Parental Child Abduction to Japan – ‘Racist’ cartoon issued by Japanese ministry angers rights activists


17 September , 2014

Source: scmp.com and CrnJapan.net 

Pamphlet issued by Tokyo to Japan’s embassies in response to Hague convention is criticised for depicting a foreign man beating his child.

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Human rights activists in Japan have reacted angrily to a new pamphlet released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that they claim is racist and stereotypical for depicting white fathers beating their children.

The 11-page leaflet has been sent to Japanese embassies and consulates around the world in response to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction going into effect in Japan on April 1.

Tokyo dragged its feet on ratifying the treaty, which broadly 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 but without the consent of the other parent.

But manga-style images of foreign fathers beating children and Japanese women portrayed as innocent victims have raised the hackles of campaigners, both those fighting discrimination against foreigners and non-Japanese who have been unable to see children who have been abducted by Japanese former spouses.

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“It’s the same problem with any negotiations in which Japan looks like it has been beaten,” said Debito Arudou, a naturalised Japanese citizen who was born in the United States and has become a leading human rights activist.

“After being forced to give up a degree of power by signing the Hague treaty, they have to show that they have not lost face and they try to turn the narrative around,” he said. “It’s the same as in the debate over whaling.

“The Japanese always see themselves as the victims, and in this case, the narrative is that Japanese women are being abused and that the big, bad world is constantly trying to take advantage of them.”

Arudou is particularly incensed by the cover of the publication, which shows a blond-haired foreigner hitting a little girl, a foreign father taking a child from a sobbing Japanese mother and another Japanese female apparently ostracised by big-nosed foreign women.

“It is promoting the image that the outside world is against Japanese and the only place they will get a fair deal is in Japan,” said Arudou.

The rest of the pamphlet takes the form of a conversation between a cartoon character father and son, but with the storyline showing the difficulties of a Japanese woman living abroad with her half-Japanese son.

Arudou says the publication then “degenerates into the childish” with the appearance of an animated doll that is the father figure’s pride and joy, but also dispenses advice.

“As well as promoting all these stereotypes, why are they not talking about visitation issues for foreigners whose half-Japanese children have been abducted by their ex-wives?” asked Arudou.

Several foreigners who have been unable to see their children for years have already contacted Arudou to express their anger, with a number of US nationals saying they would pass the document onto lawmakers.

Arudou’s post on the issue on his website has also attracted attention, with commentators describing the pamphlet as “racist propaganda”.

“This is disgusting,” one commentator posted. “Pictures are powerful, more powerful than words. And the only time I’ve ever seen anything remotely like this is when I did a search for old anti-Japanese propaganda.

“Of course, that was disgusting too, but it was wartime!”

Another added, “What a pathetic advert for an ‘advanced’ country.

“As for the text – not wasting any more bandwidth on such utter racist, xenophobic, patronising, paranoid nonsense.”

Other links related to the case: http://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000034153.pdf and http://www.crnjapan.net/english-mofadoc.pdf

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International Parental Child Abduction – Japan’s Child Kidnapping Problem


May 20, 2013

Source: thedailybeast

Dozens of American children are abducted to Japan every year—not by strangers, but by parents after messy divorces. As Nathalie-Kyoko Stucky and Jake Adelstein report, divorce laws protective of Japanese nationals encourage such illegal abductions.

Japan has a child-kidnapping problem. It’s not strangers snatching the kids on the playground or at the bus stop; the problem is that when a Japanese national divorces a foreigner overseas, he or she can abduct their children and bring them back to Japan, and the law ensures that the parent left behind has no rights to see the children or take them back home. The U.S. State Department reports that there have been over 100 such kidnappings since 1994, but according to a source, the number is closer to 400. Within Japan itself, divorce often means that one parent may have little or no access to the child. Japan’s inability to deal with child abduction partly stems from archaic family law in Japan that does not recognize joint custody. It’s a winner-take-all system. The law makes it almost impossible for the other parent to even meet the child, if the Japanese partner objects.

