Archive for August, 2011
To the next Prime Minister,
|Left behind: Parents who have lost contact with their children after divorce or separation from their Japanese spouses march through Tokyo with their supporters on Aug. 23. The demonstrators urged Japan to sign the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and amend its current child custody laws. Left Behind Parents Japan planned the march to coincide with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Tokyo. SIMON SCOTT PHOTO|
I am the cofounder of Children First (childrenfirst.jp), an NPO that focuses on children’s issues. Every three minutes another child loses all contact with one of their parents after divorce. Every seven minutes another child is a victim of school bullying. Every 12 minutes another case of child abuse is reported to protective services. Every week at least one child dies as the result of abuse.
Children First is working to overcome these issues and other problems affecting children. But we can’t do it alone. We need the help of Diet members and policymakers to change things so Japan is a better place for children.
Most people are aware of bullying and abuse. These two issues make the headlines often. But a problem I and many other parents find more alarming is that every three minutes a child loses contact with one parent due to divorce.
On March 11, more than 16,000 people died; about another 5,000 are still missing. Hundreds if not thousands of children lost at least one parent on that day. Since March 11, more than 82,000 children have lost contact with one parent due to divorce.
This is a silent tragedy that is spreading like a cancer throughout Japan. It is preventing children from reaching their full potential. It is destroying families and family values. It leaves children confused about the future and it reduces their chances of having a normal life. It leaves some parents and children to deal with unimaginable grief. It is a silent tsunami that many people don’t know about. The family courts and the Japanese legal system are allowing this tragedy to continue.
In 2006 the Supreme Court made a DVD titled “What Couples with Children Must Think About When They Live Apart.” Surprisingly, the family courts don’t show this video to parents. Quite the opposite: They hide the existence of this DVD and family court judges make rulings that go directly against the message contained in the DVD — that children need both parents to be happy. Some family court lawyers are unaware that this video exists.
Now, the average parent gets four hours of visitation per month with his/her child. This is hardly enough time to form a bond or make a difference in a child’s life. Some parents use parental alienation to destroy the relationship the child once had with the noncustodial parent.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), children are entitled to have a relationship with both parents. If for some reason the parent and child are separated, the state (Japan) must re-establish contact with the left-behind parent. Of course, this never happens. So, the family court has failed twice. They don’t follow the advice of the Supreme Court DVD and they ignore the UNCRC, which is equivalent to a law.
I think it is time to review the rulings of judges throughout Japan and get rid of the ones who make bad rulings. I have been told by lawyers that judges sometimes don’t even look at the case files and are unprepared for what takes place in court. Bad judges need to be removed from the bench.
Mr. Prime Minister, I am asking you to take the necessary steps to remove bad judges as well as pass laws that guarantee children will have a long and meaningful relationship with both parents. Furthermore, I would also like you to pass laws that do a better job of protecting children from abuse and bullying, as well as implement better policies for reporting abuse and bullying. Teachers and bureaucrats are the key to eliminating abuse and bullying. I hope you give them the necessary tools to make a difference.
Currently, I have an active court case but that should soon change. On Sept. 13, the judge will make a ruling on my case regarding divorce and custody. If history is any indication, there is a 100-percent chance that I will lose. I plan to ride my bicycle from Kumamoto, where my court case is, to the Supreme Court in Tokyo. I will demand that family law be changed. I will stop at prefectural offices along the way and garner support from governors. I have taken eight weeks off of work for this cause. You can follow my progress on the Children First Japan Facebook Page (www.facebook.com/pages/Children-First-Japan/115396388532379) or the Joint Custody in Japan Facebook Page (www.facebook.com/oyako) and you can also find more information about my trip on my blog Children First Japan (kwbrow2.wordpress.com).
The Yomiuri Shimbun
The government has decided to join the Hague Convention on the protection of children who are taken or kept in a certain country by one parent without the other’s consent when international marriages break down. The government is now studying the establishment of the necessary legal framework. However, some people have expressed caution about signing the treaty, raising such questions as how to deal with parents and children who come to Japan to escape domestic violence.
In May, the Cabinet decided Japan should participate in the Hague Convention, and this decision was conveyed by Prime Minister Naoto Kan to a summit meeting of the Group of Eight countries in Deauville, France, later that month.
