Japan and the rights of children: Kevin Brown from Children First

Posted on September 11, 2011. Filed under: Abuse Neglect Death, Bullying, Japanese Family Law, Parental Alienation Syndrome, United Nation Convention on the Rights of a Child | Tags: , , , , , , |

Kevin Brown – Special Contribution

Modern Tokyo Times

My name is Kevin Brown and I am the co-founder of Children First (http://www.childrenfirst.jp), an NPO that advocates for children in Japan. Children Firsts mission “is to ensure children’s welfare and rights are the top priority for parents, policymakers and the public-at-large.” Therefore, the role of Children First applies to many factors related to the rights of children in Japan and how to relate this knowledge to appropriate bodies in order to tackle and focus on areas which need changing in order to protect children.

Children First also understands the need to raise awareness and to connect with organizations, government bodies and the general public. Therefore, our next campaign is to interact with the general public and local government offices. In order to do this I am going to ride my bike from Kumamoto to Tokyo and throughout my journey I will be raising the issue of the rights of children.

My ride will begin on September 13th and end on October 17th. Therefore, I will visit many prefectural offices during my journey and give a short presentation about the rights of children. In the past I have already visited 8 prefectural offices and given presentations about serious issues related to children. This proved beneficial and often they were unaware about serious issues related to the rights of children. Therefore, it was a great chance to interact with people of importance and to develop ties between Children First and local government bodies.

During the meetings we talked about a DVD made by the Supreme Court of Japan in 2006. The message in the DVD is quite simple. To be happy, children need both parents after divorce when both parents care about bringing up their child or children in the right way. The Supreme Court made the video but the Family Courts don’t show the video because of factors only known to them but is doesn’t make sense to ignore the Supreme Court. More surprisingly the Family Courts hide the existence of the video, therefore, the majority of parents don’t know about the importance of this video and the ones that do, are often not allowed to see it.

Another important piece of information I give to prefectural offices relates to the United Nations Convention on the Right of a Child (UNCRC). This Convention was signed and ratified by Japan and it states that children have the right to maintain contact with both parents. If the parent and child are separated for some reason then the state (Japan) must help re-establish contact with the non-custodial parent. The Family Courts also ignore this Convention, which is equivalent to a law which was ratified by the Japanese government.

Alongside this important information I also give prefectural offices a book written by Colin Jones, a law professor in Kyoto, related to the Family Court system. This book is about the Family Court system in Japan and it highlights the inadequacies of this institution. For citizens who support the rights of the child/children and both parents, then they would agree that the rulings handed down by judges are detrimental to the well-being of children in Japan. The Family Courts are not acting in the best interests of children because they are not considering all the facts and the wishes of each individual involved in each case. Family Courts need to revise their outdated laws and implement laws which are clear and which focus on human rights.  This applies to the well-being of children and all involved parties in each respective case.

Children First also talks about Parental Alienation (PA) which is common in hostile divorces and this issue is very serious in Japan because of the inadequate legal system. This is when one parent says something bad to the child/children about the other parent in order break the bond that the other parent had and. It is clear that this manipulation is very damaging to all children who face this serious issue. According to child psychology experts there are different degrees of PA ranging from mild to severe. The main point being, PA is bad for children irrespective of the degree. Recently Brazil passed a law making PA a crime and it would be great if more countries did the same thing because this is a huge step in the right direction.

Another important area that Children First gives to prefectural offices is a “Did you know” hand out about statistics in Japan. “DID YOU KNOW: Every 3 minutes a child loses contact with one parent because of divorce…Every 7 minutes a child is a victim of school bullying…Every 12 minutes a case of child abuse is reported to protective services…Every week at least one child dies as the result of abuse.”

This is a great way to raise awareness quickly and not only is it interactive and easily understood but it is also designed to shake up a system which needs to make major changes, in order to protect children from abuse.

Every year around 160,000 children lose contact with one parent in Japan. However, to make matters worse Japan is not a good place for children who get caught up in divorce when one parent decides to control and alienate the child/children from the left behind parent. Government officials, bureaucrats, educators, and parents need to do more to make Japan a better place for all children and this is where Children First wants to help.

You can help Children First (Kevin Brown) raise awareness by following me on Facebook during my journey. Therefore, people can communicate with me through Facebook, share links with your friends and spread the word because together we can make a difference.

Children First cares for all children irrespective of race and gender because our goal is to bring more “light” to children who have been neglected and had their rights violated.

Please follow on http://www.facebook.com/oyako (Joint Custody in Japan) and Children First at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Children-First-Japan/115396388532379. Also, please visit Children First website at http://www.childrenfirst.jp/ for more information and how you can get involved and help in this important area.