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Mika Chiba, at a meeting on the Hague Convention held at the Japanese Diet on March 12, showing pictures of her abducted son. (Nathalie Stucky)

“Once the child is on Japanese soil, if the foreign parent tries to take them back to their home country, we have to treat him or her as a kidnapper—unless the Japanese courts have clearly given them custody,” a police officer from Tokyo told us. “Most of the time, we imagine the Japanese parent is shielding the child from domestic abuse or a poor living environment. Maybe sometimes the foreign parent is actually trying to rescue his or her child from an abusive Japanese household, but we can’t make that judgment. The non-Japanese trying to take back their child is the criminal in most cases. The law is the law.”

After 30 years of international pressure, Japan’s National Diet is expected to endorse the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction this month and approve necessary legislation possibly by the end of the year. At present, 89 countries are members of the Hague abduction convention, which went into effect in 1983. Japan is the only G8 country that is not a member.

If the Diet ratifies the treaty by the end of May, as predicted, it would extend custody rights to non-Japanese parents whose children have been taken to Japan by their former spouses. After ratification, the Japanese government will have to take steps to ensure that the treaty is actually upheld. Under the convention, the parents of abductees will have a legal framework to request their children be returned. However, the convention prohibits returning children to the country of residence if they face grave danger, including domestic violence. Questions remain as to the burden of proof that will be required for Japanese nationals who refuse to return the children, using allegations of “grave danger.”

The U.S. State Department has been conducting surveys on the number of abducted American children since 1994. The numbers are difficult to assess because not all parents report abductions to the authorities. Victims of child abduction are hard to track officially, because Japan and many countries do not consider it a vital statistic. Also, child abduction by a parent is not considered a crime in Japan once the family court grants the sole custody to one parent. However, some researchers have been keeping track of the numbers by gathering information from town-hall meetings and correspondence with the families of the abducted. According to one knowledgeable source, between 1994 and 2012, there were 278 cases involving 386 American children taken back to Japan.

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“There are no official numbers,” explained Yuichi Mayama, a member of the Diet. “Even we lawmakers, when we tried to ask the government for the exact number of cases, got no real answer. The answer we got was that probably after the Hague Convention comes into effect, it may be possible to track the numbers.”

“Simply because a marriage breaks down, that does not necessarily imply that the children should lose one of their parental relations,” said John Gomez, chairman of the recently founded nonprofit organization Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion. He notes that many pediatricians and child-care experts assert that children thrive when they have relationships with both of their parents, even after the marriage is over. But there is a concept in Japanese society that after a divorce, it is natural for one parent to give up the right to raise the child. Article 766 of Japan’s Civil Code states that a family court should decide who will have custody over a child. The extent of visitation and other means of contact between the child and their parents are also made by the court. There is no joint custody in Japan.

Experts estimate that each year close to 150,000 divorced parents in Japan lose contact with their children. Some choose to do this; most have no say in the matter. While it’s obvious that international divorce in Japan is often an ugly affair that splits children from their parents, it should also be noted that domestic divorce cases are often as bad.

Takao Tanase, a lawyer who is a law professor at Chuo University in Tokyo, notes that Japan does have a criminal clause declaring child abduction a crime, and cases of domestic abduction are not unknown. “However, the first abduction is usually not treated as a crime,” he said. “After a parental dispute, once the de facto custodian is designated by the Japanese family court, the left-behind Japanese parent can be arrested by the police if he or she tries to take back the child from the custodian parent.”

In September 2009, Christopher Savoie, an American-born, naturalized Japanese father, was arrested for allegedly abducting his son and daughter from his ex-wife, who had taken them to Japan illegally. Noriko Savoie had been granted custody on the condition that she permanently reside in Tennessee, but she violated the court order when she took the children to her native Japan. A month later, Christopher Savoie was thrown in jail in Japan on child-abduction charges when he tried to take the children back to the U.S. The case brought global attention to Japan’s failure to endorse the Hague Convention.

There is no joint custody in Japan.

When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited President Obama in February, he reportedly promised that Japan would join the convention on child abductions. “From the perspective of children, there is an increasing number of international marriages and divorces,” Abe told reporters. “We believe it is important to have international rules.”

Joining the Hague Convention will not immediately affect divorced Japanese couples, but it may play a significant role in the transformation of Japanese society and family law.

“We recognize that even if the Hague Convention is ratified, we will have to make many changes in our domestic laws to be consistent” with the convention, councilor Mayama said in a press conference held last week. “At least the Japanese government recognizes these problems. We Japanese have a very traditional view of the family system. It may take time for these changes. We are working on the necessary legislation. Japan will try to make a change in the domestic laws by March of 2014.”

