Archive for March, 2011

Japan must not overlook mental health of children in disaster zone

Posted on March 31, 2011. Filed under: mental health | Tags: , , , |

There are many elementary school children making the rounds of disaster evacuation shelters to look for their missing parents. Others are searching the rubble of collapsed buildings for mementos such as photos as well as their belongings. Some children were seen to smile during their school graduation ceremonies. People across the country are trying to cheer up these children in quake- and tsunami-hit areas.

More than 10,000 people have been confirmed dead and some 16,000 others remain missing following the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake. Facing this unbelievable reality, anybody would want to encourage child survivors to help them conquer hardships already experienced and those sure to come.

However, children are already doing their best. Even though they do not understand what has happened to them as much as adults and cannot express their feelings, they can also suffer from disaster trauma and become overwhelmed with grief after losing their family members, their homes or both.

Rather than simply urging children to overcome the disaster, what is needed is to look for subtle changes in their emotions and provide appropriate psychological support.

Children who have experienced such a massive disaster tend to complain of insomnia and loss of appetite, act infantile, be frightened by loud sounds, easily lose their temper, have nightmares and refuse activities they enjoyed before the traumatic event.

If children begin to show these symptoms, adequate care should be provided to them, such as telling them, “You’re all right,” and avoiding letting them sleep alone, in order to reassure them.

Some children repeatedly talk about what they saw and experienced in the disaster, but adults around them should understand this as a sign that they are trying hard to accept the shocking reality and patiently listen to what they have to say.

Pep talks like, “Never say die” and “There are some other people who are in more difficult situations. Overcome this hardship,” must be avoided. Adults may say these things to children to encourage them, but they can be counterproductive, driving a child into a psychological corner.

Some children are afflicted with survivor’s guilt when the rest of their families lost their lives in the disaster. They should rather be convinced that they do not have to hide their tears or their feelings.

The Japanese Association of Clinical Psychology and the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry (NCNP) have guidelines on their respective websites on dealing with children who have experienced a massive disaster.

Mental health experts are working in quake-hit areas, but they cannot look after all the children who need their care. Academic societies specializing in children’s mental health are providing telephone and e-mail counseling, and such services should be fully utilized.

Children can initially endure the harsh living conditions at shelters because they maintain a sense of tension after the disaster. If their evacuation is prolonged, however, they may suffer from sudden depression or feel physically ill. Minor symptoms that children show immediately after a disaster can be dealt with if adequate care is provided. However, post-traumatic stress disorder should be suspected if children continue to show such symptoms for more than a month. In that case, expert treatment is required.

Even children who did not experience the quake could show symptoms such as insomnia if they repeatedly see shocking images of the disaster on TV. There are reportedly some cases where children who were not hit by the disaster complain they feel anxious and suddenly begin to cry in class. Close attention should be paid to subtle changes in children’s words and deeds so as not to overlook any sign that they are developing psychological problems.

Efforts to provide mental care for children in quake- and tsunami-devastated areas have come to a crucial stage. The nation as a whole is urged to protect both the mental and physical health of children.

Click here for the original Japanese story
http://mainichi.jp/select/opinion/editorial/archive/news/20110330ddm005070163000c.html

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8-year-old boy stabbed to death in Nagoya home

Posted on March 31, 2011. Filed under: Abuse Neglect Death | Tags: , , , |

Police said Monday they believe an 8-year-old boy stabbed to death in his Nagoya home may have been killed by the Philippine relative with whom he shared an apartment. According to police, the boy’s father, Yoshihiko Kachi, 54, visited his son’s apartment at around 11:50 a.m. to find the door locked and chained.

Inside the apartment, the child, identified as Hitoshi Kachi, and his Philippine relative, 26, were found bleeding on the floor. Police said the child had already died of stab wounds sustained to his head and back. The woman was unconscious and bleeding from cuts to her wrists. There were no signs of forced entry into the apartment. A blood-stained fruit knife was found inside the apartment.

