http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/04/04/national/child-abduction-agreement-too-late-for-many-parents/#.U0KzqI7D_ui

Child abduction agreement too late for many parents

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Apr 4, 2014

To some parents, Japan’s official entry Tuesday into the Hague convention on cross-border child abductions doesn’t represent the light at the end of the tunnel, but the arrival of more obstacles in the prolonged effort to retrieve their children, experts say.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction was drafted in 1980 to ensure that children abducted and taken overseas by a parent involved in a failed international marriage will be promptly returned to their country of habitual residence.

Japan’s refusal to sign the convention earned it a reputation as a “safe haven” for international child abductions. But from now on, the Foreign Ministry will be legally bound to locate abducted kids and facilitate their return at the request of parents abroad. The same will apply to children whisked away from Japan, as long as the country where the child is staying is a signatory of the convention.

While widely hailed as a breakthrough, participation in the pact does not satisfy everyone.

For one thing, the treaty is not retroactive, meaning repatriation is possible only in cases that take place from Tuesday on.

Regardless of the date of the abduction, however, the government can still assist parents seeking visitation opportunities, such as by trying to locate their children, according to the treaty. But these benefits can only be given to parents whose kids were under 16 years of age as of Tuesday. Anyone else does not benefit from the treaty.

A group of parents trapped in this legislative limbo went to the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday to explain their plight.

Miho Watanabe, a 53-year-old Japanese citizen, said she took refuge in a women’s shelter in United States in 1995 with her 3-year-old daughter to escape alleged mistreatment by her husband, an American, whom she married in Japan.

Shortly afterward, she took their daughter back to Japan and got divorced with the help of international lawyers in 1999. But in 2005, after she sent her 13-year-old daughter to the U.S. for a visit at the request of her ex-husband, he spirited her away and has refused to let Watanabe have access.

The daughter visited her once in Japan recently, but Watanabe said she has no clue about her current whereabouts.

“I was told (by the American family) I would become a ‘kidnapper’ if I ever tried to bring back my own girl to Japan,” Watanabe said.

Watanabe, who campaigned for Japan to join the Hague convention for years, said she was vaguely aware the pact only applies to children under 16. But she had always held out hope that she might benefit from it somehow, she said, noting that her faintest hopes were dashed on Wednesday, when ministry officials told her there was nothing they could do. Her daughter is now 21 and living independently of her father in the U.S.

“In my case, the abduction took place ages ago. At that time, she was still a little kid. It’s so unfair, after all these years that I waited, that my case is not considered eligible,” Watanabe said.

Masako Akeo, head of Left Behind Parents Japan, a group of Japan-based parents separated from their children, expressed outrage over the government’s ingrained “tardiness.”

Akeo’s husband, who is also Japanese, took their son, raised in Canada, to Japan in 2006 without her consent. A Japanese family court later granted him sole custody of the boy, effectively denying Akeo any visitation rights. She has no idea where he is today.

“We all looked very much forward to this day. But now we’re devastated to find out we’re not even eligible to ask for the government’s support to locate and help us visit our kids,” Akeo said.

While acknowledging that their situation is a pity, legal experts argue that the convention’s current framework does not allow such parents to be helped.

“It’s not like there is absolutely nothing they can do. They could go to the U.S. and litigate a case themselves. But I understand it will be a very, very laborious task,” said lawyer Masami Kittaka.

“The sad reality is that Japan’s accession to the convention does nothing to directly improve their situation,” she said.

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.scmp.com/news/asia/article/1463285/activists-say-japan-will-try-bend-rules-child-abduction-convention

Activists say Japan will try to bend rules of child abduction convention

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 April, 2014, 10:53pm

UPDATED : Thursday, 03 April, 2014, 2:35am

Julian Ryall in Tokyo

Japan’s commitment to the Hague Convention on child abduction went into effect this week, but children’s rights activists warn that authorities are already looking for ways to avoid complying with the treaty.

Before Tuesday, Japan was the only G8 nation not to have ratified the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, 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 without the consent of the other parent.

Pressure had been growing on Tokyo to adopt the legislation as a growing number of international marriages – estimated at 40,000 a year – are also ending in separation and divorce.

Embassies in Tokyo are handling about 400 cases in which the Japanese parent has violated the terms of the convention by taking a child back to Japan, but international authorities have been powerless to act once they get there.

“We have been pressing for this for many years now and we are pleased that it has finally been ratified,” said Brian Thomas, joint founder of the Japanese arm of the US-based Children’s Rights Council.

