American cycles across Japan to raise awareness on child rights

Posted on October 19, 2011. Filed under: Child Custody and Visitation, Divorce, Hague Convention, United Nation Convention on the Rights of a Child | Tags: , , , , , , , |

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TOKYO, Oct. 15 — (Kyodo) _ (EDS: ONE PHOTO AVAILABLE)

An American who has been separated from his 6-year-old son due to his divorce from his Japanese wife completed a month-long 1,500-kilometer bike ride from Kyushu to Tokyo this week to raise awareness on the issue of child custody. Along the way, he stopped at local government offices to lobby for children’s rights to have access to both parents.

Kevin Brown, a 45-year-old English teacher and the founding director of civic group “Children First” in central Japan’s Aichi Prefecture, said that during his visits to more than 10 prefectural and municipal government offices he explained that children’s steady access to both parents should be guaranteed in line with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Brown, a native of Illinois, was parted from his son four years ago when his wife moved from Nagoya to southwestern Japan’s Kumamoto Prefecture. Every six weeks he travels by overnight bus to the prefecture in the Kyushu region to see the boy for five hours — the maximum amount of time agreed upon during the divorce settlement.

“When I started research, I was really disappointed in what I found — the sole custody system. Usually, the winner is the person who abducts the kids first,” Brown said in an interview with Kyodo News. “I want a kind of unlimited access to my son. Once every six weeks is not enough.”

The father said he learned of the Japanese child-custody system in the middle of the divorce proceedings, which were finalized in September. “I would like the kind of American system where, you know, every other weekend, overnight visits, birthdays, holidays you get to see the kids,” he said.

The English teacher said that since his son was only 2 when they were parted, the boy only speaks Japanese and has difficulty communicating with his father, who does not speak much Japanese.

Family courts in Japan tend to give mothers sole custody after divorce and it is not unusual for children to stop seeing their fathers after their parents break up. Brown pointed out that the average visitation awarded by the courts to parents without custody is four hours a month.

Brown said he underlined during his meetings with local government officials that Japan, which ratified the U.N. convention in 1994, has not implemented policies to secure children’s access to both parents and that the country is the only Group of Seven member to adopt the sole custody system upon divorce.

Article 9 of the U.N. pact says state parties “shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child’s best interests.”

The other G-7 countries are Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United States.

The campaigner said some local government officials in charge of child welfare were not well aware of the issue related to visitations as they focused on protecting children from abuse and were “not too familiar with good parents not being able to see their kids.”

Although some workers told Brown that what local governments can do is limited as the matter should be handled by the central government, he said the awareness-raising tour was meaningful as “the first step in making change.”

Japan recently launched preparations for joining the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which establishes procedures for settling international child custody disputes.

However, Brown’s case will not be covered by the pact because it is not retroactive, only applying to cases that occur after its entry into force in Japan, and also because it deals with cross-border parental child abductions.

In late September, U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed Tokyo’s decision to enter into the Hague Convention but asked Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda during their summit talks in New York that the Japanese government also “focus on the preexisting cases,” according to the U.S. State Department.

Noda said he was aware of the 123 active cases involving children who have been abducted from the United States to Japan, and vowed to “take special care to focus on these particular issues,” the state department said.

(c) 2011 Kyodo News International, Inc.

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