FEB2015ACCJARTICLE

For PDF of full issue, download from: http://www.accjjournal.com/
FEBRUARY 2015 • ACCJ JOURNAL

NEW RULES ON CHILD ABDUCTION
Tokyo handles first cases under newly ratified Hague convention

It took time and the application of a degree of pressure—both international and domestic—for Japan’s Diet to approve the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which finally went into effect on April 1, 2014. So far, diplomats, lawyers, and children’s rights activists have broadly applauded the efforts of the Japanese authorities to accede to the spirit of the agreement, pointing out a number of cases in which the pact has been enforced.

They warn, however, that the legislation has been in place for less than a year, and that Japan’s courts have yet to become deeply involved in cases that, all sides agree, are complicated and replete with emotional aspects.
“It’s too early to tell yet,” Steven Maloney, consul general at the US Embassy in Tokyo, told the ACCJ Journal.
“The Japanese government has done a lot of things very well; they have enacted the legislation, set up an office in the foreign ministry, as well as assembled judges, social workers, and lawyers with diverse skills and the ability to do the job properly, and we’re very happy with that. “But how the courts react remains to be seen,” he added.

Before last April, Japan was the only G-8 nation not to have ratified this Hague convention, which generally stipulates that a child should be returned to his or her country of habitual residence when they have been taken out of that country by a parent and without the consent of the other parent.

With ever more international marriages—estimated at 40,000 a year in Japan—ending in separation or divorce, pressure from around the world has been building for Tokyo to enact relevant legislation.

In recent years, embassies in Tokyo were handling around 400 cases annually in which the Japanese parent had violated the terms of the convention. But previously, international authorities had been powerless to act once the child was in Japan.

At present, the US Embassy in Tokyo is dealing with close to 100 cases. “Each [case] is very complicated, and many involve more than one child,” Maloney said. Thirty-one applications for access to US citizen children and two cases for return are currently being handled by the Japanese authorities, and Maloney believes the Japanese authorities deserve credit for that.

“Clearly the government here is treating the issue very seriously, they are acting professionally, they are carrying out training, and they are not stonewalling, but we will know a great deal more in three months from now,” he added.

Jury still out

Concern revolves around an article in the convention that identifies “grave risk” to the physical well-being of the child at the center of a dispute as being grounds for a judge to refuse to sanction the child being returned to his or her country of habitual residence. Critics say that Japanese parents who have abducted a child are aware of this loophole and that they are likely to use it—whether or not there was any physical abuse in the past—to keep the child in Japan.

“If the article is interpreted in Japan as it is interpreted elsewhere, then we do not believe there are any loopholes,” Maloney said.

Taeko Mizuno Tada, a Tokyo-based lawyer with the firm Nagahama, Mizuno & Inoue, has handled international family cases for many years. She says the law was changed largely as a result of pressure from foreign governments.
“I believe the Japanese government agreed to ratify the convention because of overseas pressure, especially from the US government,” Mizuno said. “Over the past 20 years, amendments to the Civil Code related to family matters have been very slow and controversial in Japan.

“But as some children have been returned to Japan from other countries since April 1, we now understand that the Hague convention can be beneficial to Japanese and other residents of Japan as well,” she added.
Without external encouragement, Mizuno believes, it could have taken another 30 years for Japan to sign the Hague pact. But she agrees that the authorities here are taking their new obligations seriously.

“The Japanese foreign ministry has hired many good people to handle Hague convention issues,” she said. “And Japanese courts and the bar association have had a lot of education and training courses for Hague cases.”

Parents still suffering

However, foreign nationals who have been separated from their children for many years say Japan’s failure to ratify the convention earlier condemned them to years without their children, and that they still may never have the right to see their kids again.

“The benefits of Japan signing the convention only apply to cases where the children are under 16 years of age,” said Walter Benda, of Virginia, who has seen his two daughters just once in 20 years.

“Furthermore the Hague convention is not retroactive, so cases such as mine, which occurred in the past, and in which the children are already 16 or older, are not covered under any of the provisions of this treaty,” Benda added. He is joint founder of the Japan chapter of the US-based Children’s Rights Council.

Benda’s wife disappeared with the girls after seeing him off to work one morning from their home in Chiba Prefecture, and she rebuffed all his efforts to make contact with them. As soon as he did find them again, they vanished once more. The only time he has seen them was for a few moments on a street in a Japanese town in 1998, after a private investigator managed to track down the girls and their mother.

The problem was overlooked for many years simply because it was not in the public eye, and there was “a cultural bias” in Japan that supported Japanese parents who had abducted children, Benda said.

“However, as the number of cases kept growing at an ever increasing rate, with parents becoming more and more organized and being able to use the Internet to leverage this issue, it started to catch the attention of leaders in the US, Japan, and other countries,” he explained. “In addition to media coverage, various documentaries, such as From the Shadows, further exposed the problem.

