Dispel concerns before signing Hague Convention

Posted on June 16, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Divorce, Domestic Violence (DV), Hague Convention, Japanese Family Law | Tags: , , , , , , , |

The Yomiuri Shimbun

When international marriages fall apart, how should cross-border disputes over child custody be handled?

The government is in the process of formulating legislation in preparation for joining the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which sets international rules for settling such disputes.

If Japan becomes a signatory to the convention, perhaps as soon as next year, it should be lauded as a step forward. However, in drawing up the legislation, the government must take care to ensure the rights of Japanese people are not being unilaterally compromised.

The treaty bans a parent from taking overseas a child aged less than 16 without the other parent’s permission after their marriage fails.

If a parent demands the return of a child taken without permission from their country of residence, signatory countries are obliged in principle to help resolve the issue.

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Japan being urged to join

This is based on the thinking that it is desirable to settle custody disputes in courts in the country of original residence. More than 80 nations have signed the convention. The United States and European countries have urged Japan to join.

About 100 cases have been reported in the United States in which divorced Japanese spouses returned to their homeland with their children. Because Japan is not a signatory to the convention, the foreign parents find it difficult to see their children, let alone take them back to their own country.

Because of this, U.S. and European judicial authorities ban divorced Japanese parents from taking their children home. Japanese mothers who return home with their kids without the permission of their former husbands are often regarded as “abductors” in these countries.

This problem goes both ways: If children with a Japanese parent are taken overseas without permission, the Japanese parent cannot expect to get any help from the country of their former husband or wife.

If Japan joins the treaty, these disputes will be settled by the two countries concerned based on international rules.

The treaty stipulates nations can refuse to return children if they have been physically or mentally abused, and in some other circumstances. But it makes no mention of domestic violence between spouses.

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Domestic violence fears

Japan had long resisted joining the pact because many Japanese mothers had returned home with their children after being violently abused by their former foreign husbands. These mothers have strong concerns about allowing their children to return to such an environment.

The procedure to decide whether to return a child or children starts at a court in the country where they reside. The government is considering incorporating into a related bill the right to refuse a request to return a child if there are fears they could become victims of domestic violence. This is a sensible move.

After signing the treaty, the Foreign Ministry will be responsible for specifying the whereabouts of children brought to Japan and helping with court trial procedures. This will involve domestic administrative work the ministry is not accustomed to doing. Cooperation among government organs to smooth the process will be indispensable.

Many Japanese mothers feel anxious that trials over custodial rights will be held at a court in their child’s original country of residence. Japanese diplomatic missions abroad will need to introduce them to local lawyers and provide other support.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 14, 2011)

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Child abduction convention

Posted on June 6, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Hague Convention | Tags: , , , , , |

Monday, June 6, 2011 Japan Times

The Kan Cabinet on May 20 endorsed a policy of Japan joining the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which sets procedures for settling cross-border child custody disputes.

The administration hopes to submit related bills and a request for approval of Japan’s joining the convention to the Diet by the end of 2011. If Japan joins the convention, it will not be applied retroactively.

A total of 84 countries, mainly in the Americas and Europe, are parties to the convention, which went into effect in 1983. Among the Group of Eight industrialized countries, Japan and Russia have not joined the convention. The United States and European countries have urged Japan to join, and Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced Japan’s decision during a G8 summit held in Deauville, France, on May 26-27.

The convention is typically applied to cases in which a divorced parent removes his or her child under the age of 16 from his or her country of habitual residence and the left-behind parent requests the child’s return, alleging that he or she has been wrongfully removed.

Under the convention, the left-behind parent makes the request through his or her country’s “central authority” to the central authority of the abductor parent’s country.

The central authority of the abductor parent’s country has a legal obligation to locate the child and take all appropriate measures to obtain the voluntary return of the child. The primary aim of the convention is to secure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed from their country of habitual residence.

Exceptions to this rule include when there is a preponderance of evidence that the left-behind parent had consented to the removal of the child; when there is a preponderance of evidence that the left-behind parent was not exercising custodial rights at the time of removal; or when there is a grave risk that the child’s return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.

A court in the abductor parent’s country decides whether the child should be returned if the two parents fail to agree on a voluntary return of the child.

Once it is decided where the child will live, there is another round of court proceedings in that country to determine who has parental authority. As countries have differing systems for determining this, resolution of the issues can be difficult.