“But we do have reservations,” he admitted, pointing to cases in Japan in which judges have invariably sided with a Japanese woman who claims she has been hit by a partner.

“The Japanese government keeps making excuses every time any Japanese national claims they have been subjected to domestic violence – and, of course, every lawyer now knows that is a legitimate defence,” said Thomas, who moved to Japan from Britain in 1988, two years after meeting his wife Mikako.

Their son, Graham Hajime, was born in January 1990, but Thomas returned from work one day to find their home locked and empty. He has not been permitted to see his son since April 1993, but carries his photo at all times.

“In this sort of situation, there is a clear need to have an outside expert assess a situation and to make a decision on what is really going on,” he said. “I’m really worried that the Japanese courts and the government here will continue to manipulate the situation in favour of their own nationals.”

Even more upsetting for Thomas is the fact that the legislation is not retroactive and cannot therefore be applied to his own situation.

“This does not help me at all,” he said. “But I will fight on for other parents who are affected by their child being taken away.”

Under the terms of the new law, a central authority has been set up within Japan’s foreign ministry to locate children who have been removed from their place of habitual residence overseas and brought to Japan.

The ministry will make efforts to encourage the parents to settle the dispute voluntarily, but if that fails, family courts in Tokyo and Osaka will institute hearings and issue rulings.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Tokyo adopts child abduction treaty

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

Copyright 2014 Kyodo News International.

All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

http://www.meetup.com/Left-Behind-Parents-Japan/events/174099972/?a=ea1_grp&rv=ea1

Press conference by mothers who have had their children internationally abducted

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014
3:00 PM to 3:30 PM

Judicial Correspondent Club Shiho Kisya Club (at Tokyo High Court)

1-1-4 Kasumigaseki chiyoda-ku , Tokyo (map)

The Hague Convention will ratify from April 1st. After April 1st, how will the visitation be changed? How does the Ministry of Foreign Affairs support us?
We have been waiting for today forever.
Four left behind mothers will announce about their cases at a press conference. Their children were internationally abducted by their spouses.

Date April 2

Place: Judicial Correspondent Club (at Tokyo High Court)
1-1-4 Kasumigaseki chiyoda-ku Tokyo
Tell: 03-3581-5411

Time: from 15:00PM to 15:30PM

If you will be present, please let us know or contact Judicial Correspondent Club.

We ask for the volunteers to help us.

SOURCE: http://www.hcch.net/index_en.php?act=conventions.authprint&cid=17

Japan – Central Authority & practical information

Central Authority(ies):

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Contact details:

Address: Ministry of Foreign Affairs
2-2-1 Kasumigaseki Chiyoda-ku
TOKYO
100-8919 Japan
Telephone: +81 3 5501 8152
Fax: +81 3 5501 8148
E-mail: –
General website: http://www.mofa.go.jp/
Contact point: Consular Policy Division
Languages spoken by staff: Japanese (by telephone)
Japanese and English (by fax)

Practical Information:
(The following information was provided by the relevant State authorities or was obtained from the replies to the 2003 and/or 2008 Service Convention Questionnaires)

Forwarding authorities
(Art. 3(1)): the judges
Methods of service
(Art. 5(1)(2)):
Formal Service (Art. 5 (1)(a))
The Minister for Foreign Affairs refers the document to the competent court of justice. Service is then effected either by post (special postal service, Article 49 of the Mail Act; a report of service is drawn up by the postman) or through a marshal.

Informal delivery (Art. 5(2))
The Minister for Foreign Affairs refers the documents sent to it to the competent court clerk. The court clerk informs the addressee of the documents to be served and the addressee then either presents himself / herself to the court or requests that they be forwarded to him / her. In the latter case special postal service will be effected (Article 49 of the Mail Act; the postman will draw up a report of the delivery).When the person to be served refuses to accept the documents, or fails to appear or to apply for forwarding the documents to him / her within three weeks of the date on which he/she was informed, the documents will be returned to the applicant.

Service by a particular method (Art. 5(1)(b))
When it is so requested, a marshal will effect service by delivering the document directly to the person after ascertaining that he / she is the addressee.

Translation requirements
(Art. 5(3)):
Full translation is required for any document to be served under Article 5(1)(a)(b). We serve the translation to the addressee together with the original.

Japan has not concluded any agreements under Article 20(b).

Costs relating to execution of the request for service
(Art. 12):
In principle, the applicant incurs no charges because the National Treasury bears costs of service. However, in the case of service by a marshal, a fee is charged and should be reimbursed. To that end, the court which effected the service sends a bill of the costs to be reimbursed to the applicant together with the certificate referred to in Article 6.