According to police, the boy and his father’s wife’s cousin shared the apartment. Kachi told police he visited the pair regularly from the nearby apartment block where he lived with his 29-year-old wife. Police believe the woman stabbed the boy to death before attempting to take her own life.

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28-year-old man accused of punching 2-year-old boy to death

Posted on March 24, 2011. Filed under: Abuse Neglect Death | Tags: , , , |

Thursday 24th March, 09:10 AM JST
TOKYO —

Police on Wednesday arrested a man over the death of a 2-year-old boy in Hino last Sunday. According to police, the boy was found dead in his home where he was under the care of Reo Amakumo, 28, his mother’s boyfriend. Police said the boy had numerous bruises on his forehead and body at the time of his death.

Amakumo began living with the boy’s mother at the beginning of this month. The woman had just started a job which kept her out of the house for long periods of time, police said. Police believe Amakumo punched the child several times during her absence, causing the boy’s death.

During police questioning, Amakumo admitted to punching the boy in the face and was quoted as saying: “I used to punch him if he didn’t tidy up.”

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Bullying-related complaints, child abuse cases hit record highs in 2010

Posted on March 11, 2011. Filed under: Abuse Neglect Death, Bullying | Tags: , , , , |

TOKYO —

Complaints over school authorities’ inappropriate responses to bullying and cases of child abuse addressed under a Justice Ministry program to remedy human rights violations both reached record highs in 2010, the ministry said Friday.

The number of bullying-related complaints jumped 51.9 percent from the previous year to 2,714 and abuse cases grew 6.3 percent to 771, it said.

‘‘The number of cases directly reported by affected children grew. It is possible that they brought to light underlying cases,’’ said an official of the ministry’s Human Rights Bureau.

The total number of human rights violations has remained at the 20,000 level since 2004. In 2010, the total came to 21,696, up 2.3 percent from the previous year.

Cases of violence and abuse accounted for the largest number of the total human rights violations at 4,788, down 6.1 percent from 2009.

Cases of privacy violation remained almost unchanged at 1,752, with online harassment accounting for 40 percent of the total.

Meanwhile, a case of sexual abuse of a girl by her own father surfaced in one of the ‘‘children’s human rights SOS’’ letters that the ministry’s legal affairs bureaus have distributed to elementary and junior high schools across Japan since 2007. The child was promptly taken into protective custody, the ministry said.

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Domestic violence cases soar 20% in 2010 to record 33,852

Posted on March 10, 2011. Filed under: Domestic Violence (DV) | Tags: , |

Thursday 10th March Japan Today

The number of domestic violence cases police recognized in 2010 soared 20.2 percent from the year before to 33,852, the highest since an annual survey commenced in 2002, the National Police Agency said Thursday.

The agency said one of the factors behind the surge is the growing number of victims alerting police, courts and other official institutions at an early stage of the problem, thanks to increased publicity about official measures against domestic violence.

The agency said police intervened in 9,748 cases, up 11.7 percent,  including taking such steps as providing advice to victims or helping to prevent offenders from finding out the current whereabouts of their victims.

Courts intervened in 2,428 cases, a number almost unchanged from a year earlier, by issuing restraining orders or taking other measures.

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How Did Japan Become a Haven for Child Abductions?

Posted on March 7, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Domestic Violence (DV), Hague Convention, Japanese Family Law | Tags: , , , , |

By Lucy Birmingham / Tokyo Monday, Mar. 07, 2011
Click here to find out more!

Like any loving father, Christopher Savoie just wanted to do the best thing for his two kids. In August 2009, his Japanese ex-wife broke U.S. law and abducted their children from his home in Tennessee, moving them to Japan. But when Savoie went to get them weeks later, he was arrested. It didn’t matter that he had legal custody in both countries; that she had violated a U.S. court order or that there was a U.S. warrant issued for her arrest. Nor did the fact that Savoie was a naturalized Japanese citizen and fluent in Japanese make a difference. After 18 days in jail, Savoie returned to the U.S. empty handed and broken hearted. A year and half has now passed, and he is still unable to see his son and daughter, now 10 and 8.