Sincerely, Kevin Brown (Children First http://www.childrenfirst.jp/)

http://moderntokyotimes.com

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Japan Times に掲載された記事「Japan’s ‘silent tsunami’ severs parental ties, wrecks children’s lives」のケビン・ブラウンさんによる文章の日本語訳です。

Posted on September 4, 2011. Filed under: Divorce, Japanese Family Law, Parental Alienation Syndrome, United Nation Convention on the Rights of a Child | Tags: , , , , , |

Japan Times 2011年8月30日(火)
永田町へのホットライン

次期首相へ

私は、子供の問題に焦点を当てたNPO「Children First」(childrenfirst.jp)の、共同設立者です。
3分毎に新たな子どもが親の離婚によって両親の片方から断絶されています。 7分 毎に新たな子どもが学校いじめの犠牲者になっています。 12分毎に児童虐待に関する新たなケースが保護施設に報告されています。 毎週、少なくとも1 人の子供がこうした児童虐待の結果として死んでいます。

「Children First」は、これらの問題と子供に影響のあることについての他の問題を克服するために活動しています。 しかし、私たちだけでは実現できません。日本が子供にとってより良い場所になるためには、国会議員や政策立案者の助けが必要です。

ほとんどの人々がいじめと虐待の存在に気付いています。これらの2つの問題はしば しば新聞に掲載されます。 しかし、私や多く の他の親達が更に憂慮すべきだと考える問題は、3分毎に子どもの離婚後の片方の親との連絡が絶えてしまうということです。

3月11日に1万6000人以上が死にました。その他に5,000が行方不明になっています。数百ないし何千人もの子供が当日、少なくとも片方の親を失いました。
3月11日以 来、それとは別に更に8万2000人以上の子供が両親の離婚のために片方の親からの連絡を失っています。

これは、日本中に癌のように広まっている静かな悲劇です。 それによって、子ども達は彼らの最大限の可能性を広げることができません。それは家 族と家族重視の価値観を滅ぼしています。それは子どもを、将来についての混乱の最中に放り出したままにし、そして普通の生活を送れる可能性を小さくします。 何組かの親子は想像を絶する深 い悲しみの中に取り残されます。これは多く の人々が知らない静かな津波です。 家裁と日本の法システムが、この悲劇が続くことを許しているのです。

2006年に最高裁判所は、「子どもを持つどんなカップルも、離れて暮らす場合について考えなければならない」というタイトルのDVDを作りました。驚いたことに、家裁はこのビデオを両親に見せません。かなり正反対であることに、彼らはこのDVDの存在を隠します。そして家裁裁判官は、子供が幸福になるためには両方の両親が必要であるとするDVDのメッセージに直接的に反対の判決を下します。家裁弁護士の中にはこのビデオが存在することに気づかない人も います。

今、平均的なケースでは、親はその子どもと共に月に4時間の交流が出来ます。これは子どもの人生に関わったり、その人生に変化を与えることがほとんどできないほど、少ない時間です。親の中には、子どもの保護監督権のない親と子どもとが一度は持っていた親子関係を破壊するために、「親の疎外」を行う人もいます。

国連児童憲章(UNCRC)によると、子どもは両方の両親との関係を持つ権利を与えられます。もし何らかの理由で親子が離れて暮らす場合には、州(state:日本)は離れて暮らす親子の交流を回復しなければなりません。もちろん、これは決して行われません。
そういうわけで、家裁は二度のミスを犯しています。最高裁判所DVDのアドバイスに従いませんし、彼らはUNCRCを無視 します。(UNCRCは法律相当です)。

私は、日本中の裁判官の判決を見直して、悪い判決をする裁判官を取り除く時期であると思います。私は、裁判官は時々ケース・ファイル(裁判資料?)を見てさえいなく、また裁判の準備ができていないと、弁護士に言われました。悪い裁判官はその椅子から退ける必要があります。

首相、私は、悪い裁判官を免職し、子どもには両方の両親との長くて有意義な関係があるのだという法案を可決するために、必要な措置を取るようお願いしています。加えて私は、子どもを虐待といじめから守るためにより役立つ法案を可決して、虐待といじめを報告するためのより良い政策を実施して欲しいと思います。教師と官僚は、虐待といじめを防止するキーです。効果をあげるために必要な手段を彼らに与えることを願っています。

現在、私は裁判を抱えていますが、その内容はすぐに変わるべきです。9月13日に、裁判官は離婚と親権に関する判決を出すでしょう。前例の通りであるならば、私は100%負けるでしょう。私は、私の所轄裁判所のある熊本から東京の最高裁判所まで、自転車に乗って行くことを計画しています。私は家族法を変えることを要求するつもりです。私は道中、県庁に寄って知事達からの支持を集めるつもりです。私はそのために8週間の休暇を取りました。「Children First」の日本のフェイスブックページ(http://www.facebook.com/pages/Children-First-Japan/115396388532379)や、「共同親権」の日本のフェースブックページ(http://www.facebook.com/oyako)で、私の計画の経過を見守ることができます。そしてまた、私のブログ「Children First Japan」(https://kwbrow2.wordpress.com)で、私の旅行に関する詳しい情報が得られます。

ケビン・ブラウン
名古屋

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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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Debate awaits on child custody pact

Posted on May 24, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Divorce, Hague Convention | Tags: , , , , , , , |

By MAYA KANEKO
Kyodo

After years of foreign pressure, Japan finally decided Friday to sign a treaty to settle cross-border child custody disputes, but a heated debate is expected to continue as proponents of the pact hope the move leads to the formation of a system that will guarantee children’s access to both parents after a divorce.