The formal name of the treaty is the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
The multinational treaty is designed to provide an expeditious method to return children abducted from one participating nation to another. It is also designed to prevent one parent from removing children from the country where they habitually reside without the consent of the other parent after the marriage collapses.
The convention was adopted at the Hague Conference on Private International Law in 1980 and enforced in 1983. As of July, 85 states are parties to the convention, but few Asian countries have joined.
Under the convention, a child under 16 years old should be returned to its place of habitual residence if one of its parents takes the child out of that country without the consent of the other parent after their marriage collapses. If the parent who remained in the nation of habitual residence demands the return of the child, that child should, in principle, be returned.
The convention is based on the idea that it would serve the best interests of the children if they remained in the nation of habitual residence and courts in that nation decide how the children should be raised.
On the other hand, the number of divorces among international couples has also increased, reaching about 20,000 in 2009.
In recent years, there have been many cases of Japanese women who married and began living in other countries, such as the United States, Canada and France, who returned to Japan with their children and refused to let their children have any contact with their fathers. This has become a major issue in North America and Europe.
As of May, there were 100 cases in which children had been removed from the United States, followed by 39 in Britain, 38 in Canada and 32 in France, according to reports received by the Foreign Ministry from other countries.
Under the Japanese “sole parental authority” system, only one parent has parental rights after a married couple has divorced. It is not unusual, therefore, for a parent without parental rights to be refused any contact with his or her children.
In the United States and Europe, joint parental authority or joint custody is common practice. Under this system, parents and their children who live separately after divorcing frequently meet and interact with their offspring.
Because of cultural and institutional differences in parent-child relations, other countries regard Japan as a nation that refuses to allow divorced parents to meet their children.
Last September, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a resolution asking Japan to sign the convention. The French Senate adopted a similar resolution in January this year.
With Japan coming under increasing pressure, the government started preparations for joining the convention by studying the necessary legal arrangements and deciding to designate the Foreign Ministry as the “central authority,” stipulated in the convention, to discharge duties imposed by the convention on such authorities.
OSAKA — A man and woman accused of unleashing a deadly beating on the woman’s 7-year-old son have been arrested, law enforcers said.
Arrested were Masatomo Morita, 44, and his wife Ryoko, 29. Morita has reportedly admitted to the accusations and told police he and his wife were “wrestling” with 7-year-old Tsubasa Fujinaga before the boy’s death.
“I threw him in a wrestling game at home. My wife then pushed him over,” Morita is quoted as telling police. Morita’s wife, however, has denied the allegations against her.
Tsubasa, the son of Ryoko from a previous relationship, was thin and there were bruises on his body, as well as what appeared to be cigarette burns. Neighbors said that they had sometimes heard the Moritas yelling angrily, and police suspect that the boy may have been abused on a daily basis.
The couple is accused of inflicting injuries on Tsubasa at their home in Osaka’s Nishiyodogawa Ward on the afternoon of Aug. 25, resulting in his death in the predawn hours of the following morning.
Police said that Tsubasa’s mother phoned emergency services on the evening of Aug. 25, saying, “We were playing with our son, doing wrestling moves on him, when something happened to him.”
At the time rescuers arrived, Tsubasa was unconscious in critical condition. A doctor concluded that he appeared to have suffered a brain hemorrhage.
The couple had lived with Tsubasa and another 2-year-old son. Previously Tsubasa had been living at a childcare facility, but he moved in with his mother and stepfather in April this year. Another younger brother of Tsubasa, aged 4, is living at a childcare institution.
(Mainichi Japan) August 26, 2011
TOKYO (Kyodo) — Around 20 Japanese and Japan-based foreign parents who are facing difficulties in gaining access to their children following failed international marriages marched in Tokyo on Tuesday in seeking help from visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to push the Japanese government to address the issue of child custody.
Holding banners reading “Stop child abduction” and “Why don’t we have rights to see our children in Japan?” the parents embarked on a march after holding a rally in a park in Tokyo’s Roppongi district.
At issue is child alienation and abduction by Japanese parents, as courts in Japan tend to award mothers sole custody after divorce and it is not unusual for children to stop seeing their fathers after their parents break up.