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When international marriages break up, Japanese courts almost never grant custody to foreign parents, especially fathers. However, Japanese parents can also come out on the wrong side of the law.

Mika Chiba, 42, works as an accountant. Japanese doctors diagnosed her with schizophrenia in early 2010, and she lost the custody of her two sons, Thomas, 10, and Jonathan, 5, when she entered a mental hospital for a nine-month stay. Just before she returned from her hospitalization, her husband took their children to Manchester, and she followed him there and took him to court.

The U.K. court, citing the Hague Convention, ruled in April 2011 that Chiba’s husband had illegally abducted their two children, and therefore the family should return to Japan to decide the custody of the children in a Japanese court. The family arrived in Japan two months later, and the custody battle is currently being fought. But because there is no joint custody in Japan, and because of her nine-month absence when she was hospitalized, the children have been placed with their father, and Chiba lost visitation rights after she quarreled with her husband in July 2011. She hasn’t spent time alone with her children since then.

“I think the Japanese laws should be changed to discourage abduction and allow joint custody,” Chiba said. “If both parents could look after their kids after divorce, then there would be less abduction or maybe none. I think this is the problem in the Japanese law.”

In early February, we followed a French-speaking national, who asked not to be identified, when he visited Japan hoping to meet with his daughter. He does not have custody of his child, nor did the Japanese courts grant him visitation rights.

He went to her home, but was told by his former mother-in-law that she wasn’t there. He then tried to visit her at her school the next day. He asked the school’s principal if he could give her a waterproof camera he had bought for his daughter as a birthday present. “Sir, in Japan, the child has no right to choose if she can see her [noncustodial] parent, after a divorce,” the principal said. “If I handed this present to your daughter without the consent of your ex-wife, I could be in trouble” with the police. He waited for seven hours near the school before going back to the airport and was not able to speak with his daughter or even catch a glimpse of her.

“I don’t want to fight the Japanese authorities, because it will not help me see my daughter. I cannot win their confidence if I do the bad things,” he said. “I hope my daughter will not forget her father and, when she will become an adult, she will try to find me, because she will look for her other cultural roots.”

He hopes that the ratification of the Hague Convention may spur changes in domestic law that will allow him to have some role in raising his daughter. But his hope may be misplaced.

“I think that it will be difficult to convince the hardheaded lawmakers” to fully honor the convention,” said Tsuyoshi Shiina, another Diet member. “They believe it is a matter of ‘cultural conflict.’”

Prof. Takao Tanase also believes that Japan will ratify the convention, but not fully implement it. “Japan fundamentally supports current family-law practices. That’s why there is a strong discrepancy between the domestic law and the international standards, and that will impact negatively upon the implementation of the convention in good faith,” he said. “If the Hague Convention is ratified, and foreign nations recognize that Japan really does not comply with it, there should be a lot of pressure and criticism from the international community. I am hoping that it is the international pressure that is going to push Japan into really implementing the convention.”

It seems certain that Japan will finally sign the Hague Convention, but the implementation of it may take a very long time. Parents waiting in legal limbo to be with their children hope that it will not take another 30 years.

Nathalie-Kyoko Stucky is a freelance journalist in Tokyo. She was an assistant correspondent for the Japanese news agency Jiji Press in Geneva, and has contributed to the book Reconstructing 3/11, and is the chief editor at Japan Subculture Research Center.

Jake Adelstein has been an investigative journalist in Japan since 1993. Considered one of the foremost experts on organized crime in Japan, he works as a writer and consultant in Japan and the United States. He is also an advisor to NPO Polaris Project Japan, which combats human trafficking and the exploitation of women and children in the sex trade. He is the author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan (Vintage) and the forthcomingThe Last Yakuza: A Life In The Japanese Underworld.

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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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Parental Abduction – Documentary Special: Anatomy of a kidnapping


January 3, 2013

Source: abc.net

An agreement between countries drawn up in The Hague is meant to prevent kids from being bounced around the world. Japan, though, stands out from the pack and for all the wrong reasons.

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The government there is accused of being too slow to stop its citizens from taking their own children, without the approval of one parent, back to Japan.