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Japan has long been labeled a “haven for parental abductions” and a “black hole” for children removed internationally, by foreign parents unable to see their children because they have been taken to Japan by their former Japanese spouses.

In Japan, the tendency is for the courts to award mothers sole custody of any children after divorce.

Among the Group of Seven countries, only Japan has not signed the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which sets out the rules and procedures for promptly returning children under 16 to the country of their habitual residence in cases of international divorce. The pact currently has 84 parties.

The outcry from foreign parents separated from their children by failed marriages with Japanese has prompted 32 nations to jointly press Tokyo to join the treaty.

The government is now planning to submit bills by the end of this year to craft the legislation needed to accede to the convention.

But the move won’t solve all of Japan’s problems. Joining the pact will only provide a solution to parents abroad. Cases of “parental abductions” that occur in Japan, meanwhile, whil be left untouched.

Also, the pact’s reach is unlikely to be retroactive, meaning it will only deal with future cases, in principle.

Out of concern that accession to the pact could endanger Japanese parties who have fled abusive relationships, Tokyo is considering stipulating in the domestic law that children will not have to be returned when they and their parent have suffered abuse by the other parent.

Japan is also thinking about exempting cases in which the Japanese parent could face criminal prosecution in his or her country of habitual residence and in which the former spouse abroad is deemed to have difficulty taking care of children.

Critics of the pact are calling on the government to carefully address the issue of abuse during the legislative process. Kazuko Ito, a lawyer who has opposed the signing of the convention, said Japan should specify the conditions for exempting the return of children when it drafts the domestic law.

Parents whose former spouses have taken their children — both Japanese and non-Japanese — are also carefully watching the process to see if it will lead to a change in their situation.

Such parents and their supporters have been lobbying for Japan to accede to the pact in the hope that it will change the customary situation in Japan, where it is not unusual for children to stop seeing their fathers after their parents break up.

Thierry Consigny, an elected member of the Assembly for French Overseas Nationals for Japan and North Asia, who has been supporting around 40 French parents officially recognized by Paris as having been separated from their children in Japan, said he hopes Tokyo will not unilaterally adopt criteria for recognizing cases of abuse.

“The 84 parties to the Hague Convention have their own criteria in identifying abuses, but they share international standards and make decisions on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “We want Japanese courts to heed French standards as well in recognizing abuse cases to make a balance.”

Consigny also said he expects joining the Hague Convention, which calls for securing children’s access to both parents, will eventually lead to more exchanges between children and their noncustodial parents in Japan, which in his opinion will promote burden-sharing between divorced parents.

“The current sole custody system in Japan puts too much burden on child-rearing parents,” he said. “Many single mothers who have abducted their children cannot enjoy private life as they bear heavy responsibility as breadwinners and are afraid of the possibility that their kids could be taken by exes.”

France has adopted a joint custody system partly to lessen the child-rearing burden on working mothers by actively involving fathers, he said. Many of the countries that have pressured Japan — the 27-member European Union, the United States, Australia, Canada, Colombia and New Zealand — have such systems.

Mitsuru Munakata, a separated Japanese father who has been lobbying for a joint custody system in Japan, urged the government to address the plight of parents and children who cannot see each other in Japan while it prepares to join the Hague Convention.

“Honoring the spirit of the convention, the government should address the problems of separated parents and children in Japan. Otherwise, there is no meaning in signing the treaty that only deals with cross-border disputes because domestic cases would be discriminated against,” he said.

Munakata said without real changes in the domestic situation, Japan’s move to sign the pact will only be viewed as a way of dodging international pressure over child custody rows. He said in Japan, parents who do not have custody of their children are only allowed to spend two hours per month with their children on average.

Steve Christie, an American founder of a parental abduction victims association, said that his son, now 16, was abducted by the boy’s Japanese mother when he was 10 and that a Japanese family court suggested Christie see his son only three times a year during vacations for a total of 36 hours.

As of January this year, the United States recognized 100 active cases of parental abduction to Japan involving 140 children. In addition, Washington is aware of 31 cases in which both parents and children live in Japan but one parent has been denied access.

Another American parent who has been lobbying the governments of both Japan and the United States to address the matter, said on condition of anonymity that the official figures represent only the tip of the iceberg, calling for efficient enforcement mechanisms to ensure access between separated parents and children.

In 2009, 146,408 couples with children under 20 were divorced in Japan, including couples composed of Japanese and foreigners, according to the latest government statistics. The number of divorces among Japanese and their foreign spouses reached about 19,404 cases that year.

