Canadian parents face ‘hostile Japanese system’ when trying to access abducted children


October 3, 2016

Source: thestar.com

The Japanese system is sometimes described as a black hole for children.

A Canadian father is hoping a mountain hike will help ease his distress and draw attention to the insurmountable roadblocks countless parents like him face in trying to access their children in Japan after their marriages fall apart.

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Tim Terstege is planning to climb Mount Fuji on Oct. 13, the day four years ago his wife disappeared with his then-four-year-old son.

“That’s kind of a dark time for me; it’s a positive way of just dealing with it,” Terstege said in an interview from Himeji, Japan.

“When you go through this type of situation, you have to deal with a lot of pain. It’s just really hard. Climbing Mount Fuji is for me just a way of breaking out of the sorrow.”

Terstege, 42, formerly of Barrie, Ont., officially has 24 hours a year access to his son, Liefie, a dual Canadian-Japanese citizen. But he doesn’t know exactly where his wife or child are and the courts have not been of help. It’s the Japanese way, he said.

“Whoever abducts the child first is going to get custody,” he said.

The Canadian father is far from alone in trying to navigate a seemingly impenetrable and hostile Japanese system sometimes described as a black hole for children. Figures indicate dozens of Canadians — mostly fathers — are among thousands of foreigners faced with the gut-wrenching loss of their children in Japan. Some parents are reported to have killed themselves in despair. Others have ended up in jail after trying to snatch back their children.

The Japanese embassy in Ottawa said it was “unable to express (its) viewpoints” and referred questions to the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, which had no immediate comment. Global Affairs Canada, which said it was currently dealing with 25 cases, offered only general observations about consular assistance.

However, in a letter to Terstege this past week, a senior official said the issue was important to the Canadian government, and embassy officials in Japan had, among other things, discussed his case with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“We recognize the need to continue to raise the issue of parental child abduction cases with Japanese authorities,” the letter states.

In a briefing note last year, one Canadian consular official noted the “reality of the Japanese system” but said Canada was not pressing Tokyo for change, as former prime minister Stephen Harper did years ago.

In 2014, Japan finally signed on to the Hague Convention, which aims to provide legal recourse against international child abductions. However, enforcement is woefully inadequate and a parent can frustrate court orders to return a child simply by refusing to comply, experts say.

“While the process of implementing the Hague Convention has brought some clarity to the theory and practice of enforcing returns, without sanctions for contempt — which Japanese judges lack in these cases — or other police-like powers to back them up, court orders can end up being meaningless pieces of paper,” Colin Jones, a lawyer from Calgary, wrote in a recent article in The Japan Times.

Visitation restrictions, draconian by Canadian standards, can leave parents feeling like they have been treated like criminals, Jones said.

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Kris Morness, of Vancouver, considers himself lucky in that he is usually able to Skype weekly with his son, Max, 5, believed to be in Tokyo.

Despite obtaining full custody and an American arrest warrant for his wife, who abducted Max three years ago from Seattle, Wash., where they were living, Morness said there’s little point in trying to litigate in Japan.

“It’s really traumatizing when you lose a child like this,” Morness, 43, said. “All I can do is wait. It is the worst bureaucratic nightmare I’ve ever experienced.”

In an effort to effect change, Bruce Gherbetti co-founded the activist organization Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion after his own experience. In 2009, his wife accused him of domestic abuse and, while he was in pretrial custody in Vancouver, she took their three girls now aged 9, 11, and 13 and left for Japan.

Among other things, Kizuna aims to educate the Japanese about the potential harm to children deprived of access to one parent.

“Your child is akin to a table or an automobile (in Japan),” Gherbetti said from Australia where he now lives. “If someone takes one of those from you, you have a better chance of obtaining its possession again than you do a child.”

Terstege said he’s given up on the Japanese court system. Even though he and his wife are still married, it’s highly unlikely he could ever regain custody, so his goal is to try to see his son for the 24 hours a year in the presence of a third party organization as per court order.

“I’m not going to give up,” Terstege said. “Climbing Mount Fuji is just another thing for me for motivation.”

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Special Advisor for Children’s Issues Travels to Japan


June 29, 2016

Source: gov.us

Special Advisor for Children’s Issues Travels to Japan
Media Note

Office of the Spokesperson

Washington, DC

June 27, 2016

 

Special Advisor for Children’s Issues, Ambassador Susan Jacobs, will visit Japan from June 27-July 1, 2016.

