http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/parents-urge-japan-to-return-abducted-children/2012/07/10

 

Parents urge Japan to return abducted children

BY  · JULY 10, 2012 · NO COMMENTS
·

Jeffrey and Mochi

Imagine getting a phone call stating that your children have been kidnapped. Your spouse has taken your kids to Japan, using the country’s laws to maintain custody. Every day becomes an exhausting task of contacting government officials to help, but little is accomplished.

This scenario is very real to Patrick McPike and the parents of nearly 400 abducted U.S. children living in Japan. Including Japanese children, an estimated 10,000 have been abducted by parents within Japan.

Japan has never returned any of them.

McPike traveled with his family to Japan to complete an assignment for his company. His marriage strained and his wife did the unthinkable.

“It seemed like a good opportunity to provide my wife’s family with an opportunity to spend some time with their grandchildren while they were still young,” McPike said. “When my assignment was up and it was time to come home, my wife abducted the children.”

McPike’s wife cut him off from communication with his two sons, Kai and Koh. The children became victims of Japanese law, which treats child abduction as a custody dispute rather than a felony crime. His wife is living in Japan, but could not be reached or found for comment.

Japan’s view of child abduction is different from the rest of the world. They are not a member of The Hague Convention – a treaty designed to return internationally abducted children to their home nations – and their courts favor one parent having sole custody. In 90 percent of cases, the rights go to the mother.

Japan is revising laws to open the possibility ratifying The Hague, but these changes may not be a total acceptance of The Hague in its current form.

“If we look at the domestic laws submitted by the government in order to execute the Convention, changes have been made with current Japanese public opinion and family court practices in mind, and it is questionable whether the intent of the Hague Convention has been incorporated,” said Takao Tanase, a professor who specializes in Japanese law.

During a U.S. Department of State briefing on U.S. child abductions to Japan, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell spoke about persuading Japan to join The Hague.

“The President also very strongly affirmed the Japanese decision to enter into The Hague Convention,” Campbell said. “He asked that these steps be taken clearly and that the necessary implementing legislation would be addressed.

“This is a human tragedy, that unless you get to experience and get to know these brave parents, it’s just impossible to imagine,” Campbell said.

Getting Japan to join The Hague would be helpful, but McPike says it will not be enough, by itself, to bring back all the missing children.

“The Hague is not enforceable,” McPike said. “The decision to comply with a Hague return is determined by the courts of the abducting country. To solve the problem requires reform of the Japanese system.  They need to hold courts and judges responsible for following the law.  They need to enforce kidnapping laws consistently and they need to provide for joint-custody.”

There have also been concerns about the lack of action from the U.S. per policy, the U.S. Department of State has not formally requested from Japan the return of any abducted U.S. children.

Kai and Koh together laughing in happier times. (Courtesy photo.)

Susan Jacobs, a special adviser for children’s issues for the U.S. Department of State, said that individual cases are raised with the permission of parents and the parents are updated on these discussions. However, most parents say they have not been told of their personal cases being discussed with Japanese government officials.

Ironically, Japan refuses to return U.S. children but they want their own citizens who are abducted to be returned. From 1978-1981, about 16 Japanese teenagers were abducted by North Korea. Five of those children were returned and about six have died. The others are still missing. Japan has come to the U.S. and the U.N. asking for help to get North Korea to return these children.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama have met with Japanese families and assured they would provide help. Yet they have not met with any U.S. parents about their children being abducted to Japan, giving the appearance that they are more concerned with helping Japan.

Parents also question efforts by the U.S. Department of State because of the Mary Lake case.

In 2005, William Lake’s daughter was abducted by his ex-wife and taken to Japan. No one in the Lake family was Japanese, but William’s ex-wife knew of Japan’s custody laws.

On August 24, 2011, Mary Lake went to the U.S. Consulate in Japan and spoke with an official who told her to return home to her abductor since she did not have the money for a plane ticket to the states. Pressure was put on the U.S. Consulate and they aided Mary Lake’s effort to go home to her father the second time.

The return of Mary Lake gave parents of abducted children a small glimmer of hope for their own cases. For McPike and others like Jeffrey Morehouse and Randy Collins, getting their children back has become a daily job.

Morehouse and Collins serve as regional directors for Bring Abducted Children Home (BACHome), an organization established in 2010 to raise awareness of the missing U.S. citizen children kidnapped to in Japan.

