND

PARENTS FIGHT FOR JUSTICE IN JAPAN

BY MIKE DEJONG
Apr 1, 2012 | 5 Comments | 251 views

After decades of reluctance, Japan is set to join the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. This international treaty, signed by more than 80 countries, is designed to prevent children from being taken from their home countries. While experts say joining the Hague Convention is a positive first step, critics argue that the real issue in Japan is not child abduction – but a lack of enforceable joint-custody laws to protect the rights of parents and children following divorce. This month, we examine the issues surrounding child custody and show why divorcing one’s spouse often means losing one’s children in Japan.

ILLUSTRATION BY JOHN SHELLEY
It was mid-October 2009,when Masako Akeo went to watch a choir concert at her son’s school. Akeo hadn’t seen little Kazuya in some time and was excited to hear him sing and possibly even have a word with him. After waiting patiently for the performance to end – and the applause to die down – Akeo approached her only child. 

“Kazuya!” she called out.

The little boy turned and there was a moment of recognition. But Akeo never got to follow up. To her surprise, the principal marched over and grabbed her arm. “Why did you come here?” he barked. “Why did you interrupt the concert?”

Akeo was pulled into a separate room and interrogated. She was ordered to leave the school and not talk to her son again.

“That choir concert was in the morning,” she says. “I waited outside the gate until six o’clock. But he did not come out.”

Akeo was treated like a criminal for wanting to see her son. But she was not a criminal. In fact, she was a victim of child abduction and parental alienation. And she remains so to this day.

In late summer 2006, Kazuya was spirited away from the family home by Akeo’s Japanese ex-husband. Akeo tried everything to get her son back including hiring private investigators and going to court more than 60 times. Nothing worked. Despite being a desperate mother, she has only seen the boy three times since his abduction.

“I met him two times in the Family Court,” she says. “One time was one hour – the other time was 45 minutes.

“The last mediation, my ex-husband made an agreement. I could meet my son every two months. But then final mediation, he gave the court my son’s letter. The letter said: ‘Oh, I have to study to enter high school. It is quite difficult for me now (to meet you).’

“Always, I had hope. But that day finished everything. I can’t do anything about my son.”

Takaji Takeuchi can sympathize with Akeo’s desperation. On a warm spring night in March of 2011, he tried to talk to his son who had also been taken away by his Japanese ex-spouse several years before. Japan had been hit by the horrible 3/11 tragedy and Takeuchi, like many others, was concerned about his family. He found his son at home with his ex-wife.

TAKAJI TAKEUCHI HAS ONLY SEEN HIS SON KOUSUKE FIVE TIMES IN FIVE YEARS. (PHOTO BY MIKE DEJONG)

“They came out together,” Takeuchi says. “In front of my ex-wife, my son was standing. “I said ‘Are you okay?’ He said ‘Yeah, I’m okay. But why (did) you come here?’ I don’t have a father. I don’t need a father.” 

Both Takeuchi and Akeo’s children have been turned against them. It’s a common occurance for children separated from their mothers or fathers for lengthy periods of time. And it’s something that causes great pain on all sides.

“Every year, (at) New Year I say this year will be better,” Akeo says. “But you know, every year is getting worse. Still, I must keep going and keep doing something.”

Heartbreaking But Not Uncommon
These two cases are heartbreaking but not uncommon in Japan. In fact, there may be thousands of parents like them, who have lost contact with their children following a marital breakdown.

The reason is simple: there are no provisions for joint custody in Japan. In fact, under the country’s Meiji Era Civil Code, child custody is awarded to only one parent following a divorce, with the other parent is generally shut out. With no enforceable visitation rules, non-custodial parents generally lose access to their own children.

“Japanese Family Law is a misnomer in that there isn’t such a thing,” says Colin P. A. Jones, professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto. “There is not a statute that is called Family Law.

“There have never been a lot of substantive rules clearly laid out somewhere in a statute, which say parents have to do this for their children… or after divorce this is what’s supposed to happen.”

Jones says the parent-child relationship in Japan is defined in terms of a marital relationship, so essentially, divorcing a spouse also means divorcing one’s children. In the rare cases where visitation is granted, Japanese courts usually limit non-custodial parental time to a few hours per month. The custodial parent retains the right to cancel visitation at any time without penalty. This policy differs greatly from Western countries where the rights of parents are maintained and enforced – even after divorce.