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Special Advisor Jacobs will travel to Tokyo to participate in the “Asia Pacific Symposium on the 1980 Hague Convention.” She will join senior representatives from other countries in the East Asia and Pacific region to discuss the benefits and implementation of the Hague Abduction Convention.

Special Advisor Jacobs will also meet with Japanese officials to discuss continued cooperation under the Hague Convention and the resolution of other long-standing non-Convention abduction cases.

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U.S. official calls for direct meetings between parents, children ‘abducted’ to Japan


October 27, 2015

By TAKASHI OSHIMA/ Correspondent

A senior U.S. official called on Tokyo to give American parents “direct, in-person contact” with their children living in Japan during custody battles with Japanese parents under a child abduction treaty.

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Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Karen Christensen called for such one-on-one meetings in referring to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which stipulates what member nations should do when mothers or fathers take away their offspring without the consent of their spouses.

Read more about his case here

“We believe that the Japanese central authority really does take its responsibilities in the Hague Convention very seriously,” Christensen said in a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun in Tokyo.

“When we say ‘meaningful access,’ in the end we mean direct contact and unsupervised contact,” Christensen said. “We have not yet seen that kind of direct, in-person contact that we’re looking for. We would like to see this happen quickly.”

According to Washington, more than 30 Americans have requested meetings with their children living in Japan since Tokyo joined the Hague Convention in 2014.

Elementary school children on field trip pose for the camera, Ritsurin-koen (garden), Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture, Japan

Although some of the U.S. parents have talked to their children in Japan through video conferences or met them in the presence of observers, no in-person, unmonitored contact has been provided so far.

According to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, Japanese parents concerned about the risks of unmonitored meetings with their children have requested that such meetings be done through video conferences or under supervision.

“We will continue our proper support based on laws to realizing person-to-person contact,” a Foreign Ministry official said.

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Custody case a test for Japan, says U.S. father seeking access to girl held by grandmother


October 26, 2015

Source: Japan Times

A U.S. man seeking access to his daughter said Monday that the case is an opportunity for Japan to prove to the world it no longer tolerates parental child abduction.

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U.S. Navy Cmdr. Paul Toland is suing the mother of his Japanese ex-wife for denying access to his 13-year-old daughter.

His former wife left with the child in 2003, at the age of 9 months, after their marriage failed. The woman committed suicide four years later.

Toland said his situation would amount to a “felony crime” in other countries with up-to-date family laws.

“In Japan, this abduction by a nonparent is not only accepted, but it is condoned. I’m the only parent in the world to (my daughter),” Toland said, who is in Japan for the first time since the trial at the Tokyo Family Court kicked off in July.

Toland said if the case is resolved it would demonstrate to the world that Japan is turning over a new leaf after years of notoriety as a “safe haven” for parental child abduction. If his daughter is not returned to him, he said, it will only alienate the nation further.

Japan joined The Hague Convention on cross-border parental child kidnapping in 2014. The pact does not apply in Toland’s case because the abduction was within Japan — Toland’s family was based in Yokohama at the time. In addition to this, the convention cannot be applied retroactively.

“How can we expect Japan to ever resolve more complicated divorce, child custody issues if it cannot even resolve this very straightforward case, which does not involve divorce and where one parent is deceased and the nonparent is withholding a child above the parent who wants to care for her?” he said.

The daughter has said in a statement submitted to the Tokyo Family Court that she does not wish to be reunited with her father, according to Akira Ueno, Toland’s lawyer.

Given that the separation occurred when the girl was a baby, this suggests that her attitude was learned from others and that she is under a misapprehension of what her father is really like, Ueno said.

“In cases this like, Japanese courts have immaturely decided that children shouldn’t be returned to parents, oblivious to the fact that they’re bound to suffer once becoming adults,” Ueno said.

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America’s Abducted Kids Get No Help From Japan


June 17, 2015

Source: The Wall street Journal / Chris Smith

A new law was supposed to enlist the State Department in helping to bring the kids back, but Tokyo has talked its way out of cooperating.

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The U.S. State Department last month released its first annual report on countries that refuse to return American children who have been abducted by a parent and taken abroad. Conspicuously absent from the worst-offenders list in the report is the country with the world’s worst record of cooperation: Japan. Tokyo has never issued and enforced a return order for any one of the more than 50 American children currently held captive there by a parent who violated the wishes of another parent in taking the child overseas. This is in addition to the hundreds of previously abducted American children who became adults without knowing the love, culture and care of their American parent.