When executed by a marshal, the amount to be paid for the performance of service is 1,800 yen (service in working hours on weekdays) or 4,200 yen (service in night times, weekends or holidays) plus the marshal’s travel expenses, which is 37 yen per kilometer from the competent district court to which he / she belongs.

Time for execution of request: About four months
Oppositions and declarations
(Art. 21(2)): Click here to read all the declarations made by Japan under the Service Convention.
Art. 8(2): No opposition
Art. 10(a):
No opposition

“Japan has not declared that it objects to the sending of judicial documents, by postal channels, directly to addressees in Japan. As the representative of Japan made clear at the Special Commission of April 1989 on the practical operation of the Service and Evidence Conventions, Japan does not consider that the use of postal channels for sending judicial documents to persons in Japan constitutes an infringement of its sovereign power.”

“Nevertheless, as the representative also indicated, the absence of a formal objection does not imply that the sending of judicial documents by postal channels to addressees in Japan is always considered valid service in Japan. In fact, sending documents by such a method would not be deemed valid service in Japan in circumstances where the rights of the addressee were not respected.”

(See Conclusion and Recommendation No 57 of the 2003 Special Commission.)

Art. 10(b): Opposition
Art. 10(c): Opposition
Art. 15(2): Declaration of applicability
Art. 16(3): No declaration of applicability

Derogatory channels (bilateral or multilateral agreements or internal law permitting other transmission channels)
(Arts. 11, 19, 24 and 25)

Disclaimer:
Information may not be complete or fully updated – please contact the relevant authorities to verify this information.

Consular Convention between Japan and the United States of America

Consular Convention between Japan and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Agreements or arrangements concerning judicial assistance between Japan and; Swiss Confederation, Kingdom of Denmark, Republic of Italy, Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Federative Republic of Brazil, Kingdom of Thailand, Federal Republic of Germany, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Syrian Arab Republic, Kingdom of Norway, Australia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Republic of Austria, State of Kuwait, Republic of Iraq, State of Israel

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(This page was last updated on 15 May 2009)

Japan – Competent Authority (Art. 6)
The District Court which has rendered judicial aid with respect to the service is designated as the authority competent to complete the certificate in the form of the model annexed to the Convention, pursuant to the first paragraph of Article 6.

Japan – Competent Authority (Art. 9)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
2-2-1 Kasumigaseki Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo
100-8919 Japan
tel.: +81-3-3580.3311

http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/AJ201401250061

Japan finally signs Hague convention governing international child custody disputes

January 25, 2014

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

After years of refusing to sign, Japan on Jan. 24 officially joined the Hague convention that governs cross-border child custody disputes that result from broken marriages.

Japan came under heavy pressure from the United States and European countries to become party to The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The treaty spells out the guidelines that govern cases in which children of separated or divorced couples are taken to the home country of one parent without the consent of the other.

Nearly 20,000 international marriages a year involving Japanese nationals result in divorce. In certain cases, the Japanese parent returned to Japan with their children without the consent of the other parent.

The convention goes into effect from April 1 in Japan, at which time the Japan’s Foreign Ministry will be obliged to locate children that result from such marriages if requested to do so by a parent overseas. The ministry will then be required to take steps to resolve the dispute through arbitration or other means.

According to the convention, 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 resided with the child before the breakup.

If a parent who takes a child to Japan from overseas does not agree to return the child to the country of former residence, one of two family courts located in either Tokyo or Osaka will decide the matter.

The court has the authority to judge whether to return a child to another country if it believes the child might be subjected to danger or abuse, both mental and physical, if handed over.

Cases involving children taken to Japan before April 1 will be exempt from the convention. A parent overseas can still call on the Japanese government to assist in setting up a meeting with the child in such cases.

The children of Japanese couples will also be subject to the treaty if one parent flees with a child or children overseas.

The Supreme Court has already drawn up detailed guidelines on how to resolve such disputes.

The top court is now working on a manual for family court officers outlining how they should take custody of children in the event a court decides to return them overseas.

The Supreme Court estimates the cases that will go before the two courts will number in the dozens each year, with most disputes expected to be settled out of court.

A senior official with the Supreme Court said only a few of the cases are likely to require the need for officers of the court to physically separate the children from a parent living in Japan.