Of the 146,408 divorces, 13.2 percent were cases in which fathers took sole care of children, while 83.2 percent were cases in which mothers did so. Only 3.6 percent involved both parents in child rearing.

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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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MOJ Eda talks about signing the Hague

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

Japan is looking at signing the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which is aimed at promptly returning children illegally taken by a parent out of the country of their habitual residence.

The question has arisen over whether the Civil Code should also be changed to allow dual parental rights after divorce. Eda said the Justice Ministry “is now discussing the matter, but I personally feel that allowing dual parental rights doesn’t necessarily have to” be packaged with signing the convention.

Signatory countries, particularly the United States, France and Canada, are urging Japan to join the convention against international child abductions by parents.

Some people whose former spouses don’t let them see their children in Japan argue that signing the convention doesn’t guarantee their access to children unless dual parental rights are also allowed.

This problem doesn’t only concern foreigners. Japanese parents — fathers in most cases — also can’t see their kids if their ex-spouses say no.

In Japan, those with parental rights have discretion over how often their ex-spouses can see their offspring. Shared parental rights are currently not allowed by the Civil Code because of the cultural belief that a stable environment is considered the most important factor for children.

“I guess it comes from the idea that letting a single parent have parental rights is good because it is simple,” Eda said.

Parents who were victims of abusive relationships are urging the government to keep parental rights to one person and not sign the Hague Convention because, they say, the current legal system protects them from their former spouses.

The Justice Ministry manages the Civil Code, and thus would likely be the source of any bills revising it.

Turning to other developments in the ministry, Eda said officials are studying how other countries deal with making the investigation process by police and prosecutors more transparent.

To read the whole story (some of which deals with the death penalty) please click on the link below:

MOJ Eda sign Hague

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French father commits suicide because he can’t see his child

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

The life and career of Arnaud Simon once could have exemplified the excellent relationship between Japan and France. A young French historian teaching in Tokyo, Simon was preparing a thesis on the history of thought during the Edo Period. He was married to a Japanese woman. They had one son.

But on Nov. 20, Arnaud Simon took his own life. He hanged himself. He did not need to leave an explanatory note; his closest friends knew he had lost the appetite for living because his wife would not allow Simon to see his son after their marriage broke up. Simon apparently tried on multiple occasions to take his boy home from school, but the police blocked the young father each time.

“The lawyers he met were trying to appease him, not help him,” one of his former colleagues remembers.

Another Frenchman in the same situation, Christophe Guillermin, committed suicide in June. These two deaths are terrible reminders of the hell some foreign parents inhabit in Japan – and because of Japan. When a couple separates here, custody of any children is traditionally awarded to the mother. After that, the children rarely have contact with the “other side”; they are supposed to delete the losing parent from their lives.

There is no tradition of visitation rights in Japan, and even when those rights are granted, the victory generally comes at the end of a long and costly judicial battle fought in Japanese courts. The visitation rights given are also typically very limited – sometimes just a couple of hours per month. Worse yet, the mother ultimately decides whether she wants to abide by the agreement. The police will not intervene if she refuses, on the grounds that this is a private matter. While there are exceptions, Japanese fathers seem to have basically accepted this practice. For foreign fathers, it is almost universally impossible and unbearable.

France is particularly touched by these tragedies. There have been many unions between Japanese women and French men, and many breakups. Simon’s death was shocking enough to the French community for the French ambassador to issue a stern and in many ways personal press release afterward: “Mr. Simon recently told the Consulate of the hardships he endured to meet his son, and it is most probable that to be cut off from his son was one of the main reasons (for his suicide). This reminds us, if necessary, of the pain of the 32 French fathers and of the 200 other (foreign cases involving) fathers known to foreign consulates as deprived of their parental rights.”
A Killing Separation

During a recent trip related to this subject in Japan, French judge and legal expert Mahrez Abassi said: “Japan has not ratified the Hague Convention on civil aspects of international children’s abductions. There is no bilateral convention on this topic, and our judicial decisions are not recognized in Japan.” Tokyo is in a precarious position on this issue, since one of the main topics of Japan’s diplomacy is the case of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea, for which Japan requires international solidarity.

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs seems preoccupied by the problem, which only promises to grow because of the constant rise of international divorces in Japan – now at 6 percent – and of Japanese-foreign births (20,000). Various diplomatic delegations have visited Japan to discuss the issue. France and Japan set up a “consulting committee on the child at the center of a parental conflict” in December 2009. But the National Police Agency, the Justice Ministry, and Japanese civil society in general care little about the issue.

“There is no system better than another for the child after a breakup,” says a foreign psychiatrist who has followed cases of foreign fathers that have lost access to their children in Japan. “The French and American systems have deep flaws as well. But it is simply unbearable for a French father, for example, to be unable to meet his child.”