Last year Congress passed the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, which requires that the State Department hold countries accountable if an abduction case is still unresolved a year after State requests assistance in the return of a child. As the prime sponsor of the Goldman Act, I believe it is important to remind the State Department of its obligations under the law. First, State must accurately count all unresolved cases in its annual report. Second, the secretary of state needs to take action against all countries that have 30% or more unresolved cases, or that are otherwise noncompliant in helping to resolve abduction cases. When it comes to Japan, State falls far short on both counts.

japanese child

Initially, the law seemed effective at bringing Japan’s attention to the issue. Tokyo was so worried about being found noncompliant in the report and put on the worst-offenders list that it sent a high-level delegation to the U.S. to meet with Ambassador Susan Jacobs just before the report was due and explain its lack of compliance.

For State, it seems, that meeting was enough to absolve Japan. Rather than provide the report as required by law, State later delivered to Congress a table loaded with zeroes in the “unresolved” category of countries and then, adding insult to injury, listed Japan with a 43% abduction-resolution rate.

The more than 50 American parents who have spent years trying to bring their children home were shocked and devastated. With the new law, they thought their country would finally stand with them in working to bring their children home. Instead, the State Department attempted an end-run around the Goldman Act, squandering any real leverage in the process.

State’s failure to hold Japan accountable delegitimizes the entire report and undermines its purpose. Other countries can now look at it as a deal-making political trope. It is truly a waste of what could have been a highly effective diplomatic tool.

Furthermore, State’s continued refusal to reveal each country’s real number of unresolved cases, even when required to do so by law, should worry every American who believes the U.S. government should be honest about successes and failures in the return of American abducted children. I have asked State repeatedly for the number of unresolved cases in India, for instance, only to be stonewalled.

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Congress passed the Goldman Act to compel transparency and action. Yet what the State Department is doing is ultimately perpetuating the status quo, where far less than half of abducted American children are reunited with their families.

International parental child abduction rips children from their homes and uproots their lives, alienating them from a left-behind parent who loves them and whom they have a right to know. Abducted children often lose their relationship with their parent, half of their identity and half of their culture. Child abduction is child abuse.

Congress went to great lengths to reunite these families, passing the Goldman Act unanimously. But a law is only as good as its implementation. A congressional hearing on June 11 featured anguished parents of children abducted to and currently held in Japan, India and elsewhere. With hope, the State Department will learn from their stories and follow through on enforcement in the future.

Mr. Smith represents New Jersey’s fourth Congressional district.

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40 years later, former sailor still searching for lost daughter in Japan


April 1, 2015

Source: stripes.com

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — It’s been 45 years since James Walker went to war in Vietnam, leaving behind his daughter and her mother in Japan.

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The young sailor thought they’d be reunited once he got back from deployment on the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany. When the letters he wrote to his young family were returned marked “wrong address” Walker realized something was wrong. Almost four decades later, he’s still searching for them.

In 1967, when he arrived at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Walker was 18 and fresh out of basic training. He started work as a mechanic with VR-21 — a squadron that flew Grumman C-1A transport planes delivering mail, supplies and personnel to the fleet.

The bright lights of nearby Tokyo were a world away from his hometown of Harrisburg, Ark., a close-knit farming community where his father worked as a carpenter. Back then, Atsugi was surrounded by fields, soon to be covered in houses, shops, factories and schools sprawling from the Japanese capital.

Tomie Hashimoto was wearing a kimono when Walker approached her in a Yokohama street. He was surprised when she answered him in English and gave him her phone number, and after a few dates, the pair fell in love. He visited her parents’ home near Yokohama several times and got on well with them despite the language barrier.

“They cooked for me,” he said. “You could tell they weren’t wealthy, but they seemed like hard-working people.”

It wasn’t long before the couple had moved into an apartment, about 1 1/2 miles from the Atsugi gate and were expecting a child.

Sailors needed permission from their command to marry, so Walker filed a request. The officer who received it told him that he’d need to re-enlist to get it approved, so he filed that paperwork, too.

“When I went back two weeks later he said it had been denied and there was nothing I could do,” he recalled. “At age 18 or 19, you don’t argue with an officer, so we were stuck.”

Soon afterward the couple went to a clinic near the base where their child was born. Walker said he helped the young mother breathe and push while a Japanese doctor supervised the birth. His daughter was born around midnight on New Year’s Eve 1967, although it’s possible that the birth is registered as Jan. 1, 1968, he said.