Judiciary officials said the first case may go before one of the courts as early as July.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/10/23/national/japan-to-join-child-custody-pact-in-april/#.UmfXgvmUSM4

Japan to join child custody pact in April

KYODO

The government aims to accede to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction on April 1.

Japan had been accused by the United States and European countries of being a “safe haven” for international child abductions.

The treaty, which currently has 89 signatories, sets out rules and procedures for the prompt return to the country of habitual residence of children under 16 taken to another country, if requested by the other parent.

The convention will enter into force in a state acceding to it on the first day of the third calendar month after the instrument of accession is deposited with the Dutch Foreign Ministry.

The Diet approved the country’s accession to the treaty in May and enacted a law in June stipulating domestic implementation procedures for the Hague treaty.

Under the legislation, a central authority will be set up in the Foreign Ministry to locate children who have been taken away and encourage the people involved to settle the dispute through consultations.

If the consultations fail, family courts in Tokyo and Osaka will decide on the child’s treatment. The legislation also allows a parent to refuse to return a child if abuse or domestic violence is feared.

The central authority will be staffed with lawyers, experts on domestic violence and child psychology counselors.

At the family courts in Tokyo and Osaka, judges have been trained on the Hague convention. The Foreign Ministry and the family courts plan to open a website to explain about the procedures to settle disputes under the pact.

The government plans to join the international treaty for settling cross-border child custody disputes in April after submitting necessary documents in January to the Dutch Foreign Ministry, which handles matters on the pact, a government source said Tuesday.

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

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

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/08/09/national/supreme-court-manual-lays-out-procedures-for-hague-treaty-child-retrievals/

 

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Top court seeks to minimize trauma to kids

Manual issued for Hague treaty child retrievals

BY MAGDALENA OSUMI

STAFF WRITER

AUG 10, 2013 

The Supreme Court has issued a case-by-case manual for court-appointed administrators on how to retrieve children in parental cross-border abduction cases under the Hague Convention, minimizing the use of force to avoid traumatizing the kids, the court’s spokesman said.

The manual, issued June 14, outlines measures the administrators who would be assigned the task of returning children to their place of habitual residence, even by force, should take as Japan considers joining the Hague Convention by the end of next March, the spokesman said Friday.

It says the administrators “should take utmost consideration” to protect the interests of the child.

The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction mandates procedures for a child abducted by one parent of a failed marriage to be swiftly returned to its country of habitual residence. The convention only applies to children under the age of 16.

The nation has come under fire in recent years over cases in which Japanese parents in estranged marriages overseas have brought children to Japan in defiance of divorce court custody or visitation rights rulings abroad.

Often, the estranged Japanese spouse claims to have fled from an abusive relationship. But the removal of a child from its country of habitual residence has been deemed a violation of that nation’s law, and the abducting parent a fugitive.

Under legislation that cleared the Diet in May, a court-designated officer can forcibly retrieve a child abducted or retained by a parent residing in Japan in defiance of an overseas custody ruling and who refuses to hand over the child.

The manual calls for the officer to attempt to take custody of the child at the home of the abducting parent, in an environment where privacy is thus protected and the child feels safe. Taking a child away in a public place, such as a day care center or on a street, may lead to “unpredictable situations” and traumatize the child, it said.

If the child cries or refuses to be returned to the other parent, the officer should not use force, according to the manual.

Should an officer visit a home to retrieve a child and is told it is not present, the child’s name should be called out and a check made on the presence of the child’s belongings, the manual says.

The officer is authorized to forcibly enter and search a home if there are indications the child is inside.

In the case of an infant, the manual allows the officer, with the parent’s consent, to remove it from the crib. But the officer must not try to forcibly take custody of an infant if the parent is hugging it tightly to prevent such action.

The manual, issued by the Supreme Court’s Civil Affairs Bureau, is based on meetings involving judges and other court officials nationwide in January and February. The gatherings covered past cases of failed domestic marriages where one parent fled with a child from the country of habitual residence without the consent of the other parent.

Court-designated officers have retrieved children in those cases but have not had specific manuals or regulations to follow. The latest document urges such officers in domestic cases to follow its instructions to avoid harming the child in any way.

In past divorce custody cases in Japan, officers apparently tried to retrieve children in public places, resulting in shouting matches.

Fiscal 2010 saw 120 domestic cases processed in which a parent demanded the forcible return of an offspring. The figure was 133 in fiscal 2011 and 131 in fiscal 2012.

Japan is the only Group of Eight member yet to accede to the Hague Convention. If it becomes a signatory, the cases will be handled by a family court in Tokyo or Osaka.