Despite all this, Savoie’s ex-wife is beyond the reach of international law. Japan has not signed the Hague Convention on the Prevention of Child Abduction, an international accord adopted by 84 nations and aimed at returning abducted children back to the country from which they were taken. Along with an increasing number of international marriages and divorces, child abductions to Japan — the only G7 nation that has not signed the treaty — have been on the rise. In 2009, the State Department ranked Japan at the top of its list in reported abductions from the U.S. among non-signatory nations. “It is our understanding that no U.S. citizen child abducted to Japan has been returned to the United States,” says Paul Fitzgerald, a U.S. Embassy official in Tokyo. The issue could tarnish U.S.-Japan relations; as Assistant Sec. of State Kurt Campbell told reporters during a trip to Tokyo in February, “The situation has to be resolved in order to ensure that the U.S.-Japan relations continue on such a positive course.” (See pictures of Japan and the world.)

Japan’s antiquated domestic family law complicates matters. In a Japanese divorce, child custody is awarded to only one parent — typically the mother. Visitation can be negotiated but there is no legal enforcement and agreements are often broken. In Japan, it’s not unusual for the non-custodial parent to lose contact with their child, and domestic abductions, when they do occur, are often ignored by the police as a family matter. It’s a devastating scenario for a growing number of fathers residing in Japan — both Japanese and foreign — who have few legal rights to see their children. “Clearly, the best legal scenario is for the children is to be here in the U.S. where each parent would be guaranteed visitation,” writes Savoie by email.

International pressure for Japan to make a change has been mounting. Over the past year, several ambassadors from embassies in Tokyo have met with high-level government officials to urge Japan to sign the convention. A Japanese government panel was set up in January to study the pros and cons, but opposition remains firm at most levels. Japanese lawmakers are worried the Hague Convention does not properly take into account past cases of domestic abuse in demanding a child’s repatriation, or a child’s own right to choose where they live. “This is why Switzerland tried to amend the treaty, even though it is a signatory,” explains Kensuke Ohnuki, a Tokyo attorney who has represented several women who have abducted children from foreign countries to Japan. “They failed. So instead, they made their own new law which enables the Swiss court to refuse the return of a child when it’s against the child’s will.”

On Feb. 22, the Japan Bar Association issued similar Hague recommendations to the government, including a guarantee in domestic law that children not be returned to their country of residence if they had been subjected to abuse or violence. Left-behind parents, including Christopher Savoie, have said the recommendations are draconian and anti-joint custody, in part because abuse is both difficult to prove and is commonly cited as one of the main reasons for abduction.

One of Ohnuki’s clients, who uses the alias Keiko, says she left the U.S. with her child because she discovered her husband was abusing their son. “There were no obvious physical marks so it would have been impossible to prove in court,” Keiko explains tearfully. After consulting a therapist and an attorney in the U.S., she feared getting sole custody as a Japanese citizen would be nearly impossible. “When we were in Japan, my son told me he feels safe, far away from his father… I didn’t really want to leave the U.S. I had a good job and many friends. But I wanted to do what was best for my son.” Keiko is now one of about 50 members of the Safety Network for Guardians and Children, a support group for women who have abducted their children to Japan from various countries. (Comment on this story.)

Finding a internationally recognized legal resolution to cases like Keiko’s will not be easy. But in the meantime, Japanese mothers living abroad who have no intention of removing their children from their families are also beginning to be affected by the problem. Jeremy Morley, a U.S. attorney specializing in Japanese child abductions says that foreign courts are “increasingly ordering Japanese mothers living overseas not to take their children to Japan even for a family visit because of Japan’s status as a renowned haven for international child abduction.”

A winning diplomatic strategy will need teeth to make a difference for everyone involved. “The mantra now is ‘Japan sign the Hague’, but that’s not enough,” U.S. Rep. Chris Smith said during a recent trip to Tokyo. The Republican New Jersey congressman, who is also the chairman of a subcommittee overseeing human rights issues, is pushing for a bill that would establish an Office of International Child Abductions within the U.S. State Department to handle cases like these and discuss sanctions against uncooperative nations. “I don’t know what the answer is,” says Keiko. “But we need to find a solution that’s in the best interest of the child.”