“Rallies and other events held by parents in the US, Japan, and other countries also raised public awareness, as did the passage of various congressional resolutions in the US.

“All of this built up to the point where it started to become an international diplomatic issue that Japanese leaders had to deal with when meeting with their foreign counterparts,” he said. “All of these efforts took about 20 years of hard work and sacrifices by parents who had their children internationally abducted.”

And while Benda concedes that little can be done in his case, he agrees that Japan signing the convention means that other foreign parents may not have to go through what he has endured for two decades.

“We have seen a marked decline in the number of parents contacting our organization for help because of their children being internationally abducted,” he said. “I definitely believe that Japan’s signing of the Hague convention has had a deterrent effect on the number of parental abductions of children of couples with one Japanese spouse and one non-Japanese spouse.”

US nationals seeking advice may contact tokyoacs@state.gov, call 03 3224 5000, or view the State Department’s website at http://travel.state.gov/content/ childabduction/english/about.html.

David Levy

December 31, 2014

David Levy helped inspire the foundation of the Children’s Rights Council of Japan chapter in 1996, and was an active supporter of our activities over the years. Rest in peace, David, and thanks for all you have done to support a child’s rights to both parents worldwide.

DAVID LAWRENCE LEVY

On Thursday, December 11, 2014; David Lawrence Levy of Hyattsville, MD. Beloved husband of Ellen Levy; devoted father of Justin (Ilana) Levy, and Diana (Danny) Moldovan; beloved brother of Carol Levy; cherished grandfather of Corina Levy. Funeral Services will be held on Sunday, December 14, 2014 at 10;15 a.m. at Tifereth Israel Congregation, 7701 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20012. Interment Mount Lebanon Cemetery. Shiva services will be held at the late residence Sunday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Contributions in his memory may be made to Tifereth Israel Congregation. Arrangements by Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home, Inc. under Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington Contract.
– See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/washingtonpost/obituary.aspx?n=david-l-levy&pid=173444933&#sthash.SWnJG6hL.UC6Q7Ein.dpuf

Cosponsor the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2013

From: The Honorable Christopher H. Smith
Bill: H.R. 3212
Date: 10/8/2013

Cosponsor the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2013

Co-Sponsors:  James Moran, Michael Burgess, George Holding, Joseph KennedyDan Lipinski, Mark Meadows, Juan VargasBrad Sherman, Frank Wolf

Organizations:  National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Bring Sean Home Foundation, BacHome, Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion, The Japan Children’s Rights Network, iChapeau Association, Children’s Rights Council of Japan, James Moran, Michael Burgess, George Holding, Joseph KennedyDan Lipinski, Mark Meadows, Juan VargasBrad Sherman, Frank Wolf,

Dear Colleague,

I urge you to cosponsor the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2013 (H.R. 3212).  Please respond by Thursday, October 10, at 10 am.

Most, if not every, member of Congress has constituents suffering the pain of separation, crippling worry, and interminable waiting caused by international parental child abduction.  More than one thousand outgoing international child abductions are reported to the State Department Office of Children’s Issues every year.  Abducted children are at risk of serious emotional and psychological problems and have been found to experience anxiety, eating problems, nightmares, mood swings, sleep disturbances, aggressive behavior, resentment, guilt and fearfulness, and as adults may struggle with identity issues, personal relationships, and parenting.

In 1983, the U.S. joined the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Parental Child Abduction in order to have a non-criminal, legal framework for the quick and orderly resolution of abductions.  However, 40% of abductions occur to countries where the Hague Convention does not apply.  Even where it does apply, less than half of our children are coming home.

David Goldman and his son Sean know this only too well.  Sean’s mother took him on a two week vacation to Brazil only to arrive and call Sean’s father to tell him that their marriage was over, that she was staying in Brazil, and that she was keeping Sean there regardless of David’s custody rights as his father.  It was a textbook case of “wrongful retention” abduction—a clear violation of the Hague Convention.  Although Brazil was a signatory to the Hague Convention and should have returned Sean to the United States within 6 weeks, David and Sean suffered numbing setbacks and delays in Brazil’s courts for 4 years.  David was never allowed to see his son; Sean was deprived of his right to see his father.  Even after David’s wife died and David was the only living parent, Brazil still would not return Sean to the United States.

The House of Representatives intervened and passed legislation (H. Res. 125) spotlighting the issue of international child abduction and calling on Brazil to abide by its commitments under the Hague Convention and immediately return Sean Goldman to the United States.  There were multiple press conferences, congressional letters and trips to Brazil.  Multiple levers were pulled and eventually Sean came home.

While the State Department’s cumulative case numbers are conceded to be incomplete and unreliable, we know there are at least one thousand new international abductions every year in which children are taken from the U.S. to a foreign country and separated from their American parent.  All of these children need assertive intervention from our government.