Walker named his daughter Kim, but said it’s possible that she was registered under another Japanese name in either Yamato in Kanagawa prefecture or Yokohama, he said.

Father and daughter formed a strong bond, he said.

“I remember teaching her about her eyes, nose, mouth and ears,” Walker said “I remember her little laugh, and she was always waiting on me when I got home.”

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Life involved shopping trips and outings to the beach and an amusement park near Atsugi.

“We were just a typical family,” he recalled.

One day orders came for Walker, now a petty officer 3rd class, to report to VA-195 — an A-4 Skyhawk squadron in Lemoore, Calif. He reluctantly boarded a train, riding with his daughter in his lap, to Tachikawa Air Base for his flight.

“Her mother and I were both crying all the way,” he said.

In California, he was told not to unpack; he was headed to Vietnam on the Oriskany. As he waited for the ship to depart, he wrote letters to his family, who he hoped to bring to the U.S.

All were returned marked “wrong address.”

When the carrier pulled into Osaka part-way through the deployment, he took leave and rode the train back to Atsugi but found his apartment empty. The neighbors didn’t know where the family had gone, and Walker couldn’t find his way back to her parents’ house. He came back again after he returned from the war. Nothing.

Back in the states, he wrote letters to the Japanese Embassy and the Japanese prime minister’s office but didn’t get a reply.

After he left the Navy, he became a commercial pilot, flying out of Memphis, Tenn. He eventually married and, when his wife gave birth to a daughter in 1972, they named her Kim, after her Japanese half-sister.

But Walker, who now lives in Arkansas, said he never stopped looking for his lost family.

Now 68 and retired, he recently set up a Japanese Facebook page and posted a photo of himself with his Japanese family that has been shared more than 2,000 times.

Walker has the support of his wife and American daughter who, he said, is eager to meet her Japanese sister.

He obtained his military records in hopes that his marriage request, listing the names of his daughter’s Japanese grandparents, would be there. They weren’t; he thinks it was never filed by the officer he gave it to.

Jim Auckland, another former sailor who worked alongside Walker at Atsugi, said the Navy was eager for sailors to re-enlist during the Vietnam War.

“Every time I was promised something there was always the proviso that my enlistment would be extended,” he recalled of his days at Atsugi.

Auckland said he remembered his friend and others dating Japanese girls. It was common for officers to make parental decisions about young sailors and it wouldn’t have been unusual for a marriage request to be denied, he said.

“They tell you: If the Navy wanted you to have a family they would have issued you a family,’” he said.

Yoshihisa Sawai, who worked as a civilian mechanic at Atsugi in the 1980s, has been helping with the search. He recently spoke about the case on a Kanagawa radio station and hopes to persuade a television station to produce a show about it.

“I have been searching for two years but it’s difficult,” Sawai said. “He only has a little information.”

Eric Kalmus helps run the Japan Children’s Rights Network — a group that aims to reunite children in Japan with foreign parents, often servicemembers. Strict privacy laws make it hard to track people down in Japan if they don’t want to be found, he said.

“It is like looking for a needle in a haystack,” he said.

Kanagawa police say people can file missing person reports but that they won’t actively search unless a crime is suspected. Several non-profit organizations, such as Missing Person Search, can help track down people in Japan and put the seekers in touch with private detectives, officials say.

It may be a long shot, but Walker isn’t giving up. He said he still prays daily for the family he left behind.

“Tomie was a wonderful woman,” he said. “I pray that they are doing OK and, if I have any grandchildren, that they are safe and well.”

Walker said if he found out where his daughter was living, he would leave for Japan the next day.

“A team of wild horses couldn’t keep me back here,” he said.

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Child Recovery Services – Testimonial from a father


February 5 , 2015

We received a heartwarming testimonial from a French client today:

While I was in the deepest despair after the kidnapping of my child by his mother in Japan, I found the contact details of ABP World Group on the internet. Soon, I was in contact with them in order to organize the return of my child.

Family abductions

 

I was impressed by their responsiveness, their smooth communication and especially by the very wise advices they have shown. Legal advices in the first place, were capital to get my child back. Then the professionalism they showed during the operation allowed me to get my child back healthy and sound and in legal way.

The vast experience of the people of ABP who helped me and surrounded, allowed a miracle to happen. In addition to the great joy of having my child healthy and sound, I gained friends for life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart guys!

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