A French lawyer based in Tokyo, adds: “The principle of joint custody as it is known in France does not exist in Japan. To implement such a principle here, we would have to amend the Civil Code, which is very hard for family law matters in this country. If this change is enacted, the police should then compel Japanese families to hand over the ‘disputed’ child to the foreign father. This seems pretty hard to achieve.” ❶

Regis Arnaud is the Japan correspondent of leading French daily Le Figaro and has been covering Japan since 1995. He is also a movie producer. His next project, called CUT, laments the decline of the Japanese movie industry.

A killing separation By: Regis Arnaud

Number 1 Shimbun, December 16, 2010

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The child abduction debate

Posted on February 1, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Hague Convention, Japanese Family Law | Tags: , , , , |

Japan’s been under pressure for years to tackle a problem that’s a comparatively minor irritant on the annual diplomatic calendar, but which is a source of enormous emotional pain for the individuals involved.

As the number of international marriages grows, an inevitable if sad byproduct has been the rise of divorces, putting the fate of bi-racial children at the centre of sometimes bitter personal disputes. In some cases, Japanese mothers have taken their kids from foreign fathers and brought them to Japan, where they’re beyond the reach of global law, at least for now.

The issue has been forced onto the slow-moving bureaucratic agenda by the attentions of the world’s media. Last year, CNN extensively covered Christopher Savoie’s arrest and eventual release after he snatched his kids as they walked to school in Fukuoka.

 

The website of Japan’s Foreign Correspondent’s Club features a harrowing tale of Frenchman Arnaud Simon, who killed himself last November, apparently in frustration at being blocked from joint custody of his half-Japanese son. According to journalist Regis Arnaud, another French man in the same predicament, Christophe Guillermin, took his own life last June. Those tragedies prompted French lawmakers recently to adopt a resolution calling on Japan to join over 80 other signatories to the Hague Convention on Child Abduction.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan is under pressure to sign-up during his next trip to the United States, scheduled for June. NHK reports that the Japanese government is ‘facing difficulties’ on deciding its position because it remains concerned about Japanese women who return with their children to ‘escape abusive foreign partners.’

What some reports neglect to mention is that Japanese fathers, in overwhelming numbers (CNN cites a figure of 100 cases of children abducted by non-custodial Japanese parents) struggle with the same problem. If Japanese experts are to be believed, most fathers are happy to accept sole custody by the mother—but not all. And, as an article in yesterday’s Sankei newspaper suggests, fathers too can withhold custody, with unusual results:

The article says that amid a divorce dispute, a father has refused to allow the mother access to their four-year-old daughter even though they are still legally married. The mother, Terumi Aoyagi (36) is still married to her husband, but he filed a complaint with the police after she, along with her mother (the child’s grandmother, 63), tried to ‘get access to’ (read snatch) the daughter in the car park of the girl’s pre-school. Their attempt failed after a teacher stopped them.

According to the article, both mother and grandmother were arrested for ‘kidnapping of a minor’ on January 27 and are still in jail.

The fact that the alleged kidnapping also happened in Fukuoka will prompt some to ask the obvious questions. If it’s OK for a mother to take her children from the United States to Japan, why isn’t it acceptable for a father to come and take them back? If it’s wrong for a father to snatch his children on the way home from school, why is it acceptable for another father to deny access to his daughter, then have her mother arrested when she tries to get it?

Whatever your answers to those questions are, it seems clear that when the police can arrest and detain a mother for the crime of trying to see her child, there’s something badly amiss with the custody system.
The Diplomat (Feb. 1st, 2011)

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Prime Minister Kan’s Blog

Posted on January 27, 2011. Filed under: Hague Convention, Japanese Family Law | Tags: , , , |

I wrote a message to PM Kan today.

“Yes signing the Hague is important but more important is solving the existing cases of parental abduction and denial of access among parents living in Japan and abroad. Millions of children are affected by divorce and about 80% of those divorced children loose all contact with one parent. It is important that both parents have access to their child. The Supreme Court of Japan produced a DVD called, “What Couples with Children Must Think About When They Live Apart”. This DVD states that it is best for both kids to have access to both parents. Kids will grow up and do better in school and life if the have love and attention from both parents. Mr. Kan I hope you can personally work on this issue and make the necessary changes so that all children can have long term and meaningful access to both of their parents whether they are Japanese or foreign.”

Please visit his blog (click on the link below) and write a message today!

PM Kan’s blog

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Interview (video) with Doshisha University Law Professor

Posted on January 25, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Japanese Family Law, Video | Tags: , , , , |

Colin Jones is a law professor at Doshisha University in Kyoto. He has studied Japanese Family Law, Japanese Courts, Child Custody, Divorce, and Parental Abduction for the last 6 years. He did an interview in the summer of 2009 about Japanese Family Courts and why they do what they do. The interview can be found on youtube. Colin is very knowledgeable and he compares Japanese Family Law and California Family Law at times. If you want to learn more about the Family Court System in Japan please watch the 50 minute interview. (It is a five part series each being 10 minutes).