To that end, I have introduced H.R. 3212, to empower the President to respond with a range of a dozen mutually reinforcing sanctions against a country that has been persistently non-cooperative in the resolution of abduction cases.  My bill would also empower the Secretary of State to enter into Memoranda of Understanding with non-Hague countries for the quick and orderly return of American children who have been abducted to countries that are not signatories to the Convention, including the children of U.S. servicemen and women who are kidnapped from parents serving overseas.  H.R. 3212 will also ensure that the State Department, which is already designated by U.S. law to facilitate Hague Convention cases, is more accountable to parents and is reporting all relevant information that will assist U.S. judges in determinations of custody and travel for children when abduction is a risk. The State Department must advocate on behalf of U.S. citizen and left-behind parents and their children.

Now is the time to act.  We can and must do more when a country refuses to return abducted American children.  We can and must do all we can to bring our children home.

If you have any questions about the Goldman Act, please feel free to contact Piero Tozzi at (202) 225-3765 or piero.tozzi@mail.house.gov or Allison Hollabaugh at ahollabaugh@mail.house.gov.

Sincerely,

CHRISTOPHER SMITH

Member of Congress

JIM MORAN

Member of Congress

http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Daphne+Bramham+Japan+black+hole+abducted+children/8799583/story.html

Daphne Bramham: Japan is black hole for abducted children

Police won’t enforce custody orders, law does not recognize joint custody and the country has not signed the international convention on respecting family court decisions

BY DAPHNE BRAMHAM, VANCOUVER SUN COLUMNIST AUGUST 17, 2013 8:13 AM
Daphne Bramham: Japan is black hole for abducted children

Masako Suzuki holds a photo of her and her son.

Photograph by: wayne leidenfrost , Vancouver Sun

Seven years ago, Canadian-born Kazuya David Suzuki was abducted by his father and taken to Japan. Since then, Kazuya’s mother has only seen her son a couple of times and spoken to him only once.

That’s despite Masako Suzuki having spent close to $100,000 on lawyers both here and in Japan. And she continues to be denied access, even though courts in both countries have ordered that she be allowed to see her only child.

The problem for her and for other parents of abducted, foreign-born children is that Japan is not one of the 90 signatories to the international Hague Convention, which requires member countries to respect the family court decisions of other signatory nations.

Yet even if it were, Japan doesn’t recognize joint custody, which the B.C. court ordered in October 2006.

It’s an appalling, inhumane situation that runs contrary to international conventions that Japan has signed including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Masako Suzuki’s life has been consumed with trying to gain access to her son — just as it has the lives of thousands of others whose children have been victims of parental abduction.

One advocacy group — the Child Rights Council of Japan — estimates there are as many as 2,000 cases of parental abduction to Japan each year.

As founder of Left Behind Parents Japan (http://lbpjapan.org/LBPJ_Organization/Joint_Policy_Statement.html), Masako is a leading advocate for change, urging Japan to sign the Hague Convention and to overhaul its 100-year-old family law system.

Somehow, the textile designer soldiers on even though she tells me that it is now probably too late to ever have a meaningful relationship with her son, who turns 19 in November.

She is convinced that Kazuya’s father has brainwashed him into believing that she doesn’t care about him. But if Kazuya does want to find her, Masako says the record of advocacy will prove that she’s never given up trying.

Masako has led marches in Japan, has held news conferences and has done dozens of media interviews.

This spring, she spoke at a symposium for Japanese government and spoke at a parliamentary committee in Ottawa that was looking into the issue of international child abductions.

In October 2006, a B.C. judge ordered that Kazuya could not be taken out of Canada and that his parents would have “joint interim custody and guardianship” until a final custody order was made based on the recommendation of a child psychologist.

But by then, Kazuya was already in Japan.

Jotaro Suzuki was granted sole custody by a Tokyo family court in December 2006. Masako got visitation rights in June 2007. But she was only able to see her son once before he and his father disappeared.

But what is more tragic than the separation from his mother is what’s happened since to the little boy, who was known as David at the West Vancouver school where he was diagnosed with a reading disability.

That reading disability coupled with Japanese language skills acquired only at home and at an after-school language program meant that he didn’t score well when he was tested for school placement in Japan.

As a result, Masako said, his father allowed him to be placed in a special class for the mentally disabled.

“I was so shocked,” Masako told me recently when we met in Vancouver. “But my ex-husband has used that. In family court in Japan, he gained the judge’s sympathy by telling him how he is a poor father struggling to take care of a disabled son.”

As far as Masako knows, Kazuya never went to high school.

The last time she saw him was in October 2009 at his junior high school choir concert in Tokyo — he was singing with his classmates, all mentally handicapped.

After the children finished singing, she said, she found him in a hallway. She called out to him and he raised his head. But before they had a chance to speak, the school’s principal came up to her demanding to know who she was.