For the first time, Sarah Dingle’s investigation takes us inside the mind of an abductor in the anatomy of a kidnapping.SARAH DINGLE: Eric Kalmus says it’s time to let go.

Listen to the whole interview here: http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/news/audio/pm/201212/20121224-rcaffdocos-kidnapping.mp3

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ERIC KALMUS: I’m in a very good spot. I have a wonderful family. I need to give them the amount of energy that I was giving Amy. I’m still here, she’s still in my heart, I still love her. Any day that she picks up the phone and calls me, I’ll gladly go meet her wherever she is.

But yeah, I think I’ve allowed it to not be in my hands any more.

I’m better now. It doesn’t hurt like it used to. It doesn’t hurt like it used to.

Also read: Expert: Parental abduction never in child’s best interest

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Scottish author recounts his kids’ abduction to Japan


June 16, 2012

Source: Japantimes

LONDON — A Scottish author has published a book about cross-border parental child abductions that weaves his personal tale of abandonment by a Japanese wife and the loss of his children into the tale.

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Victim’s viewpoint: Douglas Galbraith, who in a new book on international parental child abduction recounts how his Japanese wife seized their two children and fled Scotland, works at his home in Edinburgh last month. KYODO

In “My son, My son,” Douglas Galbraith describes his efforts to cope after his two sons, Makoto and Satomi, were taken from Scotland to Japan in 2003 by his wife, Tomoko, following strains in their relationship. The boys were aged 4 and 6 at the time and he has not been able to see them since.

After divorce proceedings were later initiated in Japan, Galbraith, 46, was allowed to phone his sons once a fortnight while the case was ongoing. But he found the conversations strained, as the children gradually lost their English-language skills. All contact with them ceased 3½ years ago.

His book highlights the powerlessness of abandoned spouses fighting for the return of their abducted children, and the ways in which Japanese courts are allegedly biased against foreign fathers, according to Galbraith, a full-time author whose previous works include “A Winter in China” and “The Rising Sun.”

Galbraith also expresses skepticism over any positive outcome from Japan signing the Hague convention on international parental child abductions, which in effect requires countries to return children immediately to their country of habitual residence.

A number of Japanese women living overseas have fled from their husbands and taken their children home with them, prompting Western governments to urge Tokyo to become a party to the treaty.

Galbraith said that while the story is intended as a comprehensive study of the way children are treated by adults, he also hopes his own sons — now teenagers being raised in Osaka — will read it.

“It’s like a message in a bottle: an attempt to re-establish communication and leave something behind,” he said in a recent interview. “I hope this can repair some of the damage. I don’t know what they have been told about me.”

Galbraith recounts arriving home in Fife, Scotland, one night and finding his wife and children gone. He said the relationship had been “under strain” and that he feared his wife might seize the children and return to Japan as she had become “obsessed” with maintaining the children’s Japanese heritage.

He acknowledges there are a lot of positive aspects to child rearing in Japan, but says he wanted to raise his children in Britain because he feels it has a more cosmopolitan culture.

The author describes how his wife meticulously planned the abduction and, although Galbraith was holding onto the children’s passports fearing a possible flight attempt, she obtained new ones from the Japanese Consulate in Edinburgh.

In retrospect, Galbraith believes he should have started divorce proceedings in Scotland and sought full custody at a much earlier stage, as well as a ban to prevent his wife from leaving Britain with their children.

But once they returned to Japan, he realized the culture of the country’s legal system ensured custody would automatically be granted to his wife and decided to try and “keep things together” as best he could.

In the book, he argues that even though custody laws require courts to remain “neutral” on the issue of male parenting, the legal system is biased in favor of mothers.

“I would have been swimming against the tide,” Galbraith said. But “excluding fathers causes immense suffering not only for the abandoned parent, but for the children” too.

After discovering that there had been no previous cases of children being returned to their foreign parents in Japan, he mulled hiring a private security firm to bring the children back to Scotland at one point.

He also recounts setting up a fake email account and posed as a businesswoman interested in publishing some of his wife’s work to get her home address. The plan worked and he was able to start sending letters and presents to his sons, although he has never received a reply.

Galbraith describes how the return of abducted children have been blocked because Japanese parents — usually wives — can claim their offspring will suffer physical abuse or psychological harm if they are returned to their home country, despite the Hague convention.