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20-year-old student admits to strangling 3-year-old girl in Kumamoto

Posted on March 6, 2011. Filed under: Abuse Neglect Death | Tags: , , , , , |

Saturday 05th March, 05:15 AM KUMAMOTO

A 20-year-old college student was arrested Friday on suspicion of abandoning the body of a 3-year-old girl who went missing at a supermarket in the city of Kumamoto the previous day and was found dead on a nearby riverbank, police said.

Yoshihiro Yamaguchi, a sophomore at Kumamoto Gakuen University, was quoted as telling investigators that he strangled Koko Shimizu in a restroom at the supermarket and carried her body in his backpack to abandon it at the riverbank, according to the police.

The girl went missing while shopping at the supermarket with her parents and brother on Thursday evening. The security camera in the store captured her going to the restroom alone but did not record her coming out.

The footage also showed a young man with a backpack entering the restroom after Koko and leaving with a bulging backpack around 15 minutes later, according to the police.

The girl’s body was found on a riverbank around 800 meters north of the supermarket. There were no obvious signs of injury, police said.

The suspect told the investigators he had taken the girl’s body to the riverbank by bicycle.

It is believed that he was unacquainted with the victim and that he happened to see her in the supermarket, police said.

The girl’s parents reported to police that their daughter was missing.

Police made inquiries at senior high and other schools in the city as the supermarket’s security camera had captured the image of a young man, later apprehending Yamaguchi who told them where he had abandoned her body.

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Children caught in international tug-of-war as Japan hesitates to ratify Hague Convention

Posted on March 5, 2011. Filed under: Child Custody and Visitation, Domestic Violence (DV), Hague Convention | Tags: , , |

When an international marriage falls apart, heartbreak can arise when one parent flees to their home country with their child or children without the other’s consent. In Japan, which

has not yet ratified the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, such cases are the focus of intense debate.

The United States and Europe are ratcheting up the pressure on Japan to ratify the Hague Convention, which dictates the return of children to their original country of residence.

What kinds of situations are occurring, and what precautions should people take before marrying? We collected people’s experiences and words of advice.

* * *

“I was just in time,” said a single mother, 37, living in Tokyo, with a sigh of relief.

In 2006, she met and married a French man while she was working at a company in the United States.

However, on top of refusing to work, he was extremely violent to her at home, and declared he would not take care of their child. She decided to move out, taking her 2-year-old son to Japan in 2008 after she found a job at a foreign-owned company.

Due to the cost and bother involved in divorce procedures, she decided to wait for her relationship with her husband to fade away.

But one day, she started receiving numerous e-mails and phone calls from him in which he threatened to have her thrown in jail as an abductor if she did not return their child.

Her lawyer warned her that Japan was moving toward ratifying the Hague Convention, which could mean that her child might be taken back by her husband. She quickly filed for a divorce through Japan’s family court system.

As the woman’s husband would not divulge his contact details, he was consequently regarded by the courts as a missing person. That led to her being granted 100 percent custody of her son, and her divorce was finalized in 2010.

She had also registered her marriage in France, so she spent six months going through that country’s divorce application procedure via the French Embassy.

In the case of another woman in her 30s who got married in a different country in Europe, her husband was abusive to both her and her child. She fled to Japan five years ago, but says, “I can’t give my name because I’m afraid my child will be taken back.”

A 50-year-old woman who married an American man in Japan subsequently divorced him in 1998 because he made no financial contribution to their living expenses.

He gave up custody rights to their two children, aged 2 and 5 at the time, on the grounds that they would be raised in Japan.

However, the man later took the children to the United States without her permission. The woman felt dismayed, because she “had taken care of them 90 percent of the time.”

When she tried to meet her children in the United States, she was arrested by the police for disorderly behavior by a parent with no custody rights.

Following that incident, the woman relocated to the United States so she could fight for custody in court. Her legal struggle has lasted nine years.