“I’m his mother,” she told the principal. He told her that she needed her ex-husband’s permission to be at the school. He then threatened to call the police unless she left.

Kazuya never returned to that school. And, as far as Masako has been able to determine, he has never been registered at any other school in Japan.

Since that last sighting, Masako has had no word of her son. Canadian embassy officials are powerless to help the young Canadian boy. Japanese police are unwilling to enforce either court order. And, her former in-laws refuse to say where Jotaro and Kazuya are.

The Suzuki’s story has some unique twists — including the fact that neither parent is Canadian despite the family having owned a house and lived here for 13 years.

Beyond that, it’s strikingly similar to hundreds of other cases including 36 others being tracked by the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, a similar number being watched by the French Embassy and more than 140 known to U.S. Embassy staff.

Japan, along with a number of other countries, is seen as a haven for parental abductions and it’s enough of a problem that former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton told a congressional committee in 2011 that both she and President Barack Obama raised it at every meeting they had with Japanese officials. In February, 2013, after a meeting with Obama in Washington, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that Japan intended to sign the Hague Convention.

Canadian politicians have lobbied for Japan’s ratification and two of the highest profile Canadian advocates for changes in Japan are two Vancouver fathers whose children have been abducted by their Japanese wives.

Murray Wood is the founder of the International Rights of Children Society(http://www.irocs.org/our-mission/) , which works to raise awareness of parental abductions. He has been featured in a 2013 documentary called From the Shadows(http://www.fromtheshadowsmovie.com/).

Bruce Gherbetti, who lives in Japan, is executive director of Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion (http://kizuna-cpr.org/home), which a Japanese-registered non-profit that works toward restoring the human rights of children including the right to have relationships with both parents.

Wood’s two children — then 10 and 7 — were abducted by their mother in November 2004. She had ostensibly taken them to visit their dying grandfather in Japan. She never brought them back even though Wood had sole custody of the children and a B.C. Supreme Court order saying that his ex-wife had to return on a certain date and another that gave him sole custody.

In the past nine years, he has had very limited contact with his son and daughter. But this spring — with the help of Canadian Embassy staff — Wood’s 19-year-old son arrived in Vancouver and plans to start college here in the fall.

It’s a happy middle part of the story. There will only be a happy ending if Wood is able to establish contact with his daughter, who is now 16.

Gherbetti’s three daughters were abducted from Vancouver and taken to Japan in 2009.

Like Masako Suzuki, Gherbetti is skeptical that Japan’s announced decision to sign the Hague Convention will solve the problems.

He and his organization for “left-behind parents” are concerned that even if Japan does sign, it will not live up to the convention’s spirit and intent just as it has failed to comply with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which it signed two decades ago.

In an email, Gherbetti said the root cause is Japan’s outdated laws and views about both divorce and child custody.

Still, signing the convention is a step forward and Gherbetti’s group is trying to raise money for a post-Hague program that would provide resources and services to reuniting parents and children.

But for now, Masako told me that when it comes to abducted children, the red sun on Japan’s national flag should be replaced by a large black hole.

dbramham@vancouversun.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Read more:http://www.vancouversun.com/Daphne+Bramham+Japan+black+hole+abducted+children/8799583/story.html#ixzz2cFIe78aF

Children’s Rights Council of Japan and the case of Walter Benda, co-founder of CRC of Japan, are both discussed in this Christian Science Monitor article.

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-Pacific/2013/0522/Japan-no-longer-sanctions-child-abduction-in-mixed-marriage-cases

Japan no longer sanctions child abduction in mixed-marriage cases
Tokyo lawmakers unanimously approve Hague convention to settle child custody in broken international marriages. But Japanese domestic laws and legal loopholes still need to change, say scholars.

By Justin McCurry, Correspondent / May 22, 2013

TOKYO
Walter Benda had no inkling of what was to happen after he and his Japanese wife and their two small daughters moved from Minnesota to Tokyo in 1992.

Three years later, Mr. Benda returned home from his job at a trading company one evening to find his wife and children gone. For the next three-and-a half-years he had no idea of their whereabouts. He did not know it then, but his wife had taken their daughters, then aged 6 and 4, effectively ending their 13-year-marriage and Benda’s relationship with his children.

Benda is one of hundreds of foreign spouses of Japanese citizens who — after a marriage breaks down — are denied all access to their children.

But now after years of pressure from “left-behind” parents, human rights activists, and several governments, Japan’s parliament on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill paving the way to join the 1980 Hague convention on international child abductions. That brings Japan in line with 89 other signatories. With the unanimous agreement, Japan is expected to become a signatory by the end of March 2014.

RECOMMENDED: Think you know Japan? Take our quiz to find out.

Under the treaty, children under 16 who are taken away by one parent after a failed marriage must be returned to the country in which they normally live, if action is requested by the other parent. It also protects the access rights of both parents.