“For a number of historical reasons, Japan has never really developed the notion that there are Constitutional rights associated with the parent-child relationship,” says Jones. “That is why child abduction – as we would call it – within Japan has been a problem as long, if not longer, than the international abduction cases have been.”

MASAKO AKEO HAS ONLY SEEN HER SON KAZUYA THREE TIMES IN SIX YEARS.
After a divorce in Japan, a non-custodial parent can no longer decide on their child’s health, education, living arrangements and schooling – even what name the child will carry into the future. It is common for custodial parents to move away from the other parent without notifying them of their child’s whereabouts. 

Critics say it’s a system that promotes and legitimizes child abduction and alienation.

Best Interests of the Child? 
In denying or severely limiting visitation, Japanese courts often reason that children “need protection” from the “trauma of divorce.” For example, in 2003, a desperate mother looking to visit her son was told by an Osaka High Court that “the child is satisfied with his current established lifestyle” with his father and new step-mother. The court denied the mother’s visitation request stating that “exposing the child to different lifestyles and methods of discipline can have adverse effects on the feelings and emotional stability of the child.”

This opinion flies in the face of research by child psychologists, psychiatrists and child welfare experts worldwide who argue that, despite the conflicts inherent with divorce, children need contact with both parents to grow up as healthy, well-adjusted adults.

“Empirical and longitudinal studies show that maintaining contact with non-custodial parents is beneficial for children’s well-being,” says clinical psychologist Kazuyo Tanase, a professor at Kobe Shinwa Women’s University.

In an interview with NHK, Dr. Tanase said she believes the current visitation system in Japan does not serve children or parents well. “It should be changed. Parents with no custody should be able to spend substantial amounts of time with their children like weekends and long vacations with overnights, not just several hours a month. Secondly, couples shouldn’t be allowed to separate or get divorced without a parenting plan in place. Finally, couples should be able to choose between sole custody and joint custody.”

HAPPIER DAYS FOR MASAKO AKEO AND HER SON KAZUYA.

In recent months, diplomatic officials from the US, Canada and Europe have lobbied Japan to implement a joint custody system. Senior members of the Obama Administration including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have also pushed Japan to join the 1980 Hague Convention – an international agreement that protects children from abduction. Japan is the only G8 country yet to sign the accord. The Japanese government has pledged to join the Hague Convention this year and the Justice Ministry has already released legislative proposals due to be submitted to the Diet this spring. However, critics say the proposals include so many conditions that the law will be virtually unenforceable.

“It’s pretty depressing,” says Jones, after reviewing the proposals. “It seems pretty clear that Japan is going to implement the Hague based on a number of assumptions that conflict with the assumptions of the Hague Convention.

“The implementation regime (in Japan) is basically going to assume that the taking parent has a good reason – they’re going to protect the taking parent until the left-behind parent proves otherwise.
“I don’t see it really getting anywhere – really making any changes.”

Black Hole For Child Abduction
Japan is a signatory of Article 10.2, the United Nations Convention on the Human Rights of the Child, which reads: “A child whose parents reside in different states shall have the right to maintain on a regular basis, personal relations and direct contacts with both parents.”

Yet personal relations and direct contact with both parents often does not happen in Japan. And, with its lack of respect for international court rulings and a decades-long reluctance to join the Hague Convention, some critics call Japan a “black hole” for child abduction.

In fact, the US State Department warns that “Abductions to Japan represent one of the largest portfolios in the Office of Children’s Issues and are among the most difficult to resolve. To date, the Office of Children’s Issues does not have a record of any cases resolved through a favorable Japanese court order or through the assistance of the Japanese government.”

Two high profile cases recently highlighted the need for Japan to get serious about child abduction. Last December, Wisconsin doctor Moises Garcia saw his nine-year old daughter returned after a four-year fight. The child had been abducted to Japan by her mother, who ignored a US court order granting the father custody. The child was returned as part of a plea bargain agreement when the mother was arrested in Hawaii on child abduction charges. In 2009, the Japanese ex-wife of American Christopher Savoie also ignored a US court order and took the couple’s children away. Savoie traveled to Japan to try and get the children back but was himself arrested on abduction charges. The charges were later dropped but Savoie was forced to leave Japan without his children.