Recently, her children’s wish to live with her has been recognized, and she is expected to be granted joint custody of her children in the United States.

“If Japan had ratified the Hague Convention, it wouldn’t have been necessary for me to chase them all the way to the United States,” the woman says.

The Hague Convention states that children taken overseas by one parent without the consent of the other must be returned to their country of previous residence.

If a child’s whereabouts are unknown, signatory countries must assist in tracking the child down. However, the convention cannot be applied retroactively to parents and children who moved overseas before it was ratified.

In contrast to Japan, where one parent loses custody rights after divorce, it is common in Europe and the United States for joint custody to be granted, where both parents retain responsibility for a child’s upbringing.

The proportion of custody held by each parent is always decided in court.

In Japan, marriages and divorces are finalized after the necessary documents are submitted. In other countries, the process varies, and it is necessary for parents to fulfill the requirements of the relevant country.

Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare statistics for 2009 showed there were 34,000 marriages where one spouse held foreign citizenship, representing a sixfold increase over the past 40 years.

According to the Foreign Ministry, inquiries received as of January from foreign governments about children abducted to Japan had risen to 100 from the United States, 38 from Britain, 37 from Canada, and 30 from France.

Former United Nations staffer Etsuko Tsukagoshi, 37, who is married to an American and wrote the book “Cross-Cultural Marriage 101” (Kokusai Kekkon Ichinensei), says: “International marriages take time to rectify once they turn sour. I advise people to make adequate preparations, such as thoroughly studying the laws of their future spouse’s home country.”

Lawyer Mikiko Otani, an expert on international law, gives the following advice: “When you live overseas as a foreigner, you are inevitably in a weak position because of the differences in language and each country’s systems. I’d like people to make themselves aware of the differences with Japan, and to find information from the country itself. If you intend to take flight back to Japan because of violence from your husband, first seek protection from the local police and women’s shelters, and guidance from local specialists. They can also help you to secure evidence and provide necessary advice.”

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Cabinet OKs two child abuse bills

Posted on March 5, 2011. Filed under: Abuse Neglect Death, Japanese Family Law | Tags: , , |

Saturday, March 5, 2011                   Kyodo News

The Cabinet approved bills Friday to revise two laws on parental rights amid an increase in child abuse cases, with an eye on having them clear the Diet this session.

The bills would pave the way for a system that would set a limit of up to two years for suspended parental authority and give priority to child care facility officials over parents as part of efforts to protect kids from abuse.

Cases presumed to require swift and flexible action include medical neglect involving parents who refuse to seek medical treatment when their children are sick, and parents who wrongfully take children away from shelters.

Under the current system, parents are stripped of custodial rights without a time limit, and child care workers say the law makes them hesitate to ask the courts to invalidate parental custody even in cases of suspected child abuse.

Amid concerns that suspending guardian rights for an indefinite period could jeopardize the parent-child relationship, one of the bills seeks to revise the Civil Code to impose a time limit, which would make it possible to restore the custodial rights if the situation improved.

The other bill would give heads of shelters more authority to insist on caring for abused kids even if parents resist.

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171 Abducted American Children Held in Japan Smith Calls on Obama Administration to Dramatically Alter Strategy Regarding ‘Left Behind Parents’

Posted on March 2, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Hague Convention | Tags: , , , , , |

Congressman Smith asks Secretary Clinton a question about child abductions to Japan Related Documents

Rep Smith and Secretary Clinton

Washington, Mar 1 – A leading human rights lawmaker today said that left behind parents whose American children have been taken and retained in Japan “are at risk of being left behind again” if the Obama Administration does not dramatically change its strategy and directly work toward an agreement with Japan to resolve current cases of international abduction.

At a Capitol Hill hearing, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee with immediate jurisdiction on global human rights, questioned Secretary Hillary Clinton on the Obama strategy and later said the Administration is making a strategic mistake in focusing first on pushing Japan to sign an international treaty which is not retroactive and will not itself help children who have already been abducted and remain separated from their American parent.