“I have never had a scheduled face-to-face meeting with my daughters since they were abducted and have not been able to communicate with them by phone or online,” Benda told the Monitor. “I have mailed them hundreds of letters, cards, and gifts over the years, but have never received a personal reply.”

During his search for his family, Benda received no help from the Japanese police and authorities. He took his case all the way to the Japanese Supreme Court, without success. Unable to find a new sponsor for his visa, he was forced to return empty-handed to the US, where a federal grand jury indicted his wife, in absentia, on charges of international parental abduction.

“Even though US law enforcement authorities have sought the return of my ex-wife to face the international parental kidnapping charge in the US, the Japanese police authorities refuse to cooperate because Japan does not consider parental kidnapping a crime covered under the extradition treaty it has with the US,” he said.

But it may soon.

Good news, but loopholes remain
Legal experts welcomed Wednesday’s decision, but said the treaty would have little effect unless it is accompanied by changes in Japan’s domestic law. Courts in Japan routinely favor the Japanese parent – usually the mother – in custody cases involving international marriages.

“I am concerned that Japan won’t implement the convention at face value,” says Takao Tanase, a law professor at Chuo University in Tokyo. Mr. Tanase points to numerous loopholes in Japanese family law that could be cited to prevent the return of children to their original country of residence, including the suspicion – without any burden of proof – that the child could be exposed to harm or that the mother’s welfare could be affected.

“Japanese law and the convention contradict each other, and this can be used as an excuse not to return the child,” he said. “The tradition of awarding sole custody was introduced 60 years ago, but Japanese society has changed dramatically since then.”

Yuichi Mayama, an upper house politician who has pushed for the legal change, was more optimistic. “This is a meaningful development,” he said. “I’m delighted that Japan is finally catching up with the rest of the world.”

But he added: “The tradition in Japan is to award sole custody, and that’s supported by the law. Unless we change that we won’t be able to use the convention properly. We take a very traditional view of the family in Japan, and changing that is going to take time.”

Japan’s about-turn
The number of foreign parents who are denied access to their children in Japan has increased along with a rise in the number of international marriages to around 40,000, according to Mr. Mayama. Inevitably, the trend has resulted in more divorces: Almost 18,000 Japanese and international couples divorced in 2011, according to government statistics.

The US, which is pursuing at least 100 recognized abduction cases involving its nationals, has worked alongside Canada and the UK in pressuring Japan, the only nonsignatory among the G8 nations, to fall into line. In February prime minister Shinzo Abe told President Obama that Japan was moving toward ratification during their summit in Washington.

Tokyo previously refused to sign the treaty, citing the need to protect Japanese mothers from abusive foreign husbands. Japan’s resistance earned it a reputation as a haven for child abductors, and in 2010 prompted the US House of Representatives to pass a nonbinding resolution condemning the retention of children in Japan “in violation of their human rights and United States and international law.”

The momentum for change grew in 2009 when Christopher Savoie, a US citizen, was arrested in Japan after trying to take back his children as they walked to school. Although Mr. Savoie had been granted full custody by a US court, his ex-wife took their children from their home in Tennessee back to her native Japan.

Savoie’s case and others have been taken up by the Children’s Rights Council Japan [www.crcjapan.com], a nonprofit organization launched in 1996 to offer support and resources to affected parents. The council has submitted a proposal to the Japan’s justice ministry and the US State Department calling for a humanitarian access program that would grant left-behind parents regular and meaningful contact with their children.

In 1998, a private investigator located Benda’s daughters, who are now in their 20s. He has seen them only twice since they were taken and for only brief periods on the street. “But they have always resisted my efforts to communicate and I have been unable to speak with them,” he said.

He agrees with skeptics that Japan’s belated about-turn will do little to help him and countless other foreign parents. “While it does reflect the fact that the Japanese government is finally recognizing that there is a problem, I am doubtful it will have any immediate, noticeable effect on cases such as mine,” he said.

“International pressure must continue until all loving parents who are separated from their children in Japan are able to have direct and meaningful access to them.”

http://www.dw.de/dads-doubt-tokyos-commitment-to-abduction-treaty/a-16647298

Society

Dads doubt Tokyo’s commitment to abduction treaty

Tokyo is inching closer to signing the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, but foreign parents who have not seen their children for years have little faith the treaty will help them.

In the last 18 years, Walter Benda has only managed to see his two daughters once. That was for a few moments on a street in a Japanese town in 1998 after a private investigator managed to track down the girls and their mother.

His Japanese wife disappeared from their home in Chiba Prefecture, just outside Tokyo, after seeing him off to work one morning and rebuffed all his efforts to make contact with them. And as soon as he did find them again, they vanished once more.

Benda’s case is far from unusual. Critics of the Japanese judicial system accuse it of abetting Japanese nationals who want to leave their foreign spouse abroad and prevent them from staying in touch as the children grow up. And as Japan is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Japanese courts set the rules on access.