Both men testified before the California State Senate Judiciary Committee for Senate Bill 1206 – Child Abduction Prevention. This is just one of many hearings they have attended to gather support.

During his testimony, Morehouse explained that he dropped his son Mochi off with his ex-wife for a parental visit in 2010. His ex-wife had threatened to kidnap Mochi before but the passport policy stated “when both parents have custody of the child, and the child is taken out of the country by one of the parents without consent of the other parent, it is punishable by criminal law.”

The Portland consulate violated the policy and provided his ex-wife with the passport for Mochi. Six days later he received a phone call from the police telling him his wife and child were missing. His wife kidnapped their son to Japan.

“In that moment, my life was shattered,” Morehouse said. “My days became consumed with dealing with local law enforcement, the U.S. Department of State, Japanese consular officials and anything I could think of to find my little boy.

“Every morning I wake up twice. The first time, I rush out of bed and prepare to get him ready for school. I can hear his voice in my head and my heart skips a beat. And then I really wake up and realize he’s still missing. The ongoing nightmare continues. The last time I held his hand, the last time I heard his voice was on Father’s Day 2010 and I’m still spending every day trying to locate my son.”

Morehouse, Collins and the other members of BacHome continue to exhaust their resources to locate their children.

They recently wrote a letter in advance of Clinton’s July 8 trip to Japan. Urging officials to help return their children, it was addressed to the Prime Minister to the Los Angeles consulate, four other Japanese consulates, members of the media, the Department of State, White House Office staff, all U.S. Senate offices, and members of the House of Representatives.

During Clinton’s visit about 40 parents of abducted children in Japan participated in a rally attempting to secure her help in pressuring Japan to address the issue of child custody.

Parents will continue to fight and hope that those in charge take notice and urge Japan to return their children.

“Imagine that tomorrow your child is going to be abducted,” Collins said. “What would you do today to prevent that from happening tomorrow?”

“I haven’t seen or heard from my son in almost four years. I don’t know what he’s thinking. But I did everything my government told me I was supposed to do to protect my son. I did everything that the courts told me to do to protect my son. Nobody protected my son.”

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

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

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

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

 

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

June 08, 2012

By HIROSHI MATSUBARA/ AJW Staff Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

IS “GAIATSU” LAST RESORT?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BACKLASH FOR CHANGE

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By HIROSHI MATSUBARA/ AJW Staff Writer

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

 

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

 

Excerpts from this article:

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

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

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

http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2012/05/161122.html

12:27 31 May

FEATURE: Japanese mothers tormented by “last-minute” child abductions

By Maya Kaneko
TOKYO, May 31, Kyodo

As Japan’s ratification of an international treaty that helps settle
international child custody disputes awaits Diet approval, some Japanese
mothers are dealing with the distress of having had their children taken
abroad by their non-Japanese spouses shortly before the nation’s endorsement
of the treaty.
Those mothers face difficulties in enlisting wide support, as the issue
of parental child abductions to Japan tends to grab more attention. Tokyo is
not yet a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of
International Child Abduction, with Japan often portrayed as a safe haven for
parents taking their children to the country.
Their cases can also be considered less serious than those of parents who
are totally denied access to their children in Japan, because many of the
countries where their children were taken could award joint custody to them —
unlike their homeland, which has a sole-custody system — increasing chances
of regular access to their kids.
In addition to language barriers and expensive legal costs that often
pose a headache to parents involved in cross-border child custody disputes,
slow progress in Japan’s process of joining the international treaty weighs on
the mothers’ shoulders, as Tokyo’s accession to the convention holds the key
to future parenting arrangements.
A Japanese woman in her 30s living in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo,
has been separated from her two children, in Florida since December 2010, as
her American husband refused to return to Japan and started a new life there
with the kids and their grandmother.
The couple and their Japan-born kids had originally been scheduled to
move to Florida together, but the husband, a former English teacher in Japan,
later refused to sponsor his wife for visa arrangement, saying he no longer
wanted to live with her, citing her problems with child-rearing, the woman
said.
“I think my husband knew that in Japan it would be difficult for him to
gain custody of the kids and that if we got divorced, he could not easily see
them,” the woman said. In Japan, mothers tend to be given sole custody after
divorce and it is not unusual for children to stop seeing their fathers after
their parents break up.
She also said her husband had probably been aware of Japan’s imminent
accession to the Hague Convention, which sets out the rules and procedures for
promptly returning children under 16 to the country of their habitual
residence in cases of international divorce among member countries. Japan
decided to join the pact in May last year.
The treaty is not retroactive and only deals with cases occurring after
its entry into force in the country newly joining it. The pact will come into
effect on the first day of the third calendar month after being ratified by
the nation.
The woman, who communicates with her 4-year-old son and 2-year-old
daughter every other day via Skype Internet telephone service and met them
when she visited Florida last November, is worried that they can no longer
understand Japanese and will forget about their life in Japan.
The couple is now seeking divorce settlements in a Florida court, in line
with a U.S. law that designates a state where children stayed with a parent
for six months in a row as a place for litigation. For the woman, who has
never lived abroad, U.S. court procedures mean a great deal of trouble and
“unfair” situations, she said.
With the woman left with no chance of getting a green card and
difficulties in acquiring other types of visa to live in the United States,
the husband seeks to gain sole custody of the kids, she said.
“As long as Japan remains nonparty to the Hague Convention, the U.S.
court would not allow my children to go to Japan during vacations out of fear
that they would not be returned,” she said. “Japan’s accession is an important
matter to me because it opens up various possibilities.”
Another Japanese woman in central Japan’s Shizuoka Prefecture also has
her two sons, aged 7 and 5, retained in the United States since March last
year, as her American husband refused to go back with the kids due to safety
concerns triggered by the Fukushima nuclear crisis following the March 11
earthquake and tsunami.
The public servant, who declined to be further identified, said her
husband, who moved with the children in May last year to Champaign in
Illinois, where he had found a job, had repeatedly assured her that the
children would return to Japan once cold shutdown had been achieved at the
troubled reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
But as he filed for divorce at an Illinois court in November last year
and the children did not return, even after the Japanese government declared
in December that the plant had been brought to a stable state of cold
shutdown, she learned that her husband “had planned everything in advance and
conveniently used the disaster that hit Japan as an excuse.”
“My husband waited until the kids spent six months with him in Illinois
so that he could start a divorce suit there to alter the situation to his
advantage,” the woman said.
“I was naive to believe his promise to eventually return the children to
Japan but couldn’t force him to do so, as I was concerned about radiation
contamination that could jeopardize the children’s lives,” said the mother.
The woman, who tries to maintain Skype communications with the children,
is also concerned that their memories of Japanese language and culture are
fading. As the children are still registered as citizens in Japan, she
launched a legal action in her home country. However, the process, involving
notification through diplomatic channels, would take a long time.
She said it was frustrating to face difficulties caused by the nuclear
accident and Japan’s position on the Hague Convention that “an individual
cannot change.”
The woman said, however, she would not forcibly take back her children to
Japan because unilateral abduction would only produce a “negative chain
reaction” and limit the children’s access to one parent. She believes that
kind of drastic action will “not solve the problem and never be in the
interest of the children.”
According to a tally by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, its
member lawyers have accepted about 150 consultations on parental child
abductions from Japan to other countries between 2000 and 2011.
Both the Japanese Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department
recognize such abduction cases to the United States, but they can only provide
relevant information and introduce lawyers as Tokyo is yet to join the Hague
Convention, according to the Foreign Ministry.

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T120509005259.htm

 

Divorced parents lack ways to meet kids / Ministry has asked local govts to help out, but so far only Tokyo has taken active steps

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The welfare ministry has asked local governments to encourage meetings between divorced parents and their children by arranging and overseeing such encounters, but little progress has been made.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry started a project this fiscal year to increase opportunities for parents to meet their children after a divorce by encouraging prefectural governments and those of 20 ordinance-designated major cities nationwide to help out.

But among them, only the Tokyo metropolitan government has decided to begin to offer relevant services by the end of this fiscal year. The other 66 local governments will do so later, or have no plans.

Though the local governments admitted the project is necessary, they said the services cannot be provided because they have no officials with know-how about such meeting arrangements.

Thus it is an urgent task to train personnel who can implement the services.

Experts have said that meeting with parents after they get divorced is important for the children’s growth.

But in many cases, meetings by those directly involved are difficult to hold because of emotional conflicts.

According to the Supreme Court, applications for parent-child meetings in 2010 numbered 7,749, an about 3.2-fold jump from 10 years ago.