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

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Mom and boyfriend arrested for punching, biting woman’s 3-year-old daughter

Posted on January 23, 2011. Filed under: Abuse Neglect Death | Tags: , , , , |

A man and his girlfriend have been arrested here for allegedly inflicting serious injuries on the woman’s little daughter, including bite wounds on the girl’s arm, police said.

Hikaru Izumisawa, 27, a company employee, and his girlfriend Mana Ezomori, 26, stand accused of punching Ezomori’s 3-year-old daughter in the face and body and biting the girl’s left arm at their home in the Kanagawa Prefecture city of Yamato sometime between Oct. 16 and 17 last year, causing the toddler injuries that took three months to heal. The girl, who reportedly had a piece of flesh torn off her left arm, is believed to have been abused on a regular basis.

Police arrested Izumisawa and Ezomori on suspicion of assault. The couple has explained that their abusive behavior was as part of their “discipline” measures against the girl, according to investigators.

Izumisawa began living with Ezomori, her 8-year-old daughter and the abused toddler around January last year.

story in Japanese

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Joint Custody/Parental Alienation Demo and Symposium

Posted on January 20, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Japanese Family Law, Parental Alienation Syndrome, Video | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

On Saturday July 31st, (“中部・共同親権法制化運動の会”)”Chubu Joint Custody Association for the legislation of joint nurture” sponsored a demo in Nagoya followed by a symposium related to Parental Abduction, Joint Custody, and Parental Alienation. Five fathers spoke at the symposium after the demo. Goto-sensei was the keynote speaker at the symposium. NHK and the Chunichi shimbun were at the symposium and plan to do stories on the issue.

Goto-sensei had several interesting points. She said, there are not many lawyers in Japan that are experienced and willing to fight the unjust Japanese Court system. Goto-sensei talked about a case that she worked on for 3 years. She represented the father and after a 3 year battle custody was awarded to him but transferring physical custody to the father was a problem. The court tried to assist with this two different times but each time it failed. After the second failure the court suggested that Goto and the father give up. Hence, as most of us know, the court has no real power.

Goto said things use to be different 30 years ago. Men often got custody but sometime in the 1990′s a feminist movement took place and women suddenly started gaining power especially in custody cases.

Goto also said, if you are a good person and follow the Japanese way your chances of being abused by the system are great. Goto suggested you fight in court that way judges and courts will know there is a problem. If you don’t try and fight you will never win. “Fight the system” was her biggest message of the day. But, in the same breath Goto-sensei said there are only 5 aggressive lawyers in Japan who are willing to fight the system. She said the other lawyers are weak or inexperienced and don’t want to cause trouble. So if you read between the lines, it is almost impossible to hire an aggressive lawyer who will fight for the best interests of the child.

If you have time watch the short video below.

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International Divorce and Japanese Family Law

Posted on January 20, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Divorce, Hague Convention, Japanese Family Law, Video | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Asahi Broadcasting Corporation in Osaka did a story about international divorce and the state of Family Law in Japan. They focused on 2 cases, Craig Morrey and Yuka Yamanaka. Craig’s ex moved to Yamaguchi-ken with their daughter and left Craig to care for his severely handicapped son all by himself. Craig rarely gets to meet his daughter. Craig, as most divorced parents, is extremely unhappy with the family court system. He is working with many people in Japan and America to change the Family Law System in Japan.

Yuka’s children live in America and her ex refuses to let the kids visit Japan because Japan is not a signatory to the Hague Convention. Her ex’s knows there is no legal or diplomatic way to return the children from Japan to America, unless Japan signs the Hague. Yuka is hoping the government of Japan will sign the Hague. She would also like to see changes in the Family Law System so both parents can have access to their children.

Click on the link to watch the 14 minute video: ABC video on divorce and Japanese Family Law_

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U.S. may up child custody pressure

Posted on January 20, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Japanese Family Law | Tags: , , , , , , |

Japan and India are among America’s key allies. Yet to scores of embittered parents across the U.S., they are outlaw states when it comes to the wrenching phenomenon of “international child abduction.

The frustrations of these “left-behind” parents run deep. They seethe over Japan’s and India’s noncompliance with U.S. court orders regarding children taken by the other parent to the far side of the world, and many also fault top U.S. leaders for reluctance to ratchet up the pressure for change.

More than 80 nations have signed an accord aimed at curtailing such incidents, but only a handful of Asian countries are among them. Of the continent’s nonsignatories, Japan and India pose the biggest problem for the U.S. — accounting for more than 300 cases, involving more than 400 children, opened by the State Department since 1994. The State Department says it cares deeply about international parental child abductions, and a surge is expected.

The department’s special adviser on children’s issues, Susan Jacobs, and its top official for Asia, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, have raised the topic on multiple occasions.

Campbell used the word “kidnapping” in protesting the many cases in Japan where mothers living overseas with foreign husbands returned home with their children and kept the fathers from having contact with them.

“This is a hard job — we don’t get as many successes as we want,” said Stefanie Eye, chief of the State Department’s Eastern Hemisphere abductions division. “We want every child in the right place.”