The situation is largely about foreigners living abroad with their Japanese partners who return to Japan, but the issue also affects foreign nationals who marry Japanese and opt to live in Japan. Unsurprisingly, foreign parents have been given short shrift in legal efforts to see their children in Japan. An estimated 20,000 children are born to mixed-nationality couples here every year.

Currently, Washington is dealing with 100 cases of US children being abducted to Japan, 30 cases involve Canadian citizens and British officials admit to dealing with around 10 cases.

Promises from Tokyo

The US is investigating nearly 50 cases of abductions to Japan

When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with US President Barack Obama during his recent trip to Washington, the issue came up. The Japanese leader promised that politicians in Tokyo would soon sign the Hague Convention into law, bringing the country into line with 89 other signatory states.

Of the Group of Eight nations, Japan is the only one not to have signed the agreement. But even if Tokyo does sign the pact, foreign parents do not believe that Japanese courts will be even-handed.

“I believe it is quite possible Japan will sign it this year, but I feel it will just be window dressing, as is the case with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child that Japan ratified in its entirety in 1994,” said Benda, the joint founder of the Japan chapter of the US-based Children’s Rights Council (CRC). “That agreement provides for regular, direct contact between children and both parents, but Japan does not honor it.

“I’m not very optimistic. I believe Japan is doing this more for symbolic reasons to satisfy its foreign allies rather than out of sincere concern about children’s rights.”

Benda’s experience with Japan’s appalling track record on child abduction dates back to July 21, 1995.

A normal farewell

“I had no clue that this was going to happen,” he explained. “It was the first day of school vacation, so the children were still at home when I left for work in the morning.

“I remember hugging both my daughters at the front door of our house before I left. When I returned home that evening, I immediately sensed something was wrong when I noticed that the children’s bicycles, which were normally parked in front of the house, were gone, and their shoes, and their mother’s shoes, were all gone.

“As I walked into the house I noticed a lot of the furniture, paintings and appliances were gone as well,” he said. “There was a note from my wife, along with a business card for an attorney, on the dining room table. In the note, my wife asked me to forgive her for leaving me.”

Talking to Japanese friends, however, he felt confident that he would be seeing his children soon and that the system would handle the situation in a similar way as is done in the US.

He was quickly to come face-to-face with the rules of parental abduction in Japan. Even though he remained legally married and shared equal custody of the children, it took Benda three-and-a-half years to even find out where they were living as none of the Japanese authorities would help locate them or provide information about their health or school situations.

He approached the local police, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, the local city office, the health and welfare ministry, schools and education officials, the US Embassy, INTERPOL and various other organizations set up to assist foreigners in Japan. None were willing or able to help and he was forced to approach authorities in the US to have his children registered as missing and have an international arrest warrant issued against his wife for kidnapping.

No visits with daughters

“I have pursued custody and visitation rights through the Japanese courts twice now, each time appealing my case all the way to the Japanese Supreme Court,” said Benda. “I have never been granted a single scheduled visit with my daughters.”

Foreign fathers are often powerless in finding their children

In the US, the Justice Department has indicted his former wife under the International Parental Kidnapping Act as the girls are US citizens being retained overseas. The Japanese government, however, refuses to recognize the charge and will not take any action on the extradition request.

“I feel very angry and misled by the Japanese legal system,” he explained. “The Japanese Constitution guarantees the husband and wife equal rights in family matters and the Japanese have signed international treaties which guarantee children regular direct access with both parents.

“The reality is, the Japanese courts thumb their noses at these legal obligations.”

At the root of the problem, CRC of Japan believes, is that Japanese judges do not have very strong enforcement authority in family law cases. That means that even if the abducting parent is ordered by the court to ensure the other biological parent has access to the child, the court is essentially powerless if that arrangement is not adhered to. In other jurisdictions, if a parent is ordered to allow visitation and refuses to do so, that person can be charged with contempt of court and be imprisoned.

Pressure on Japan

CRC believes it is only the cumulative effect of international publicity and increased public awareness that have led the US and other foreign governments to put pressure on Japan.

In many ways, CRC Japan co-founder Brian Thomas admits, he and Benda are relatively lucky as they have at least sufficient financial resources to contest the legal cases through the courts and devote time to supporting other parents in similar situations. The majority of international marriages in Japan are between Japanese men and foreign women from other Asian nations. When those relationships hit the rocks, the women have fewer resources to fight for their right to see their children.

Parental abduction not only affects international marriages. Because there is no equivalent organization to fight for the rights of parents, CRC of Japan has several cases on its books of Japanese couples seeking access to their children as well.

Thomas moved to Japan from South Wales in 1988, two years after meeting his wife Mikako. Their son, Graham Hajime, was born in January 1990, but Thomas has not been permitted to see him since April 1993. He carries his son’s photo with him at all times.