There have been many cases in which parents who have been refused permission to meet their children have taken matters into their own hands and absconded with them.

Private organizations offering to arrange and oversee such meetings do exist, but there are too few of them to meet nationwide demand. Consequently, only a limited number of people can use the services of such organizations.

A man in his 30s living in Hiroshima Prefecture apart from his wife and child while the couple’s divorce proceedings are under way said, “As my trusting relationship with my wife has been lost, I can’t even directly contact her.”

He said an arbitration service by a nonprofit organization cost 18,000 yen for two hours. He said, “Public assistance is necessary.”

In response to such opinions, starting in this fiscal year, the ministry decided to subsidize part of the costs if local governments of prefectures, major cities and regional core cities implement their own parent-child meeting services.

The public services cover low-income earners with children under 15, and the services are free of charge.

The idea is for officials of the local governments or other public entities to coordinate times and places for the meetings and also accompany the persons involved.

Since autumn last year, the ministry has asked the local governments to proactively implement the services.

However, in a survey conducted in April by The Yomiuri Shimbun on prefectural and major city governments, only the Tokyo metropolitan government replied it planned to introduce the service within this fiscal year.

Forty-six of the local governments, or 69 percent, said they were still considering whether to introduce the service. Twenty, or 30 percent, replied that they had no plans to do so.

On why such a service had not yet been introduced, a question for which multiple responses were permitted, 32 of the governments, or 48 percent, said they do not have officials or outside experts with expertise about such meetings, and 21 of them, or 32 percent, said they could not secure budgets for the purpose.

Most of the surveyed local governments admitted the project is necessary. But the Kochi prefectural government said the project means that public entities will get involved in the participants’ private affairs and thus careful consideration is necessary.

The Fukuoka prefectural government said that local governments alone have a limit on what can be done because difficult adjustments will be necessary in some cases, and it will be necessary to establish a system in which local governments will closely cooperate with lawyers, family courts and other experts.

A ministry official said, “We’ll take the opinions into consideration so that more local governments will implement the project.”

Waseda University Prof. Masayuki Tanamura, an expert on family law, said: “Maintaining interactions between parents and children after a divorce is important for the children’s growth. As there are many parents who say they can allow children to meet divorced spouses with third-party oversight, the project is significant.

“Because this is the first attempt of its kind, the local governments seem to be reluctant due to fear of possible trouble. But it’s useful even just to coordinate meeting schedules or contact parents on behalf of the other spouses. It’s necessary to actively provide the services,” he said.

(May. 10, 2012)
Below is a link to a condensed version of a Japanese court video that up to now has been available through the Japanese courts on a highly restricted basis.  This video openly talks about the importance of access to one’s child after separation.  It hopefully reflects a step in the right direction in Japanese court attitudes regarding a child’s access to both parents after a separation or divorce.
 http://www.courts.go.jp/video/kodomo_video/flv/kodomo_bb_01.html

Douglas Galbraith’s book, “My Son, My Son,” is a heart wrenching account of how his two sons were internationally abducted to Japan by their Japanese mother.  His story has the same patterns as so many other cases in which children have been abducted to Japan, including complicity by the Japanese government in issuing Japanese passports to make the international kidnapping possible.  The father already had in his possession the children’s Japanese and British passports, and the Japanese Consulate made no attempt to get  both parents’ permission before issuing duplicate passports for the Japanese mother.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/9158094/To-catch-a-thief-extract-from-My-Son-My-Son.html

Below is a link to the notes by Bruce Gherbetti  from a meeting of members of the leadership of Left Behind Parents Japan with Yoshinori Oguchi, member of the House of Representatives in Japan, on Monday, January 16th, 2012.

Mr. Oguchi is a member of the New Komeito party, the third largest political party in the Diet, and he was a member of the MoFA committee which discussed modifying Japan’s civil code last fall in order to sign The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

http://4rionandlaurenandjulia.wordpress.com/2012/01/17/japan-firm-on-not-addressing-existing-cases-of-parental-child-abduction/?mid=580496

For anyone with children in Japan, this short film, “blind,” is very powerful, and very scary, as it doesn’t seem all that unrealistic to imagine.
This map by Japanese professor Yukio Hayakawa suggests that the nuclear contamination that came from Fukushima may be pretty widespread, including the Tokyo metropolitan region.