Yet many of the parents feel current U.S. efforts are inadequate, as does their most vocal champion in Congress, Republican Rep. Chris Smith.

After Republicans take control of the House in January, Smith hopes to become chairman of a subcommittee with oversight of human rights issues and use that post to push a bill that would toughen the U.S. approach to child abductions.

The bill would establish the Office on International Child Abductions within the State Department, and create a mechanism for imposing sanctions on uncooperative countries.

“We need the full weight of the federal government behind each and every one of these left-behind parents,” Smith said. “My bill doesn’t guarantee success, but it guarantees their cases will not be ignored. . . . We’re not going to quit until it’s law.”

Smith wrote to President Barack Obama on Nov. 10 — prior to Obama’s recent Asia trip — urging him to step up pressure on Japan to resolve the pending cases. Simply encouraging Japan to join the Hague Convention isn’t sufficient, Smith said, because it wouldn’t be retroactive and thus wouldn’t help parents like Patrick Braden and Scott Sawyer.

Another frustrated father is Michael Elias, 26, a former marine who served in Iraq and now works as a sheriff’s deputy in New Jersey. According to his testimony to Congress, Elias obtained a court order in October 2008 awarding him joint custody of his two children amid the breakup of his marriage to a woman he had met in Japan. He said the woman flew to Tokyo with the children two months later, in defiance of the order, and he has been unable to see them or speak to them by phone even though he has now been awarded full custody by a U.S. court. Elias — whose son is 3 and daughter almost 5 — has attended several informational meetings convened by the State Department for left-behind parents. “Every meeting I’ve ever been to, everybody tells me they’re working better, but I don’t see any progress at all,” he said.

Smith, in September, helped push a resolution through the House of Representatives urging Japan to sign the Hague Convention and return abducted American children. “Americans are fed up with our friend and ally Japan,” Smith said at the time.

In response, the Japanese Embassy in Washington said Japan is making “sincere efforts to deal with this issue from the standpoint that the welfare of the child should be of the utmost importance.”

Many times previously, Japan has said it would consider signing the Hague Convention, but it also has expressed concern that doing so might leave some Japanese women and their children vulnerable to abusive foreign husbands.

Stefanie Eye said that in Japan, unlike many Western countries, it’s accepted practice that only one parent — usually the mother — has custody of a child after a divorce. That leaves many fathers, including foreigners, unable to see their children until they are grown up because of lack of visitation rights. “Part of what we’re doing is offering the Hague country perspective of why it’s important for children to have access to both parents,” Eye said.

The State Department says it knows of no cases where a child taken from the U.S. to Japan by one parent has been ordered by a Japanese court to return to the U.S.

Despite the slow movement in Asia, Eye said she found cause for encouragement: The Foreign Ministry recently opened an office to deal with abduction issues and has been asking “good questions” about the impact if Tokyo signed the Hague Convention.

By DAVID CARRY
The Associated Press

Click here to read the full story

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Japan allows international child abduction

Posted on January 20, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Hague Convention, Japanese Family Law, United Nation Convention on the Rights of a Child | Tags: , , , , |

Lee Jay Walker a Tokyo correspondent for the Seoul Times. He wrote an article about international child abduction as it relates to Japan. He mentions how the police are no help and that there is no enforcement within the legal system. He mentions the Children’s Right Council of Japan and how they have been fighting the issue of international child abduction for almost 20 years without success. Lee also states that Japan is the only G-7 nation that has not signed the Hague Convention. But Japan has signed and ratified the United Nation Convention of the right of the Child but they don’t honor that treaty. Click on the link below to read the whole story.

Seoul Times article on Japan and child abduction

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Father’s Day Protest in Tokyo (video)

Posted on January 20, 2011. Filed under: Child Custody and Visitation, Japanese Family Law, Video | Tags: , , , , , , , |

About 50 left behind parents got together on Father’s Day in Tokyo to raise awareness about Japan’s growing Family Law Problems. Japan doesn’t have a joint custody system like most western countries, so when couples divorce one parent (usually the father) looses parental rights/visitation rights. Sometimes children are abducted by one parent to their home country. Some Japanese parents can’t see their child because he/she is in another country. Some foreign parents can’t see their kids because they have been abducted to Japan and the spouse is refusing all contact. Still other parents live in Japan both far and near from their kids but they can’t see them because the spouse or family court has denied access to one parent. All the parents in attendance believe it is best for children to have both parents and they want the government of Japan to take action so children have the love and attention of both parents.

Click on the link to watch the video:
TV coverage of protest

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Asahi Broadcasting Corp. on Joint Custody & the Hague

Posted on January 20, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Japanese Family Law, Video | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Asahi Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) televised a short 14 minute piece on Joint Custody (Kyoudou Shinken) on June 8th. It was a short but good program aired in Osaka that focused on 2 women. One woman can only see her kids 4 times per year when the kids spend the day at her parents house. The other woman’s children are in America (Utah). Since Japan has not signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction the father will not let the children visit Japan. She would like Japan to sign the Hague so her kids can come to Japan and visit and learn about Japanese culture. ABC said they would do more stories related to this issue in the future. Hopefully, they will continue their series on “how to help children”. Please watch the two part video. Two lawyers and some other parents also voice their opinions in the video.

