Child Abduction in Japan… The REAL Numbers – part 1


Unfortunately, child abduction in Japan is a major epidemic. Equally unfortunate is the fact that so few people are aware if it. Part of the reason for this could be the fact that the “official numbers” reported by the US Department of State are so wrong – and they know it.

According to the US Department of State [DoS], the current number of cases are as follows:

  • Since  1994, the Office of Children’s Issues has opened  230 cases involving 321 children abducted to or wrongfully retained in Japan.
  • As of January 7, 2011, the Office of Children’s Issues has  100 active cases involving 140 children.
  • The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo reports an additional 31 cases in which both parents and the child(ren) reside  in Japan but one parent has been denied access to the child(ren).

The DoS further acknowledges on their website that, “To date, the Office of Children’s Issues does not have a record of any cases resolved through a favorable Japanese court order or through the assistance of the Japanese government.”

So question number 1 that arises: What is behind the missing 130 cases?

Wait, did you catch that?  DoS has admitted to opening 230 cases.  Has acknowledged that Japan has never returned any children.  But somehow only has 100 active cases.  We will get back to this…

Another interesting “official number” is 31.  The number of cases “acknowledged” by the Department of State, where the foreign parent is being denied access to their child after separation or divorce has occurred within Japan.  This number, frankly, is just completely shameful.

Based on research done by both Law Professors in Japan and by Left-Behind Parents, we know that these cases number into the thousands.

In the english translation (Translation by Matthew J. McCauley of University of Washington’s Law School) of a paper written by Professor Tanase in 2009  (who has also been used as a consultant by DoS) he states, using statistics provided by various Japanese sources, that:

“ Over 251,000 married couples separated in 2008, and if this number is divided by the 726,000 marriages in the same year, roughly one out of every 2.9 marriages will end in divorce. Out of all divorcing couples, 144,000 have children, equaling about 245,000 children in all. Seeing as roughly 1.09 million children were born this year, about one out of every 4.5 children will experience divorce before reaching adulthood. Even with the increase in visitation awards, only about 2.6% of the 245,000 children affected by divorce [in Japan] will be allowed visitation. “

To simplify it:  Out of 245,000 children who’s parent’s are divorced in Japan ONLYabout 6300 children will be allowed to maintain some level of contact with their “non-custodial parent” (We’ll get back to how custody is determined).  The remaining 238,700 children have one parent ceremoniously cut completely and suddenly from their life – often being punished, either emotionally or physically, by the “custodial parent” if they ask to continue to see the removed parent.

In addition, based on statistics provided by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (and gathered by Left-Behind Parent: John Gomez):

  • From 1992 to 2009, there have been 7,449 divorces between an American and a Japanese in Japan.
  • Of those Americans, 6,208 were men, and 1,241 were women.
  • According to the statistics, there is, on average, one child per divorce in Japan

So when you take 7,449 divorces (each with an average of 1 child based on the above statistics) and use Professor Tanase’s 2.6% estimate (which should be expected to be higher than would actually apply to foreign parents), that leaves you with approximately 7,255 children of US citizens (just counting data up to 2009) that are being denied access to their US parent.

On top of that there are at least four “X-factors”:

  1. As the data above is only valid up to 2009, the number is higher.  Especially given that the numbers of International Marriages have been on the rise; as have been the number of abductions (Even the US Embassy in Tokyo acknowledges this, although, as will be argued, with inaccurate numbers.)
  2. That there is currently no available data on non-divorce separations.  There are many cases (how many is unclear), where although access to a child is being denied, their is no official divorce – the Japanese spouse just walked out the door one day with the children. For this situation, there is no way to track how large the numbers are.
  3. Given the fact that getting children added to the list is made extremely difficult by the hurdles of Department of State bureaucracy, and that one would generally have to do their own research to even discover the OCI exists and will, if pushed, take a report, there could be many more children abducted to Japan annually than are accounted for in the “official” counts.
  4. Children born out of wedlock or in marriages abroad that were never recorded in Japan. (thanks to Walter Benda  of for this pointing out)

With these additional factors, it is extremely reasonable to assume that total number of US citizen children that have been abducted and are being denied access to their US heritage and familial ties is along the lines of 10,000+ children vs. the 352 acknowledged by the Department of State.

Does the US Department of State know these numbers and how bad it is?  You bet they do!  Additionally, Left Behind Parents have been discussing the vast discrepancy in numbers with DoS for years.  One parent reports that when trying to discuss the issue in person with Ambassador John Roos (current US Ambassador to Japan), that the Ambassador acknowledged that he didn’t actually know how many children there were – clearly demonstrating that DoS is not prioritizing this terrible situation.

So, given all the data, how can they claim only 31 cases of denial of access in Japan  Excellent question that a bunch of people, including the US Congress, have been asking for a very long time.

We’ll go over some possibilites when we continue in part 2… to come

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