And he is not optimistic that Japan signing the agreement will bring about meaningful change for him or other parents in his predicament.

“I hope that Japan can change for the better, for the sake of its own people, and I would like to be optimistic,” he said. “But history does not lend itself to optimism when dealing with Japanese matters of this nature.”

DW.DE

Children’s Rights Council of Japan recently detected an error in the online database of National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) that was resulting in only two of the posters of American children believed to be abducted to Japan to show up on the NCMEC website.  NCMEC has corrected the problem, and there are now 13 posters involving 17 American children showing up on their website.  Children’s Rights Council of Japan has reposted these cases including the posters with additional details for each case at the following link:

http://www.crcjapan.com/missing-kids.html

Below is a listing of publicized cases of American children believed to have been abducted to Japan in violation of U.S. laws.  The source for this information is the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).   As of September 11, 2012, there were 13 cases involving 17 American children on the NCMEC website.  This represents only a small fraction of the total cases involving abductions to Japan, as this is only for U.S. citizen children believed to have been taken to Japan.  Also, many left-behind parents do not report their cases to NCMEC, and not all left-behind parents have agreed to go public with their cases using the NCMEC Poster Campaign.  For more details on each case, click on the “View Poster” link.

Picture

Gunnar and Kianna Berg
Picture

Melissa Braden
Picture

Keisuke Collins
Picture

Jonas and Owen Daikaibush
Picture

Hiroki Hagisaka
Picture

Sean Hillman
Picture

Marina Kaneda
Picture

Ezra Lui
Picture

Diona Peterson
Picture

Isaac and Rebecca Savoie
Picture

Wayne Sawyer
Picture

Hana Scordato
Picture

Takoda and Tiana Weed

This article was published a few years ago and mentions the cases of two board members of Children’s Rights Council of Japan, David Brian Thomas (who is also co-founder of CRC of Japan) and Michael Gulbraa.

http://www.davidappleyard.com/japan/jp21.htm

Foreigners find divorce means sayonara to kids
— Their Japanese spouses split and courts laugh in their face

By DOUG STRUCK and SACHIKO SAKAMAKI

(This article was first published in the Washington Post, and later in the Japan Times)

It was quiet in the house when Sean Reedy got home after giving exams all day at the university. Too quiet. No cry of “Poppy!” from little Louie, 8, followed by the usual demands of Bunta, 6, and Yuzo, 5, to kick the soccer ball around before dinner.

And too neat, he recalled. The house on that Saturday 18 months ago was immaculate. As though it had been straightened in a final, departing gesture.

He looked quickly in closets. Clothes were gone. Louie’s school backpack — gone. Passports — gone, too.

His Japanese wife took his sons into hiding that day, preempting custody of the boys by simple possession. She could do so confident that the customs and laws of Japan would help her keep the children from their father.

It stunned Reedy, 44, a linguistics professor who had been in Japan for 16 years. Foreign spouses here frequently lose their children when their marriages collapse. There is no shared custody in Japanese divorces, and visitation rights are minimal and unenforceable. The wife gets the children in an estimated 80 percent to 90 percent of the cases, according to divorce lawyers, and fathers are expected to drop out of sight.

Although his marriage was not going well, Reedy said, he had no inkling that his children might be taken from him. The school system refused to tell him where they had been transferred, although there was no allegation of abuse. Through her attorney, his wife has let him see his sons three times in 18 months, but he still does not know where they live and cannot contact them. She sued for divorce, and he demanded frequent visitation rights.

“In court, when I said I wanted to see my kids every weekend, they laughed at me,” Reedy said.

Family experts say divorce carries a stigma, so  former spouses avoid seeing each other. The workaholic hallmark of post-war Japan resulted in a clear division of responsibility, they say, in which husbands belong to their job and children belong to their mothers. Mothers take total responsibility for the children — they’re blamed, for instance, if their children get bad marks in school — and are expected to retain that role after divorce.

In addition, some experts argue, children’s loyalties are less divided if the father is not around.

It is rare for Japanese fathers, or mothers,  to fight that tradition. When one parent in a failed marriage is a Westerner who wants continued contact with the children, however, there is little legal help. If a Japanese parent whisks the kids away, as Reedy’s wife did, there is no legal remedy. It is not treated as a crime.

Even if children are taken away from a parent abroad who has legal custody and are brought here, Japan is a haven from international law.

Japan is one of the few developed countries that has refused to sign the 1980 Hague Convention promising to return abducted children to the rightful custody of an overseas parent. So a Japanese parent is not prosecuted for bringing children into the country in violation of a foreign court’s custody order. Japan ranks second, behind Mexico, in the frequency of parental abduction cases handled by the U.S. State Department, a spokeswoman said.

Even as a tenured professor and taxpayer, Reedy found he could get no assistance from the Japanese courts in getting his children back — or even seeing them regularly.