Roughly 1,300 requests for the return of children are filed worldwide annually.

According to data released in 2010 by the Netherlands-based convention secretariat, children were returned voluntarily without the involvement of courts in 45 percent of the cases; children were returned on the basis of court orders in 30 percent of the cases; and courts rejected requests for the return of children in 20 percent of the cases.

Referring to the Kan administration’s decision to join the convention, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said, “It is desirable for our country to be consistent with international standards.”

Because the number of international divorces involving Japanese nationals is on the rise, the decision that Japan should join the same legal framework as other countries is understandable.

According to the health and welfare ministry’s population dynamics survey, there were some 4,100 international marriages involving Japanese nationals in 1965. This number topped 10,000 in 1983 and reached a peak of 44,701 in 2006. After that, it started to fall, dropping to 34,393 in 2009.

The number of international divorces involving Japanese nationals topped 10,000 in 1998. It leveled off at around 15,000 from 2002 to 2005, but climbed to 19,404 in 2009.

Many Japanese mothers allege that they had no alternative but to take their children and return to Japan in order to escape domestic violence.

Such allegations have made the Japanese government hesitate to join the convention, but as long as Japan is not a party to the convention, it cannot legally settle these cases or pursue cases in which non-Japanese parents have removed their children from their Japanese homes and left the country.

In working out related domestic bills, the general principle for the government and the Diet should be to give priority to protecting the well-being of the children involved.

Under the outline of the domestic bills, the Foreign Ministry would serve as the central authority for locating children who have been removed wrongfully by one parent and for working toward their voluntary return.

Parents who have removed their children from foreign countries would be able to refuse to return the children if they could prove that they or their children were subjected to domestic violence, or that they faced criminal prosecution in the country where they formerly resided.

Some Japanese parents harbor concerns about Japan joining the convention. They may be worried about the possibility of being separated from their children or about how to establish that they are victims of domestic violence in the event that they have to go to court. The government should consider how to help parents who may become involved in child-custody disputes.

As Mr. Kenji Utsunomiya, head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, said, the government should enumerate possible issues and have experts fully discuss them from the viewpoint of protecting the well-being and interests of children. It also should provide necessary information and support to Japanese parents living abroad.

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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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Joining Hague in children’s best interest, U.S. adviser says

Posted on February 9, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Domestic Violence (DV), Hague Convention | Tags: , , , , , |

Staff writer for the Japan Times

If Japan wants to promote the best interests of children, it should sign the Hague Convention, the special adviser to the U.S. State Department on issues pertaining to international parental child abductions urged Tuesday.

Susan Jacobs, in Tokyo on a four-day visit during which she met with officials at the Foreign and Justice ministries, said the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction acts as a deterrent to parental child abductions.

Members of the Hague Convention “are very interested in having Japan join this convention because the convention sets out a legal framework for the return of children who have been abducted from one country to another country,” Jacobs said. “And I think that we have found that when this convention is in place, it lowers the number of abductions and encourages parents to reach custody agreements with each other in the best interests of the child.”

Japan has been under international pressure to sign the treaty, but there is strong domestic opposition, especially among mothers who took their kids to Japan, claiming they were fleeing domestic violence.

Jacobs pointed out that while the Hague treaty is not about domestic violence, women in many member states have resources to turn to, including the police, social services and shelters to seek protection from abuse.

“There is no need for anyone to continue to be subjected to domestic violence,” Jacobs said. “It is wrong, however, for someone who may or may not have been the victim of domestic violence to abduct their children from one country and take them to another when there is recourse in the country in which they were living.”

The government launched a study panel last month to discuss whether Japan should sign the Hague Convention. Jacobs expressed optimism with the recent progress made, including interest by the Japanese media and the public.

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Japan custody heartache for foreign fathers

Posted on February 7, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Divorce, Domestic Violence (DV), Hague Convention | Tags: , , , , , |

By Roland Buerk BBC News, Tokyo

Thousands of Japanese people marry foreigners every year. Many are happy – but if the marriage breaks down the foreign spouse may end up cut out of the children’s lives.

Alex Kahney
Alex Kahney often visits the places he used to take his children

Alex Kahney, who works for a medical publisher, still lives in what was once the family home, now nearly bare of furniture but full of memories.

There are photographs of his daughters on the walls of the small four-storey town house in one of the nicer Tokyo neighbourhoods.