All of us of course want Japan to sign the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction,” Smith said. “But, as you know, that treaty will not solve the current cases. What is the Administration’s plan to resolve the current cases?” Smith asked.Click here to watch video.

Smith, who supports the signing of the treaty, pointed out that the treaty and a separate memorandum of understanding resolving current cases must be equally supported and achieved. He argues that the U.S. government has a duty not only to future Americans who would benefit from the Hague Convention, but “we have a duty to the current American children and American parents who suffer daily, deprived of each others’ love and support,” he said.

Smith, having just returned from a human rights mission to Japan, said that country has become a destination country—a haven—for international child abduction.

There are at least 171 children who are being arbitrarily denied a relationship with their American parent and 131 brokenhearted parents worried sick about their children,” Smith said.

In response, the Secretary said she believes that if Japan signs the treaty the U.S. will have a stronger argument on the pending cases. Something she argued would “open up more possibilities.”

The Secretary’s response was disappointing and naïve,” said Smith who last year authored legislation to strengthen the U.S. response to the taking of American children. Among other provisions, Smith’s bill, which he will reintroduce, prods the State Department to be more forceful with treaty countries as well as those, like Japan, that have not yet signed on.

The U.S. must make it clear, government to government, that Japan has an obligation to work now to solve these current abduction cases, many of which occurred in direct contravention of American court orders barring the child’s removal from the U.S.,” Smith said. “These American parents and their children have suffered too long, and to leave them behind again is unacceptable.”

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U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton testifies on the abduction of children to and within Japan

Posted on March 2, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Hague Convention, Video | Tags: , , , , , |

Congressman Chris Smith asks questions to Secretary Clinton concerning international child abduction to Japan.  Secretary Clinton talks about the cases (denial of access with in Japan and abductions to Japan). Click on the link to watch the video.

Clinton video

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Tiger Mask charitable donations inspire creation of orphan support foundation

Posted on March 2, 2011. Filed under: Orphanages, Uplifting Stories | Tags: , , , |

The

The “Tiger Mask Foundation” logo (Image courtesy of Fathering Japan)

A Tokyo-based nonprofit organization has set up a new foundation for children at orphanages nationwide, inspired by a recent spate of anonymous donations to child welfare offices under the names of the legendary Tiger Mask manga character.

The NPO, “Fathering Japan,” which supports men raising children, established the “Tiger Mask Foundation” on March 1 to raise individual and group donations and provide the benefits to orphanages as well as support groups across the country as needed.

“Not to miss this opportunity, we want to make a broad appeal for donations and keep the (Tiger Mask) movement going,” said Fathering Japan Chief Representative Tetsuya Ando.

The organization also obtained permission to make a logo featuring Naoto Date — the main character of the Tiger Mask manga series — from the families of the late Ikki Kajiwara and Naoki Tsuji, the work’s author and illustrator, respectively.

“Thanks to the Tiger Mask movement, I have come to want to do something for our society,” Kajiwara’s wife Atsuko Takamori, who serves as a member of the foundation’s steering committee, told a press conference on March 1. “I believe the foundation lives up to my husband’s will.”

According to Hiroshi Nakata, chairman of the National Council of Homes for Children, the orphanage support foundation is probably the first of its kind to operate on a national scale in Japan.

If requested, the foundation will also assist former orphanage children in living independently.

To make donations, send funds to:

Account name: “Tiger Mask Kikin” (Tiger Mask Foundation)

Account No.: 0135667

The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Sendagi Branch

For inquiries, call the Tiger Mask Foundation at 080-6810-5215.

Click here for the original Japanese story

(Mainichi Japan) March 1, 2011

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Solving parental child abduction problem no piece of cake Carving out Hague caveats could halt the return of any kids snatched to Japan

Posted on March 2, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Hague Convention | Tags: , , , |

 

Special to The Japan Times

The Way of Cake is mysterious and paradoxical. A master of the Way can make his neighbors feel they have filled themselves with tasty cake without ever cutting off a piece. The Way allows its disciple to step outside the boundaries of rational thought by partaking of cake while continuing to possess cake.