“It’s a big problem, especially for foreign men,” said Kensuke Onuki, a lawyer here who handles international divorces. “The situation is totally different from the United States. There are hardly any cases where my clients are able to see their children.”

And it is a growing problem, as international marriages increase in Japan and the stigma of divorce declines. In 2001, the Health Ministry recorded nearly 40,000 marriages between a Japanese and a foreigner, more than triple the number in 1980. It also counted more than 13,000 divorces of mixed-nationality couples, nearly double that of a decade ago.

Das Pradip gets to meet with his children once a month, for 30 minutes, at a Roy Rogers restaurant
— when his ex-wife bothers to bring them.

She left her husband three years ago with the children, then 5 and 8, for a Japanese man. Pradip refuses to go home to India because he knows he would lose all contact with his children. Instead, he toils at a Tokyo short-order grill, flipping hamburgers and serving french fries.

“As long as I am alive, I will not give up my children,” he said. “I went outside their school and stood outside just to see them walking with their friends. I can’t even say hello to them. It’s so painful.” He asked to dine with them on Father’s Day, but the court said it was “not Japanese culture,” Pradip said. His ex-wife and her attorney declined to be interviewed.

In cases examined for this article, available court papers and interviews with attorneys revealed no finding of physical abuse, and the other spouses or their attorneys declined requests to respond to questions.

David Brian Thomas said he has not seen his son since his Japanese wife and her parents locked him out of their house in 1992. The divorce was overturned by the court on grounds that his wife doctored papers and forged his seal, but Thomas has been unable to see his son, Graham Hajime, who is now 13.

“The court says yes, I have rights to see my son,” Thomas said. “But there’s no method in Japan of enforcement. Technically, I have won, but I have lost. The laws are stacked against foreigners.

“I really love my son. That’s why I’ve tolerated this for so long,” said Thomas, 58, a native of Wales who teaches English in private schools here. “Why don’t I just go away and remarry and live my life? Because I have a son. How would I feel if my father ran away from me? There will come a time when he will ask, ‘Where is my father?’ and I want to be here.”

The first obstacle for foreigners is the recent custom in Japanese divorces for the wife to get the children. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was unusual when, in separating from his wife in 1982, he took custody of his two sons. More typical was the wall of silence that has remained since: His ex-wife has not seen their two children, now 22 and 24, since their divorce, and Koizumi has not spoken to his third son, now 20, who was born after the marriage dissolved.

Visitation rights aren’t part of a court’s divorce order. If the issue is raised, a family court will try to persuade parents to agree voluntarily, but there is no enforcement. Even foreign visitation or custody orders have no standing in Japan.

“I don’t want him to see my daughter,” said a 35-year-old Japanese woman who is violating a U.S. court order granting visitation rights each summer and winter to her American ex-husband. She won custody of her daughter, now 7, in U.S. courts and shuttled between countries to allow him visitation until they had a confrontation two years ago. He is suing to have the court order enforced. But she said she feels protected in Japan, which would not act even if she lost.

Salt Lake City lawyerMichael Gulbraa, 39, has a Utah court order for custody of his two sons, 12 and 13. But his Japanese ex-wife took them to Japan in 2001. Japanese police know where they are, he said, but won’t arrest them.

“They are wanted by the FBI and Interpol, but the (police) say abduction by a parent is not a crime in Japan,” he said in a telephone interview. “I just want my children back.”

Japan does not ratify the Hague Convention because it would have to return such children to foreign spouses, said Toshiyuki Kono, a law professor at Kyushu University. “Politically, there is no strong incentive here to do that,” he said. A spokesman for the treaty division of the Foreign Ministry said the Hague Convention has not been ratified because “we’ve been studying it.”

Japan’s stance that parental abduction is not a crime can change when a foreigner is the abductor. Engle Nieman, 46, was arrested at the Osaka port and spent four months in jail for trying to go home to the Netherlands with his 1-year-old daughter after his wife moved in with her parents.

He was arrested under an old law against trafficking of girls for prostitution. He was prosecuted, but the ex-wife flouts the law, he complained.

“My wife is now hiding somewhere with my daughter. She doesn’t show up for court. My lawyer doesn’t know what to do,” he said. “On schooldays, I go around to the various kindergartens in Tokyo to see if I can find them. It’s terrible.”

Reedy said he was told to forget his three sons and go home to the U.S. Distraught and depressed, he has taken medical leave from his job and returned to California for what he said will be a temporary stay.

“People in the West don’t understand,” lamented Reedy. In Japan, “it has nothing to do with whether the kids would benefit by being with another parent. Once there is a divorce, the line is cut. That’s it.”

Below is a downloadable flier with details for the street rally being held in Tokyo on October 24.  A lot of media, especially Japanese media, is expected at this event, so please try to attend.

Street Rally (Oct. 24, 2009)