Their favourite stuffed toys, a dog and a mouse, are on the back of the sofa – reminders of the little girls, aged nine and seven, who he has not seen for months.

His Japanese wife took them with her, along with much of the contents of the house, when their marriage broke down, and is refusing to let him see them.

Mr Kahney first tried the police.

But when he told them that his wife had abducted their children, they laughed at him.

What makes it more painful is that their new home is just down the road.

Japanese marrying a foreigner 1970-2005
  • The number of Japanese men marrying foreign women is higher than the number of Japanese women marrying foreign men. It is rare for a Japanese man to marry a Western woman, but Japanese women frequently marry Western men.
  • A Japanese man marrying a foreigner is most likely to marry a woman from China, the Philippines or Korea, in that order. A Japanese women marrying a foreigner is most likely to marry a man from Korea, the US or China.

For the whole story please click on the link below:

custody heartache

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2009 video on DV in Japan

Posted on February 5, 2011. Filed under: Domestic Violence (DV), Video | Tags: |

According to the video 25,ooo women were beaten in 2009. This was an increase of 20% from the previous year. One in 3 women were physically assaulted. And one in 20 fear for their life.  Click on the link to watch the whole video.

Video on DV

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Survey shows divided views on Japan’s signing of child custody pact

Posted on February 3, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Hague Convention | Tags: , , , |

An online survey by the Foreign Ministry showed Wednesday that people who have directly been involved in the so-called parental ‘‘abductions’’ of children as a result of failed marriages were divided on Japan’s accession to an international treaty to deal with child custody disputes.

Of 64 respondents to the questionnaire posted on the website of the Foreign Ministry and its 121 diplomatic missions abroad between May and November last year, 22 were in favor of Japan joining the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, while 17 were against the idea.

The remaining 25 respondents did not make their stance clear, said Parliamentary Vice Foreign Minister Ikuo Yamahana at a press conference.

The convention provides a procedure for the prompt return of children to their habitual country of residence when they are wrongfully removed or retained in the case of an international divorce. It also protects parental access rights.

Those seeking Japan’s accession to the convention said Tokyo should no longer allow unilateral parental child abductions as the country is perceived overseas as an ‘‘abnormal’’ nation for defending such acts.

People opposed to Japan’s signing of the treaty said the convention ‘‘doesn’t fit with’’ Japanese culture, values and customs and urged the government to protect Japanese nationals fleeing from difficult circumstances such as abusive spouses and problems in foreign countries.

Some pointed to the disadvantages faced by Japanese parents seeking a local court settlement on child custody abroad, such as expensive legal fees and the language barrier.

Yamahana said the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan will further examine the possibility of joining the convention based on the results of the online survey. ‘‘We will discuss what we can do to ensure the welfare of children,’’ he said.

International pressure on Tokyo to act on the parental abduction issue has been growing, with legislative bodies in the United States and France recently adopting resolutions that call for Japan’s accession to the treaty.

At present, 84 countries and regions are parties to the Hague Convention. Of the Group of Seven major economies, only Japan has yet to ratify the pact.

Of the 64 respondents, 18 said they have abducted children and 19 said their children have been taken by their former spouses. A total of 27 said they have been slapped with restrictions on traveling with their children because Japan is not a party to the Hague Convention.

By country, 26 respondents were linked to parental abduction cases in the United States, followed by nine in Australia and seven in Canada.

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Man held over death of girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter in 2009

Posted on February 1, 2011. Filed under: Abuse Neglect Death | Tags: , , , , |

Police in Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture, on Monday arrested a man over the death in October 2009 of a 2-year-old girl who was in his care.

The man, who has been identified as unemployed Shinya Sato, 31, was dating the girl’s mother, Megumi Konaka, 29, at the time of the incident. Police allege that Sato was alone in a room with the girl, named Misaki, on Oct 22 when the incident occurred, and that he hit the girl on the head. He then took her to hospital where it was found that she had suffered brain damage following the assault. She died on Nov 6 of the same year.

According to the TV news, “the boyfriend initially said the girl fell off the stairs. The mother had 3 other children and she had to go to one of the kids’ school event that day and left the 2-year-old with the boy friend. Also, neighbors heard the mother crying, saying, Please stop!!,  while the kids were crying and screaming in the other room. This happened on several occasions”.