The Zen of having your cake and eating it too can sometimes seem to be a feature of the Japanese legal system. The rule of law applies, though it is sometimes hard to know what the law actually is. There is a Constitution that protects people from the government — except when the government finds this inconvenient — as well as a criminal justice system founded on the presumption of innocence, but which manages to find pretty much everyone guilty anyways (because prosecutors only ever prosecute people who are actually guilty, you see).

Yet it is in Japan’s most recent responses to growing pressure to join the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction that the Way of Cake may be demonstrated in its purest form.

It has always seemed highly likely (to me, at least) that Japan will eventually submit to foreign pressure and join a treaty regime that effectively represents the international community’s consensus on how cross-border child custody disputes should be decided: in the child’s country of habitual residence. At the same time, it has also always seemed unlikely that signing the treaty will result in children who have been abducted to Japan by Japanese parents actually being returned to their foreign homes. The Japanese civil justice system lacks the tools to enforce a return and, probably more to the point, it is unlikely to ever be in the interests of any Japanese judge, cop or other bureaucrat to be responsible for a crying child being taken away from a weeping Japanese mother in any particular case. The rule of law is one thing, but Japanese officialdom is not short on cake aficionados.

So it has not been too surprising to read recent news reports that the government is considering signing the convention while at the same time amending its domestic laws to ensure that children are not returned if there are concerns about domestic violence. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) also recently issued a formal opinion that included similar recommendations, as well as suggesting that children should not be returned if it would result in the abducting parent being subject to prosecution in their home country (the U.S., Canada and other countries have criminal penalties for parental child abduction). This would mean that in addition to the civil trial procedures (which should include appeals, according to the JFBA) used to return children in Hague Convention cases, it might be necessary to negotiate nonprosecution agreements with home country authorities in some instances.

Whatever legislation is used to implement the Hague Convention, it is hard to imagine that it will not also include a catch-all “other” caveat that will provide additional excuses for nonreturn in just about any situation. Even without the provision, the domestic violence exception alone will probably be enough to ensure that Japan fulfills its duties under the convention in terms of appearances and process, without actually accomplishing any of the goals the treaty is supposed to achieve in terms of substance.

To be fair, domestic violence is an issue that some commentators assert is not dealt with adequately under the Hague Convention in its current form, and I am certainly not suggesting that it is not a problem in cross-border — or any — marriages. Yet as a matter of law and judicial process, exceptions drafted around claims of domestic violence are likely to suffer from the same evidentiary and other practical constraints the convention is intended to address in the case of child custody decisions. In both situations, factual determinations are usually best made by courts in places where school officials, social workers and other potential witnesses are likely to reside, and where other relevant evidence is likely to be located. This is the child’s country of habitual residence under the Hague Convention, and logic suggests that claims of domestic violence or child abuse should also be adjudicated by courts where the conduct allegedly took place. This logic is even more compelling if the claims of violence are linked to a child custody dispute, and if the conduct in question also constitutes a criminal offense, as is often the case in many countries.

Whatever exceptions are provided for in Japanese law, as an evidentiary matter it is difficult to see how Japanese courts would decide whether to apply them except based on allegations by the Japanese victims, with the foreign “aggressor” being put in the position of having to prove a negative, over linguistic and geographical barriers. Unless Japanese courts are willing to start with a presumption that parents claiming abuse are lying (a cruel result for those actually fearing for their lives or those of their children), the safest thing for judges to do in any particular case will be to simply accept the claims at face value and grant the exception.

Japanese judges will be aided in this task by Japanese law, which defines spousal violence as including not just “bodily harm” but “words and deeds of one spouse that cause equivalent psychological or physical harm to the other” (this is from the Japanese government’s translation of Article 1 of the Act on the Prevention of Spousal Violence and the Protection of Victims). This already broad definition is further expanded by government publications that go so far as to include “yelling” and “ignoring” as types of domestic violence. Child abuse also is defined as including “words or conduct which cause a child significant psychological harm” (my translation of the relevant portion of Article 2 of the Child Abuse Prevention Act, for which a government translation is not yet available), though even this expansive definition is apparently not broad enough to cover abduction from abroad or the parental alienation that often follows.