And the longer abducted children remain in their new country of residence, the smaller the chance of the courts sending them home, Galbraith says.

The author believes conservative legislators in Japan are reluctant to ratify the Hague convention because they believe abducted children have a better upbringing in Japan.

If the accord is ratified, “the key moment is the first actual return of a parentally abducted child from Japan. Quite frankly, I’ll be surprised if it happens,” Galbraith said.

He argues Japanese family court judges must be instructed to refrain from determining the best place for a child to be raised based on their personal opinion, and should only concern themselves with whether a child has been abducted from its place of habitual residence.

“There’s a cultural attack on the child when it is abducted. It takes them away from their polyglot inheritance . . . and makes it smaller, and they are more controllable for the abducting parent,” he said.

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


June 10, 2012

Source: Asahi.com

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.

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Japan: Foreign minister to take charge of locating kids in international custody rows


Source: The Mainichi Daily News

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japan’s foreign minister will be responsible for collecting information on children abducted to the country by one of their parents in determining their whereabouts and settling cross-border custody disputes as a result of failed international marriages, according to newly compiled guidelines made available to Kyodo News on Sunday.

The guidelines compiled by the Foreign Ministry in preparation for Tokyo’s accession to an international treaty that sets procedures for the settlement of international child custody disputes state that the foreign minister can seek the help of local governments, police, schools, childcare facilities and shelters for abused people to determine the whereabouts of children in such cases.

The government is aiming to submit a bill to parliament in March to endorse the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and have it enacted during the 150-day regular parliamentary session to be convened Tuesday.

The bill will state that a central authority will be established at the Foreign Ministry to locate children wrongfully removed or retained by one parent and secure their voluntary return in response to requests made by the other parent, according to government officials.

The guidelines state that those requested by the foreign minister to provide information on abducted children will be required to do so “without any delay.”

The foreign minister could also inform parents abroad and their former spouses who have abducted children to Japan about the system of mediation by Japanese courts as a way to resolve their disputes, according to the guidelines.

The planned submission of the bill to endorse the Hague Convention based on the ministry’s guidelines is in line with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s pledge to U.S. President Barack Obama during their talks in November. Around 10 countries including the United States have been pressing Japan to join the treaty.

Japan is the only member of the Group of Eight major countries yet to join the convention after Russia acceded to it in July. At present, 87 countries are parties to the treaty, which came into effect in 1983.

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Parental abduction in Japan – Child-snatchers


Source: The Economist

A dark side to family life in Japan

THIS Christmas Moises Garcia, a Nicaraguan living in America, got the gift he had spent almost four years and $350,000 fighting for: the return of his nine-year-old daughter. In 2008 Karina was whisked away to Japan by her Japanese mother. He set about fighting in the Japanese courts for the right to see her. During that period, he met her only three times. Their longest meeting lasted for only two hours.

Then he had a stroke of luck. Last April Karina’s mother travelled to Hawaii to renew her green card. She was arrested at the airport and charged with violating Karina’s custody agreement. As part of a plea bargain, the mother relinquished Karina, who became the first child seized by a Japanese parent to be returned to America via the courts. (Feel sorry for Karina, in the middle of this tug-of-love.)

Because of such cases, America is one of many countries that has pressed Japan to honour its promise to join the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Japan proposes to do so this year. The convention sets rules for the prompt return to their normal country of residence of children under 16 who have been abducted by one of their parents. The State Department says Japan has about 100 such cases involving children of Americans. There are scores from other countries, too.

But for one category of parents—those living in Japan without access to their children—the Hague convention changes nothing. When parents separate, Japan’s legal system does not recognise the joint custody of children common in other jurisdictions. Instead, children are put into the custody of a single parent after divorce. The family courts usually grant custody to the parent, most often the mother, who at that particular moment is in possession of the child—even if the parent has abducted him. The courts rarely enforce the stingy visitation rights of the “left-behind” parent. And so many fathers, in particular, vanish altogether from their children’s lives. Every year as many as 150,000 divorced parents in Japan lose contact with their children, according to estimates gleaned from official data. Some do so of their own accord, but most have no say in the matter.