In both of these cases, Japan failed to recognize US court decisions and experts say this highlights not only problems with Japanese law but also the country’s disregard for international court rulings.

Left Behind Parents
An organization known as Left Behind Parents Japan (LBPJ) has been campaigning for Japan to join the Hague Convention and to implement an enforceable visitation system. The group – which brings together foreign and Japanese parents who have lost access to their children – has taken its fight to senior levels of the Japanese government, including meetings with a former Japanese Justice Minister.

“Meeting with (former Justice Minister) Eda Satsuki was extremely important because he’s been a lawyer for over 40 years,” says LBPJ spokesperson Bruce Gherbetti. “He was a Family Court Judge early in his career, so he understands the issues at play.

“And I believe that he inherently believes that the solution is for Japan to sign the Hague Convention.

“Ultimately, Article 818-819 needs to be changed. That’s the (article of the) Civil Code that speaks to sole parental authority.

“Kyodo shinken is the answer,” says Gherbetti. “Kyodo shinken or joint custody.”

Not Only A “Foreign” Matter
From the attention given to high profile international abduction cases, one might assume the child abduction issue is a “foreign” matter in Japan. However, it is not. Japan’s divorce rate is now more than double what it was in the early 1970s and statistics show that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce (nearly 40 percent in 2010) – which means there could be thousands of permanently separated Japanese parents and children. At least 20 percent of the cases also involve left-behind mothers.

“If you’re a public school teacher, you’re looking at a class where one-third of the children probably have experienced a parental divorce,” says Jones. “Just nobody talks about it and the law really has not addressed what should happen to children after divorce. What is in their best interests after divorce.”

Despite all of the publicity surrounding the issue, it does not appear that help is coming soon from the Japanese government. In an interview with the Japan Times on February 1, 2012, Japan’s new Justice Minister Toshio Ogawa had this to say about modernizing the Civil Code: “If we allow dual parental rights, it will be difficult to decide which parent the children live with and to make other decisions. I believe a major complaint that people seeking dual parental rights have is that they don’t get to see their children enough. That can be largely solved by ensuring visitation rights.”

“The problem is that visitation rights are not enforceable under the current system,” says Gherbetti. “You could talk about visitation rights all you want, but if one parent still has veto rights over the other, then visitation provisions are essentially meaningless.

“To continue to disallow dual parental rights is a human rights violation, plain and simple,” says Gherbetti.

LBPJ member Dennis Gunn adds, “If one side has tyrannical power over the relationship with your child, then sooner or later – and usually sooner – that is going to be abused.

“They have devised a system here that is guaranteed to cause the parents… and the children to suffer.”

 

PHOTO BY LOUISE ROUSE

Suffering is what Masako Akeo continues to do. Although she devotes much of her time and attention to helping other left-behind parents, she endures on-going nightmares about her son’s whereabouts. She doesn’t know where he is, what he is doing or whether or not he is safe. His childhood was cruelly stripped from her by a vindictive ex-husband and a system that supports child abduction. 

“I’m kind of an activist,” she says. “Maybe so my son can see TV or magazine or newspaper.

Okay, Mommy’s doing this for me. That’s why I’m doing this – for my son.”

 

A work in progress version of “From the Shadows,” a documentary about family child abductions in Japan, will be screened in Tokyo on April 9 at 6:00 PM.  This is being supported by the Harvard Club of Japan and will be held at the Tokyo Foundation (map).

There will also be a seminar earlier in the day starting at 1:00 pm. Dr. Colin Jones and Dr. Akiko Ohnogi will be presenting and it is shaping up to be a very educational day with many perspectives to be shared, and ideas to be exchanged.

The 4,000 yen charge for the film screening will go to cover the cost of the venue and also fund our final stages of post-production, notably the online edit and the sound mix. If you would like to attend one or both events, please RSVP to john Gomez at: john.gomez.83@post.harvard.edu .

Here is a video invitation to the screening:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAv5pcqWogY&feature=youtu.be