http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201404040015

Child abduction treaty gives hope to parents separated from their kids

April 04, 2014

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

American Jeffrey Morehouse has no idea where his son lives, knowing only that the 10-year-old’s address is somewhere in Toyama Prefecture.

His last contact with the boy was when his divorced Japanese wife lived in the United States. He lost all contact after she and her son abruptly moved to Japan.

But Morehouse, who lives in Seattle, is finally taking a big step toward getting in touch with his son again, and perhaps bringing the child back to the United States.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction took effect for Japan on April 1, giving parents overseas, like Morehouse, and in Japan a legal means to visit their children.

The so-called Hague Abduction Convention governs cross-border child custody disputes resulting from broken marriages. Under the treaty, if a marriage fails and the parents start living in separate countries, the decision on who receives parental rights to raise children under 16 falls under the jurisdiction of the country where the family lived with the child before the breakup.

Before Japan signed the treaty in January, a number of high-profile cases surfaced about the plight of overseas parents who had no legal way of even contacting their children taken to Japan by their former spouses. However, Japanese parents are also expressing hopes that the treaty will help them be reunited with their children who live overseas.

A Japanese woman living in Chiba Prefecture last month wrote a letter to the parents of her ex-husband, who are currently raising her 14-year-old daughter in the United States.

“I have the right to meet with my daughter,” the 34-year-old woman wrote.

She later received an e-mail instructing her to never again try to contact her daughter.

The woman was married to an American who worked at a U.S. military base in Kyushu. After they divorced, the ex-husband returned to the United States with their 8-month-old child in 2001 without the mother’s consent and asked his parents to raise the girl.

The mother visited the home of her former husband’s parents in the United States two years later, but she was allowed to meet her daughter only three times.

Five years ago, the ex-husband’s family refused to let her to see the child.

The woman said she expects the Hague Abduction Convention to help her in the battle against her ex-husband and his parents.

“I hope the Japanese government will negotiate (with U.S. authorities) as equals,” said the mother. She plans to use the Foreign Ministry to repeat her demands that her ex-husband’s parents allow her to visit her daughter.

Although cases involving children “abducted” before April 1 will be exempt from the convention, parents can still call for governmental assistance in setting up meetings with their children.

A Canadian man moved to Japan in 2011 to see his three daughters.

His ex-wife had returned to Japan with the children and had rejected all of his requests to visit the girls.

The Canadian said he met his children three times last year without prior appointments, and that he expects the convention to make it easier for him to visit his daughters.

The U.S. State Department said it received 24 applications on March 31 from divorced parents calling for meetings with their children overseas. A number of parents, including Morehouse, visited the State Department that day to request measures to set up visits with their children in Japan.

According to the State Department, 58 cases concerning 80 children unfairly taken from the United States to Japan have yet to be settled, the third highest figure after Mexico and India.

A representative of a group of those visiting parents said meetings with the children will be the first step in getting the children returned.

Paul Toland, a co-founder of Bring Abducted Children Home, a U.S. nonprofit organization calling for the return of children taken to Japan, said he wants the Japanese government to quickly take measures under the spirit of the Hague Abduction Convention.

Toland, himself, on March 31 called on the State Department to work with the Japanese government to set up a meeting with his 11-year-old daughter in Japan.

Beth Payne, director of the Office of Children’s Issues in the State Department, promised that the U.S. government will continue efforts to settle cases reported before April 1 by negotiating with Japan’s Foreign Ministry.

The U.S. Congress is currently discussing legislation to enable the president to impose sanctions on nations that fail to take adequate measures to resolve the child abduction problem. The House of Representatives has already passed the bill.

One issue of concern among Japanese parents is how courts will weigh domestic violence in deciding if their children should be returned to the nation where the family resided before the divorce or separation.

Under the convention, Japan’s Foreign Ministry will help foreign parents find arbitration organizations for their demands that their children in Japan be returned to them.

If the Japanese parents refuse the demands, the Tokyo or Osaka family courts will decide whether to issue orders for the children to be sent to the country where the family originally lived.

If the courts recognize the existence of serious domestic violence, the Japanese parents will be allowed to refuse to return their sons and daughters to their former foreign partners.

The Hague convention will also cover cases in which both parents are Japanese and one of them takes the child overseas.

Regardless of the parents’ nationalities, cases involving a divorced husband or wife taking a child elsewhere in Japan will not be subject to the treaty.

Under Japan’s Civil Law, parental rights are granted to one parent after they split. Although a divorced couple can discuss visitation rights at the time of the divorce settlement, the decision is not legally binding.

In many cases, the parents take their children elsewhere in Japan without the consent of their former partners.

Lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties are currently discussing legislation to address such domestic cases.

(This article was compiled from reports by Satomi Sugihara and Tsuyoshi Tamura in Tokyo and Takashi Oshima in Washington.)

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/kyodo-news-international/140401/us-fathers-urge-japan-comply-child-custody-treaty

Kyodo News International April 1, 2014 4:16am
U.S. fathers urge Japan to comply with child custody treaty

A group of U.S. fathers urged the Japanese government Monday to comply with a convention for settling cross-border child custody disputes and help them and other American parents reunite with their children living in Japan.

The fathers and their supporters, including a veteran congressman, handed a petition to a minister of the Japanese Embassy in Washington, a day before Japan’s implementation of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

They were among some 20 people who marched through the U.S. capital holding placards with their children’s pictures and met with a relevant U.S. government official earlier in the day to increase awareness of child abduction to Japan.

The group Bring Abducted Children Home organized the events.

Paul Toland, co-founder of the group, told reporters, referring to Japan’s accession to the Hague Convention, “Today can be a new beginning.”

“But remember this. It’s just the beginning. The ultimate resolution of these cases has not yet been attained,” Navy employee Toland, 46, said.

Toland said he has not seen his daughter for almost 11 years since his wife took their then 9-month-old baby to Japan before divorce proceedings had concluded and custody determined.

His former wife and her mother rebuffed his every attempt to see his daughter, he said. Although he has been the sole living parent since the former wife’s death several years ago, he has no rights to see his daughter.

Tokyo became the 91st signatory of the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which sets out the rules and procedures for the prompt return to the country of habitual residence of children under 16 taken or retained by one parent, if requested by the other parent.

The Hague pact is not retroactive, only dealing with cases occurring after its entry into force. But it can provide assistance to parents seeking visitations, regardless of when they were separated from children.

Christopher Smith, a House of Representative member, joined the people in making the calls on the Japanese government.

“Parents here today whose children were abducted prior to ratification cannot be left behind again,” said Smith, who heads the House subcommittee on global human rights and international organizations.

The fathers came to Washington from across the country, with one flying from as far away as Singapore. Some described Japan as a child custody “black hole.”

The fathers and the supporters, including attorneys, asked the U.S. State Department to help realize reunions with their children in a meeting with Beth Payne, director of the department’s Office of Children’s Issues.

The department received 28 applications, involving some 40 children, from the group on Monday. The office has been working on 58 other cases involving around 80 children as of February 2014, according to a department official.

While the department’s spokeswoman Marie Harf described Japan’s participation in the Hague Convention as “a positive change,” many parents who took part in Monday’s events indicated they have little faith that the Japanese government would help them retrieve their children.

They also said they are worried that cases would be remanded to local family courts, which lack expertise on the convention and have traditionally given custody to mothers. Nor does Japan have reciprocal custody agreement with the United States.

The group’s attorney Stephen Cullen mentioned that 200 more applications will be submitted within the year.

==Kyodo

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