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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Court orders Korean dad to return children to separated Japanese wife


February 15, 2016

Source: The Korea Herald

A Seoul lower court Monday ruled that children moved abroad without the consent of a parent holding custodial rights must be returned to the residence country if the couple remains separated. This marks the first case to follow the international convention on the abduction of children.

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Seoul Family Court ruled in favor of a 39-year-old Korean-Japanese woman who filed a lawsuit against her Korean husband, who had taken their children to Seoul without her approval.

The international couple, married in 2005, has been separated since 2013. While they agreed that the wife would keep the parental rights in the divorce agreement, they did not complete the divorce process.

In July last year, the 41-year-old husband took the children to Seoul, saying he would like them to see their hospitalized grandfather. He promised to bring them back to Japan the following month.

The husband, however, severed contact with his wife and changed the residential address of the kids to Korea.

The court said the children must be returned to Japan according to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

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Enacted in 1980, the Hague convention covers international parental child abduction. Its application can be made when a child is taken or retained across an international border, away from the habitual residence, without the consent of a parent with custody rights. The two countries of the parties must be members of the convention.

There are 93 country members of the agreement currently. Korea joined the agreement in 2012 and Japan in 2013.

“The wife seems to be the actual fosterer of the children, as she raised them in Japan. The husband broke the promise to bring their children back in August last year, breaching the wife’s custody rights. Therefore, the husband has the obligations to return the children to his wife,” the verdict said.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (rene@heraldcorp.com)

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Japan – Lawmakers launch group to ensure visitations after divorce


Mar 18, 2014

Source: globalpost.com

More than 40 Japanese lawmakers set up a group Tuesday with an aim to enact legislation to ensure visitations between children and their parents separated due to divorce or marital disputes in Japan.

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The lawmakers from both ruling and opposition parties will strive to prevent severance of the parent-child relationship for the child’s best interest, as more than 150,000 children in Japan every year are estimated to lose contact with noncustodial parents following divorce.

Japan adopts the sole custody system and the country’s courts tend to award mothers custody. It is not unusual for children to stop seeing their fathers after their parents break up.

At the first meeting of the parliamentarians’ group, Minoru Kiuchi, a ruling Liberal Democratic Party member of the House of Representatives, said that not being able to meet with their own child would “violate the human rights of fathers.”

Kiuchi referred to his own experience of being temporarily separated from his children in the past due to a dispute with his wife.

A group of parents separated from their children urged the lawmakers at the meeting to increase the frequency of visitations, ban parental child abductions and oblige couples to work out a joint parenting plan for their children when they get divorced.

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According to a government survey on visitations in fiscal 2011, 23.4 percent of 1,332 single mothers and 16.3 percent of 417 single fathers said they have agreed on a scheme of exchanges between children and their separated parents.

As for the frequency of visitations, 36.5 percent of 603 single mothers and 42.3 percent of 225 single fathers said their children have met with nonresident parents more than once a month.

Parental-Kidnapping

LDP lower house member Hiroshi Hase, who heads the secretariat of the lawmakers’ group, said that members will meet once a month and conduct fact-finding surveys before starting work to craft a new law.

The members will also promote awareness among the general public that it will be desirable for children to maintain access to both parents, he 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.

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After divorce or separation, 40% of non-guardian parents unable to see kids: survey


November 4 , 2014

Source: mainichi.jp

Despite the existence of family court agreements spelling out visitation rights following divorce or separation, more than 40 percent of parents who don’t live with their children remain unable to have any contact with them, a survey conducted by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations has revealed.

Although it had been known that many parents were not able to visit their children despite the existence of such agreements, the extent of the situation had not been understood prior to this study.

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The survey was conducted between February and April this year, with the assistance of lawyers nationwide, on parents who had filed for visitation agreements with family courts. It focused on how satisfied they were with child visitation agreements, whether visits that had been agreed upon were actually occurring, and the payment of child-support fees, among other issues.

Forty-four percent of the 296 respondents indicated that they were “unable to see their children at all.” Twenty-four percent said that they were “able to see their children in accordance with the agreements that had been made,” while 32 percent responded that they were “able to see their children, although not exactly to the letter of the agreement.”

On why court-granted visits were not occurring, the highest response, at 37 percent, was either that “The children did not want it, or the parent living with the children informed me that the children did not want it.” Meanwhile, 31 percent said, “The parent living with the children will not let me see them.”

With respect to how visits took place, 51 percent reported that arrangements were made directly between the couple or ex-couple, while 24 percent said that “relatives were offering assistance” with visitation. Ten percent cited the involvement of third-party organizations. The latter figure revealed that the system of providing institutional support for visitation remains underdeveloped.

One parent who has been deprived of visits remarked via the survey, “Even if I send an e-mail (to the parent living with the children), I don’t get a response for a week or so — and even then, I just get the runaround.”

Meanwhile, parents living with their children pointed out issues such as, “(The parent living apart from the children) is not fulfilling their proper parental responsibilities.”

Survey comments from parents who have been able to visit their children included, “I am receiving assistance from lawyers,” and, “My children are now in the upper grades of elementary school, so I am able to make visitation arrangements with them directly.”

Michiko Fujiwara, a lawyer with the Daini Tokyo Bar Association who assisted with the survey, commented, “The family courts are unable to provide support after agreements have been signed.” She added, “A system is needed wherein local governments and organization-based experts are able to assist or coordinate between parties who are finding it difficult to carry out the stipulated visitation agreements.”

In order to help parents understand the importance of child visitation, the Tokyo Family Court has begun providing them with picture books that illustrate children’s feelings. A special room has also been set up on the court premises to facilitate trial visits, featuring children’s toys and stuffed animals in order to help create a warm atmosphere.

Kazuko Yao, a judge with the Tokyo Family Court who specializes in divorce and visitation agreements, commented, “Even if parents split up, the act of facilitating visitation can help children understand that they are loved. I hope that parents (who are outlining visitation agreements) will put the children first.”

Tokyo Family Court associate examiner Hajime Shiino additionally remarked, “When children are growing healthily, it will also benefit the parents.”

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