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NGO report on the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Posted on January 20, 2011. Filed under: Bullying, Child Custody and Visitation, Japanese Family Law, United Nation Convention on the Rights of a Child | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Children of foreign Nationals do not enjoy their own languages and cultures. (page 19)

Adequate attention has not been paid to the best interests of the child in policy decision making. (page 21)

Measures against violence at schools are going against the convention rather than just being sufficient (page 27)

Separation of child from parents against the best interests of the child (page 28)

Family reunification in the best interests of the child (page 29)

Bullying continues to be a big problem (page 43)

Human Rights and Child Rights has gone rather backward (page 46)

Letters to the UN Committee from children who attend Free School (page 68)

Jan. 2010 CRIN report on Japan

General Research Institute of the Convention on the Right of the child

phone: 81332034355     email: npo_crc@nifty.com       2-6-1 Midorigaoka, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 152-0034

Chief Secretary: Shigeto Aramaki (aramaki@ygu.ac.jp)

National Coordinator: Ayako Okochi (momomokoki@mtf.biglobe.ne.jp)

International Coordinator: Yuji Hirano (yujihirano@nifty.com)

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Mother held for drowning 12-day-old son in bathtub

Posted on January 20, 2011. Filed under: Abuse Neglect Death | Tags: , , , |

From Japan Today, a woman in Seya, Kanagawa Prefecture was arrested on Tuesday after confessing to drowning her 12-day-old son. According to police, Sumiko Takeuchi, 41, was bathing the infant, named Takeyoshi, on Tuesday morning while her husband, a 48-year-old unemployed man, was out shopping. At around 9:50 a.m. she allegedly held the boy under the water until he drowned.

Takeuchi’s husband returned home and discovered the pair in the bathroom and called emergency services. Takeyoshi was taken to a Yokohama hospital where he was pronounced dead three hours later.

Takeuchi was quoted by police as saying: “I started to worry about his future because I lost faith in my ability to raise him.” She also claimed she had intended to kill herself as well, but couldn’t go through with it.

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Three part video on reforming Japanese Family Law

Posted on January 20, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Japanese Family Law, Video | Tags: , , , , , , |

Three part video on reforming family law in Japan. Currently many parents are working to change the law so joint custody will be possible in Japan. You will learn about joint custody in America and how custody differs in Japan. You will learn about the common problems with the family law system in Japan too. Please click on the links to watch the videos (all videos are in English).

Part I

Part II

Part III

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In the Best Interest of the Court: Child Custody and Divorce

Posted on January 16, 2011. Filed under: Child Custody and Visitation, Japanese Family Law | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Colin Jones, law professor at Doshisha University in Kyoto, has written a paper titled “IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE COURT:  WHAT AMERICAN LAWYERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CHILD CUSTODY AND VISITATION IN JAPAN”. The title speaks for itself. If you are divorced, thinking about getting a divorce, or know someone that is divorced, I highly recommend that they read this long and informative paper about the Family Courts in Japan.

“Thus, while my description of the Japanese system in the context of child custody and visitation may seem to portray it as illogical, it is not. It functions adequately in protecting the interests of the judicial system and its actors. Of course, protecting the interests of children is also a goal of the family court, but in the context of divorce, there is no way for an outsider to separate the best interests of the child from that of the court. Tellingly, when child custody enforcement problems are debated, the focus is often not on the tragic impact it has on parents and children, but on its effect on the people’s trust in the legal system.”

Professor Jones discusses judges, mediators, investigators, custody (shinken & kangoken), visitation rights, and more.

You can read the full 104 page pdf report here.

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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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Need for Joint Custody

Posted on January 9, 2011. Filed under: Child Custody and Visitation, Hague Convention, Japanese Family Law | Tags: , , , |

Masako Akeo has had 2 articles published recently related to the need for joint custody. In the first article she talks about the rights of a child, suing Keiko Chiba (Minister of Justice), and being prohibited from going to her son’s school. But more importantly she mentions the need for joint custody. Many other nations have a joint custody system in place and children have regular and meaningful contact with both parents on a weekly basis. The article also mentions Kozue Sugano a left behind Japanese mother whose child was taken to Bangladesh by her Bangladeshi ex-husband. Kozue has no access to her child and hopes Japan will sign the Hague Convention.

Left-Behind Parents Want End to Single Child Custody System

Masako’s second article, talks about the need for Japan to sign the Hague Convention as soon as possible. Japan must also revise it family law system to reflect the needs of today’s society. This means Japan needs “joint custody”. Masako also tells a brief story of how her ex managed to get sole custody of her son and her current attempts and struggles to see her son.

Masako Akeo: Japanese Laws Should Encourage Joint Custody

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