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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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.

robson.seth@stripes.com
Twitter: @SethRobson1

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Parental Child Abduction – Organisations for Left Behind Parents


February 24, 2013

By Martin Waage, ABP World Group Ltd.

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Knowledge and support is needed when the other parent abducts your child/children. There are many organisations run by parents of abducted children, that can provide assistance and counselling and give answers on what to do in the critical first hours, days and weeks. They will also be able to help you find a experienced lawyer that specialises in International Child Abduction Cases.

This is a few of them:

Bachome ( United States)

Reunite ( United Kingdom)

CRN Japan ( United States)

Bring Sean Home Foundation ( United States)

Bortført.no ( Norway) 

Bortført ( Denmark)

Australians With Abducted Children ( Australia)

iCHAPEAU Association ( Canada)

SBN Saknade Barns Närverk ( Sweden)

Please let us know, if there are other organisations you think should be on this list.

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Abe tells Obama Japan will join child abduction treaty


February 23, 2013

Source: Japan Today

WASHINGTON —

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday that Tokyo would join a treaty on child abductions, addressing a major concern for lawmakers in Washington.

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Japan is the only member of the Group of Eight major industrialized nations that has not signed the 1980 Hague Convention, which requires nations to return snatched children to the countries where they usually reside.

“From the perspective of children, there is an increasing number of international marriages, meaning that there will be some cases where marriages will break down. Therefore we believe it is important to have international rules,” Abe told reporters after talks with Obama.

“We will make efforts in the Diet so that the Convention can be approved. I delivered this message to the president,” Abe told reporters after his meeting with Obama.

However, Abe did not set a timeframe. The previous DPJ government also said it wanted to enter the treaty but did not move ratification through the Diet.

Unlike Western nations, Japan does not recognize joint custody and courts almost always order that children of divorcees live with their mothers.

Hundreds of parents, mostly men, from the United States and elsewhere have been left without any recourse after their estranged partners take their half-Japanese children back to the country.

U.S. lawmakers have repeatedly demanded action from Japan on child abductions, one of the few open disputes between the close allies.

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The Hague Convention – Japan says it will sign child abduction treaty


January 19, 2013

Source: Japan Today

WASHINGTON —

Japan’s foreign minister said Friday that the new government would sign a treaty on child abductions, addressing one of the few rifts in relations with its main ally the United States.

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Japan has not signed or ratified the 1980 Hague Convention, which requires the return of wrongfully held children to the countries where they usually live, but a previous left-leaning government had said it planned to do so.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, whose conservative Liberal Democratic Party returned to power last month, said on a visit to Washington that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government would take the same stance.

“The government of Japan is intending to go through the necessary procedures for early signing of the treaty,” Kishida told a news conference with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton said she hoped that Japan’s parliament would pass legislation on the Hague treaty during its upcoming session.

Japanese courts virtually never grant custody to foreign parents or to fathers, leaving few legal avenues for fathers whose former partners have fled to Japan with their children.

U.S. parents have pursued at least 120 cases in Japan to seek access to half-Japanese children, invariably to no avail. The U.S. Congress has repeatedly pressed Japan to take up the issue.

The previous Japanese government’s position had initially heartened U.S. officials, but their hopes dimmed as Tokyo delayed action on the Hague treaty and indicated that a ratification would only apply to future cases.

Japanese critics of the Hague convention have previously argued that the country needs to protect women from potentially abusive foreign men.

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