To the extent that marital breakup is pretty much always emotionally traumatic for everyone directly involved, the unsubstantiated Japanese media trope about all cases of child abduction to Japan involving Japanese women fleeing from violence or abuse abroad can be said to be true: It will always be possible to find some sort of “psychological harm” that can be attributed to broadly defined violence or abuse if necessary.

However the law is written, it will likely serve as a message to Japanese living abroad that so long as they have the right story when they get off the plane with the children, they do not have to worry about a Hague Convention return order. Whether their story is legitimate or not (and I am certainly not suggesting that all claims of violence are or will be fabricated) will be beside the point — lawyers and well-intentioned bureaucrats will provide advice as to how stories should be scripted to ensure that an exception applies.

What will be interesting to see is how the law and Japanese judges deal with the situation where child custody issues and allegations of domestic violence have already been dealt with in a foreign court. If the law includes provisions calling on Japanese courts to give weight to foreign proceedings (as one hopes it would), it could have the effect of actually encouraging abduction before a foreign court has a chance to deal with any of the issues. Forum-shopping (trying to have your case resolved in the most advantageous court possible) through pre-emptive abductions is of course already a common problem in international abductions, but it is one of the things that joining the Hague Convention is supposed to discourage and remedy rather than induce.

Putting all this aside, an obvious response to concerns over domestic violence and the Hague Convention is that the treaty has been around for three decades and has been signed by dozens of countries despite domestic violence being a universal problem. There is, simply put, no “uniquely Japanese” set of issues here that involves prolonged navel-gazing over issues that are incomprehensible to foreigners.

Yet another point of rebuttal is this: If fleeing to Japan is going to be allowed if it is to escape domestic violence, then it should be OK to escape from Japan with your children for the same reason. But this type of mundane logical consistency is probably incompatible with the subtle rhetorical aesthetics of the Way of Cake.

While the Hague Convention garners most of the attention in the foreign press, there are signs that Japan could be taking steps to amend its creaky family laws to provide for joint custody and postseparation parent-child contact, neither of which are provided for under current law (preservation of access rights across borders is another goal of the Hague Convention, though the same is true of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Japan has signed but essentially ignores in this respect). The last draft of one version of proposed legislation I have seen includes a prohibition on the unilateral removal of a child from their home; if this provision survives the legislative process, it might be hard to square with a law that could offer a blanket invitation to Japanese mothers to bring their children home from abroad.

Yet how domestic law change fits with the Hague Convention may not be a problem, since nothing may actually happen in the case of the former. In a recent interview (Japan Times, Feb. 3), Justice Minister Satsuki Eda questioned the need to package the adoption of a joint custody regime with signing the Hague Convention, though in the same article it was also reported that “he thinks married couples should be allowed to have separate surnames, but changing the law now would be difficult.” That certain sectors of the Japanese polity are still grappling with the staggering complexities of women keeping their maiden names after marriage (and not even touching the seemingly unconstitutional prohibition on remarriage within six months of divorce that only applies to women) might be a good benchmark for how low expectations should be set regarding changes in domestic family law.

Then again, what a particular minister of justice says about anything may not be an indicator of very much in the first place. Since January 2001, 13 different people have filled the position, a one-year term ending in August or September being the most common pattern of tenure. Past ministers — past prime ministers, even — have voiced views on the Hague Convention and other aspects of family law, yet nothing much seems to happen. In 2010, then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama expressed a willingness to sign the Hague Convention early in 2010, and during her term at the top of the Justice Ministry pyramid, Keiko Chiba’s accomplishment was supposedly to have been resolving the marital name issue, yet the status quo continues on both fronts.

Democracy is a slow business, full of messy compromise, of course, yet when it comes to issues that matter to families and children, one is often left wondering who — if anyone — is actually in charge. Cake, anyone?

Colin P. A. Jones is a professor at Doshisha University Law School. Send comments and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp
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