Tuesday 01st February, 09:08

IWATE —

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Japan must hurry to join Hague treaty

Posted on February 1, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Divorce, Hague Convention, Video | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

To read the story in Japanese click here

The Yomiuri Shimbun

International marriages are on the rise, and subsequently so are cases in which former spouses engage in international custody battles over their children.

To help address this situation, the government set up a senior vice-ministerial council involving related ministries and tasked with discussing the possibility of Japan joining an international convention. The discussions necessary for Japan to join the convention should be expedited.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction contains the principle that children from an international marriage who are removed from their country of residence by one of their divorced parents, without the other parent’s consent, must be returned to the country of residence.

Signatory nations are obligated to provide administrative cooperation in such efforts as discovering the whereabouts of such children and restoring them to their country of habitual residence.

Eighty-two countries, mostly in the West and Latin America, have signed the convention, while Japan has not.

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Friction over Japan’s status

This has led to trouble between Japan and signatory nations, with Japanese women returning to this country with their children and being sued over parental rights by their former husbands in their original country of residence. There are said to be nearly 100 such cases involving Japanese and U.S. parents.

Earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara for Japan to join the convention soon. The French Senate adopted a resolution along the same lines earlier this week.

There is a strong view within the government that Japan should not deepen the diplomatic friction over the issue.

The convention itself is based on the idea that disputes related to parental rights should be resolved in accordance with the law of the original state of residence.

Therefore, the convention is not a framework under which only Japan suffers a disadvantage. By becoming a signatory, the government of this country can seek the return to Japan of children wrongfully removed to, or held in, another signatory nation.

The number of Japanese who marry foreigners has recently averaged around 40,000 a year, about quadrupled from 1983, when the Hague convention came into force. As if in line with the increase, the number of couples who eventually divorce and battle over parental rights also is rising.

The times require Japan to join the Hague convention, which has become established as the international standard.

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Govt has work to do

For Japan to join the convention, the government has to choose a supervisory ministry and prepare relevant domestic laws. It also has to take measures to inform international couples of the contents of the Hague convention.

Domestic violence by former husbands is often cited as a reason why Japanese women take their children from their country of habitual residence to Japan. More than a few people are wary of Japan’s signing the convention, saying it will harm the interests of Japanese citizens if such mothers are obliged to return their children.

The convention stipulates that if there is a high possibility that return would expose a child to danger, the relevant authority of the state receiving the request is not obliged to order the return of the child.

We hope the government will do its utmost to dispel lingering apprehension by examining actual cases in which parents refuse to return children and look into what sort of measures other countries are taking with regard to domestic violence.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 28, 2011)

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Study Session about Reforming Japanese Family Law

Posted on January 9, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Japanese Family Law | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

On Sunday the 25th of April (2010) a study session related to reforming family law was held in Kyoto. The study session was sponsored by Oyako-net Kansai. The keynote speaker was Mr. Nonoyama a lawyer who practices in the Kansai area. Nonoyama sensei is good friends with Tanase sensei (another lawyer based in Tokyo) who is also interested in reforming family law in Japan. One of the first things Nonoyama sensei said was it is too easy to get a divorce in Japan. You only have to sign a sheet of paper to get a divorce. There are no requirements (as in many western countries) for parents to make or agree to a joint parenting plan. This parenting plan outlines the details of how the children will be raised. It covers everything from where the children will live to where and how they will spend their vacations with each respective parent. Nonoyama sensei implied that Japan needs a similar system.

Domestic Violence (DV) was another big topic that was brought up in the question and answer session. Nonoyama sensei was clear that there are some domestic violence cases and that the women in these cases need protection but he was also clear that most divorce cases do NOT involve DV. In non-DV cases there needs to be some type of enforcement. If a mother refuses visitation then that mother needs to be penalized. He equated denial of parental visitation as abuse. Excuses such as your son does not want to see you and your son is sick were not valid reasons (in most cases) to deny visitation. Nonoyama sensei said he would continue to work with Tanase sensei to reform family law. These two lawyers seemed to have some great ideas but there seems to be some resistance with the diet and the public. It sounds like there is still a lot of hard work that needs to be done.

One Japanese mother (whose children are living in America with their American father) spoke during the question and answer session.  She said Japan must sign the Hague. Her ex-husband is refusing to let her children travel to Japan for a visit because Japan is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction. She said she and her extended family are heartbroken that her kids can not experience Japanese culture. She said if Japan signed the Hague it would then be possible for her children to travel to Japan for vacation.

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