One such father, an ex-deputy mayor, describes the system as a conjugal version of the prisoner’s dilemma. He says that when a marriage starts to break down, the unspoken question is: who will seize the child first, the mum or the dad? In his case, she did. For two years he has had no contact with his four-year-old daughter—even his presents are returned unopened—and all with the blessing of the family court. When he reminded the judge that the civil code had been changed to encourage visitation rights, the judge silenced him.

Satsuki Eda, who as justice minister last year pushed through the change in the civil code, says he hopes it will lead to more generous visitation rights. It may, he also hopes, one day lead to a serious consideration of joint custody. But, he cautions, judges are conservative, finding it “very difficult to change their minds”. And so, in a cruel twist, a country that has long sought redress for the past abduction of a few dozen citizens by the North Korean state tacitly supports vast numbers of abductions each year at home. “Many people in my situation commit suicide,” the estranged father says. “I can understand the feeling.”

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Iraq War Vet Says Wife Kidnapped Children To Japan


Source: CBS New York

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A young Iraq War veteran is in the fight of his life against his ex-wife to bring his children home.

Michael Elias, who is now a Bergen County sheriff, claims his wife kidnapped their two young children and took them to Japan.

America, the country he risked his life defending, is powerless to bring his children back.

At 26-years-old, Elias has already endured more pain than most people ever will.

As a young Marine, the New Jersey native was injured twice in Iraq – the first time when he’d only be in-country two weeks, CBS 2’s Don Dahler reports.

“We were hit by an improvised explosive device around three o’clock in the morning, then we were ambushed by small arms fire,” Elias told Dahler.

When he returned from Iraq three years ago, Elias was greeted by his wife, Mayumi, and his two young children, Jade and Michael, Jr. He was also met with the news that Mayumi had been having an affair while he was at war and she wanted a divorce.

A Bergen County judge granted the couple joint custody and ordered that the children’s passports be surrendered, even though Elias had no idea what Mayumi was going to do.

elias and mayumi Iraq War Vet Says Wife Kidnapped Children To Japan(credit: Handout via CBS 2)

A few months later, Elias and his mother were expecting Mayumi to drop the kids off. But they never showed.

“My mother went over there and the apartment was completely empty, like ready to be rented. The very next day,” Elias said.

Mayumi, her alleged boyfriend and the children were on a plane to Japan.

Mayumi was able to obtain new passports for her children since she worked at the Japanese embassy processing visas and passports.

The question is, did anyone with the embassy help her?

The Japanese Consulate has yet to return any calls to CBS 2.

“I was horrified,” the children’s grandmother, Nancy Elias, said. “We just said, ‘Okay, she kidnapped them. She not only crossed state lines but she took them to another country. This is wrong, we’ll get them back.’”

elias children Iraq War Vet Says Wife Kidnapped Children To Japan(credit: Handout via CBS 2)

In doing their research, they quickly learned a devastating fact: of the thousands of children from all over the world who’ve been abducted to Japan, not one has ever been returned home.

“It’s a haven for child abduction,” Nancy said.

The problem is Japan is not party to the Hague Convention on Parental Abduction, and despite pleas by the U.S. State Department, there are no legal means to bring the Elias children back home.

“It has destroyed me, my son, my whole family,” Nancy said. “We’re never going to be the same. Never.”

“When she took them, she took my soul with her,” she added.

This past May at a congressional hearing on abducted children in Japan, Elias described the last time he saw his children via Skype.

elias and jade Iraq War Vet Says Wife Kidnapped Children To JapanMichael Elias and his daughter Jade (credit: Handout via CBS 2)

“My daughter Jade looked at her mother in heartache and said to her something ever so softly in Japanese. When I asked Mayumi what Jade had said, she replied, ‘She wants to be with you.’ The monitor immediately went blank. That was the last time I saw my daughter’s face.”

When Michael was in Iraq, it was clear who the enemy was, but not anymore. His most prized possession is now a photo of his daughter holding his hand the day he came home from war.

“It’s disgusting to me that this is allowed. We’re supposed to be the most powerful nation and these are our allies. These are not our enemies. I don’t understand what the problem is,” Elias said.

He vows to never give up but his only hope now, he says, is for the president himself to put direct pressure on Japan.

President Obama recently brought the issue of parental abduction up with the Japanese Prime Minister and urged him to resolve the hundreds of outstanding cases.

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