Japan recently launched preparations for joining the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which sets procedures for settling cross-border child custody disputes.
Akihisa Hirata, co-organizer of a group called Left Behind Parents Japan, said in his message to Biden, “Please urge the Japanese government to address child abduction and also establish joint parenting and joint custody.”
A male participant at the rally said, “Japanese people cannot change their behavior without a strong foreign pressure. We call for changes in the laws to realize joint custody and joint parenting, which is widely adopted in other parts of the world.”
Anthony del Vecchio, a U.S. citizen who has not seen his daughter for seven years after divorcing his Japanese wife, said before the start of the protest march, “With respect to the protection of human rights in general and children’s rights in particular, Japan lags far behind the rest of the developed world.”
“Its system of sole custody upon divorce runs contrary to common sense, sound psychological research and international norms,” he said.
The U.S. State Department lists 123 active cases involving 173 children who have been abducted from the United States to Japan, but it is “not aware of a single case in which a child abducted to Japan has ever been returned to America,” he said.
Biden is on a three-day visit to Japan through Wednesday. The issue of child custody was not apparently discussed in his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan earlier in the day.
A 24-year-old man has been arrested for allegedly dousing his three-year-old stepson with boiling water, police said Tuesday. The arrest came after police discovered evidence of what they believe was sustained abuse.
The man and his 28-year-old wife came to the attention of authorities in May of last year when the boy was briefly taken into care after being beaten on his head and body, according to a TV Asahi report. On Oct 29, after having been returned to his family, police say the then two-year-old boy was doused with boiling water, which left him scalded for a month and a half. In November, he sustained new burn injuries to his hands, following which he was taken to hospital.
Hospital staff noticed the scalding on his back and alerted the authorities. The child consultation center interviewed the boy’s parents about the source of his injuries and became suspicious. They alerted police in July.
During questioning about the burns on the boy’s hands, the man said he made the boy hold a heated bowl. Of the burns on the boy’s back, he said he turned the shower up to its hottest setting and sprayed the child because he wouldn’t behave.
Although the couple in question have three children, the eldest son, who has been the focus of the abuse, is one of two children fathered by his mother’s former husband. It is believed that the boy’s older sister, aged 9, by his mother’s former marriage, and one-year-old brother, fathered by the accused, have escaped abuse. The boy has now been adopted by one of his mother’s relatives.
Police said Saturday they have arrested a 43-year-old woman in connection with the death of her 3-year-old foster child on Aug 24 last year. Police said the girl—identified as Miyuki Watanabe—was found at the foot of a spiral staircase in the Suginami apartment block in which she lived. She was taken to hospital, but was pronounced dead 90 minmutes later.
According to a TBS news report, the girl’s foster mother, who is a voice actress, initially told police that she had fallen. However, after hospital staff found bruises on the girl’s head and body that were not consistent with a fall, police began to interview third parties in an attempt to build a case against the woman.
Below is my detailed schedule of my bike ride from Kumamoto to Tokyo. I will be starting on the 13th of September in Kumamoto. I will hopefully end my ride on the 18th of October. I attended an Oyakonet Kansai meeting on Sunday and some people have already volunteered (through mixi) to let me stay at their residence. I have a place to stay in Fukuoka, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, Shiga (Hikone), Nagoya, Okazaki, Yokohama, and Tokyo. Some will even accompany me to the prefectural offices. A big thanks to all those who intend to help me along the way. Everyone will be able to follow me on my trip in a few different ways. I will make posts to this blog, children first facebook page, and joint custody facebook page. In large part, my trip is to raise awareness about the need to change Japanese Family Law. More specifically, children need both parents in their life to be happy. Currently, every 3 seconds a child loses contact with one parent after divorce. Every year 100’s of thousands of children lose half of their family. Japan is way behind the rest of the civilized world in terms of international norms. My hope is to garner media attention and support from governor’s of Japan. I would like Japan to finally take the steps needed to make it a better place for children.
Aug. 10, 2011 Japan Today
Police said Wednesday that a couple from Kashiwa in Chiba Prefecture, have been charged over the death of their son from starvation in May of last year. Yuzo and Satomi Kosaka, aged 39 and 27 respectively, have pleaded guilty to child neglect resulting in death.
A police spokesman told a news conference that the couple failed to provide adequate nutrition for their son, Aoshi, for around 2 1/2 years. At the time of his death, when he was two years and 10 months old, police say the boy weighed just 5.8 kilograms, around half that of an average child of his age.
At the time of the boy’s death, Yuzo Kosaka told TV reporters that the cause of death must have been due to an eating disorder or something like that. After his arrest on Tuesday, he was quoted by police as saying, “It’s not like we did nothing for him.” His wife Satomi has reportedly told police that the couple allowed the boy to starve.
A 12-year-old junior high school boy died after collapsing during baseball training in Tsu City, Mie Prefecture, on Tuesday morning. According to an NHK report, the boy collapsed while running with his teammates at about 11 a.m. He was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead at 2:30 p.m.
The Japan Meteorological Agency said the temperature just before noon was 31.5 degrees in Tsu.
Aug 2nd 2011, 15:38 by K.N.C. | TOKYO The Economist
“MY MOTHER died,” said the female boss of a Japanese software company, seemingly from out of nowhere, during an interview. “I’m sorry,” I said. What else can one say?
“No, no,” she rushed to explain, sensing that I hadn’t followed her point.
I was interviewing Fujiyo Ishiguro, the founder of Netyear, an online-marketing software firm. We were discussing Japan’s software sector, her company and her decision to go to America for business school. How did her mother fit in?
“It is hard to raise a child in Japan without one’s parents,” she said. “The infrastructure for child care is not well developed.” The grandparents tend to support the mothers during child-rearing, but Ms Ishiguro’s father had also passed away years earlier, she explained.
Then I understood her point—and almost fell out of my chair. I sat there stunned. Ms Ishiguro registered my reaction. For a moment, we both simply sat staring at one another.
“You mean to tell me…you felt it was easier to leave Japan…with a two-year-old son…to do an MBA at Stanford…because you couldn’t access child care in Japan?!,” I mustered, blinking in disbelief.
We continued to stare for another second, till she broke the silence.
“I am risk averse. It is much easier to go to the US than stay in Japan as a working mother,” she confirmed.
I returned to taking notes, as my pulse began to come back.
The story ends well for Ms Ishiguro—if not so well for Japan as a whole. After completing her MBA, she started a consulting firm in California in part because she could control her time more easily there and raise her son. She eventually returned to Japan and started Netyear, which helps companies manage their online marketing operations. Salesforce.com, a large Silicon Valley cloud-computing vendor, took a stake in the firm last year, which is seen in Japan as an important validation of its high quality. (This comes as Japan starts belatedly to overcome its bias for hardware over software, which we’ve written about in July.)
But there is a sinister side to the story, back in Japan. The lack of child care was at one point an intentional policy choice—made by the nearly all-male political, bureaucratic and business elite—based on the belief that keeping women at home would support traditional values, improve family life and spur women to produce more children, such as to reverse the declining birth rate.
Of course, evidence from places like Sweden, France and even South Korea shows the reverse: better child-care facilities encourage women to have more children, not fewer. Japan’s policy couldn’t have been worse. Since the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has been in government it has tried to establish better provisions for child care, but has been stymied by the dinosaurs in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) who authored the policy of yore. They just block everything the government tries, hoping to discredit it and win power in the next election.
Ms Ishiguro has always been a pioneer in Japan. While she was a salaryman (so to speak) working in the Nagoya office of Brother, an office-equipment maker, she founded and captained the company’s women’s rugby team. Now she is one of the few female Japanese bosses of a publicly traded company. Another notable female business leader was Tomoko Namba, the founder and chairman of DeNA—who recently stepped down as chief executive.
As for Ms Ishiguro’s son? He graduates from Stanford’s computer science department next year. “I tried to raise him to be a geek. And Silicon Valley is for geeks. And now he’s a geek in geek school,” she says, beaming with pride. Though he is Japanese and was raised partly in Japan, she doubts that he’ll end up making his career in his native land, like his mum did. There’s more opportunity for an ambitious programmer in Silicon Valley, she sighs.