‘Where are our children?’ parents ask / Search continues at primary school destroyed by tsunami more than 9 months ago

Posted on January 2, 2012. Filed under: Human Rights | Tags: , , , , |

ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi–Parents are still searching for missing children more than nine months after a tsunami inundated an Ishinomaki City primary school following the Great East Japan Earthquake in March.

Seventy-four students at the city’s Okawa Primary School–about 70 percent of the student body–were killed or went missing.

The sounds of heavy machinery could be heard Friday digging into the area around the school in an effort to find four students still unaccounted for.

Miho Suzuki, 43, who is searching for her daughter, Hana, a fourth-year student, talked to Masaru Naganuma, 42, who was operating a power shovel in driving snow. She handed a cup of coffee and a bun to Naganuma, saying, “You must be tired.”

Naganuma is searching for his son, Koto, a second-year student. Despite the freezing weather, he was determined to find his son and the other missing children.

Suzuki was accompanied by her husband, Yoshiaki, 49, and her mother, Kyoko Koyama, 72, when she visited the site of the school Friday. After removing wilted flowers at an altar set up by the school gate, Yoshiaki also began operating a power shovel.

Miho and Yoshiaki were working at different offices when the earthquake hit on March 11. Both of their children attended the primary school, but they were unable to visit the area until two days later.

Yoshiaki made the trip on the third day following the disaster and was horrified at the devastation. Uprooted trees stuck out of what was left of the school building and children’s bodies littered the ground. Miho and Yoshiaki began their heart-wrenching search for their children.

The body of their son, Kento, a sixth-year student, was found eight days after the disaster but Hana remains missing.

Miho quit her clerical job at a hospital in May and has visited the school site every day since then. She has kept her daughter’s favorite dress in the trunk of her car so she can put the dress on Hana when she finds her daughter.

“Today I’ll take Hana back home,” Miho tells herself every day, but so far she has returned home disappointed.

She feels frustrated as the number of parents searching for their children has dropped. Sometimes she blames herself for not going to the school to pick up her children soon after the earthquake.

In summer, when she was about to give up her search, a piano teacher who taught Hana held a concert for the girl. Thinking that many people were anxious about her daughter, she decided to continue searching during autumn and winter.

She and her husband live in a temporary housing unit, and at dinner time, she cooks meals for her children.

Meanwhile, Naganuma said: “I just want to be with my son. That is my only hope. That’s how parents feel about their children.”

Whenever he leaves the site after the day’s search, his chest grows tight. “I have to leave him here today, though he must have felt scared on that day [without me],” he said.
(Jan. 1, 2012) Yomiuri Shimbun

Naganuma said: “I just want to be with my son. That is my only hope. That’s how parents feel about their children.”

Left Behind Parents can related to this story. Left Behind Parents also want to be with their kids. And kids want to be with their parents. Japan it is time to make changes to the legal system so kids can see both parents. 


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Left Behind Parents Photo Project

Posted on June 22, 2011. Filed under: Child Custody and Visitation, Divorce | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Clive France has started a photo project. He intends to photograph as many left behind parents in Japan as possible. He just started this project but you can see his work in progress if you follow the link:  Left-Behind-Parent Photo Project

Please contact Clive if you want to be part of the project. He can be reached through Facebook or at fph10@gol.com

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Hague treaty seeks to balance rights of kids, parents

Posted on June 7, 2011. Filed under: Hague Convention | Tags: , , , |

Staff writer Japan Times

Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s administration said in May it would establish legislation as part of preparations for Japan joining an international convention to prevent cross-border abductions of children by their parents.

Despite international pressure to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Japan had been reluctant amid strong opposition from politicians in the ruling and opposition parties, experts and Japanese mothers who took their children to Japan after failed international marriages.

Japan’s decision was welcomed by the international community, but it is still unclear whether the country will actually be able to sign the treaty anytime soon.

What does the treaty entail?

The Hague treaty aims “to secure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed to or retained in” a member state. The treaty covers children up to age 15.

A typical example of what the treaty tries to address would be a case in which an international marriage has failed and one of the spouses takes offspring out of the country where the child has been living without the consent of the other parent. Such a physical removal may also be in defiance of a court custody decision, such as in cases of divorce when both estranged spouses have certain custody and visitation rights.

If offspring are spirited away from a country, the parent who thus lost custody would file an abduction complaint with the government, or “central authority” that handles such matters.

If both the nation that the offspring are removed from and the one they are taken to are Hague signatories, the designated central authorities of the two nations would seek to ensure the safe return of the child to its “habitual residence.”

But if the nation where offspring are taken to is not a member of the treaty, such as Japan, it is not obliged to hand over the offspring. This can cause bilateral friction on a political level, and also lead to charges of felony abduction being leveled at the parent who took the child or children away.

As of April, the treaty had 85 signatories, including Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, South Africa and Spain. Of the Group of Eight countries, only Japan and Russia have refused to join.

What prompted Japan to move toward joining the Hague treaty?

Although not the first child abduction case involving a Japanese parent, an incident in September 2009 brought Japan’s stance on the issue into the international spotlight.

Christopher Savoie of Tennessee came to Japan to reclaim his children from his Japanese ex-wife, who had brought them to the country without permission.

Savoie was arrested by Japanese police for allegedly attempting to “kidnap” minors, but prosecutors didn’t file criminal charges against him. The case was widely reported by both the foreign and Japanese media and became a bilateral diplomatic headache.

International pressure to sign the Hague treaty has increased since then.

According to the Foreign Ministry, there are 100 cases involving Japanese spouses who took their children to Japan from the U.S., 38 who brought offspring here from the U.K., 37 from Canada and 30 from France. But these are just the numbers reported to the ministry. The actual number is believed to be higher and to stretch back many years.

Why has Japan been reluctant to sign the treaty?

The government feared that Japanese mothers who claimed to have been victims of domestic violence would be forced to return their children to the abusive environments they fled from.

“If Japan were to sign the Hague Convention, (my child would) be forced to live with an abusive father and be exposed to violence again,” said a women who attended a government panel discussion on the Hague treaty in March. “And I will become a (declared) criminal.”

The Hague treaty in principle is geared toward returning offspring to their country of habitual residence.

Cultural and legal differences have also been noted, as many Western countries have a joint-custody system. Japan uses a system that grants sole custody, usually to the mother.

Are there circumstances under which a child is not returned to the country of residence?

-Article 13 also says a state is not obligated to return a child if “there is a grave risk that his or her return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.”

But experts have pointed out that the clause is vague and opponents argue that it does not include abuse against mothers.

According to the data collected by the Hague Conference on Private International Law released in 2008, only 20 percent of all global return applications were either rejected or judicially refused.

How will Japan address the strong concern about cases of domestic violence?

The outline of a draft bill approved by the Cabinet stipulates that the return of the child will be denied if the child has experienced physical or verbal abuse “and is in danger of being subjected to further abuse if returned to its habitual residence.”

In addition, the child will not be returned if the spouse has been the victim of “violence that caused the child to suffer from psychological trauma” and that the parent was in danger of further abuse if he or she returns with the child back to the country the offspring was taken from.

Experts, however, noted that the conditions for rejecting the return are extremely strict.

“The draft lists various conditions, not making it easy for the spouse to claim domestic violence to make sure that the child would not be returned,” attorney Mikiko Otani said. “And the parent would also need to prove that there was domestic violence.”

What are the positive aspects of Japan joining the treaty?

There are Japanese parents whose children have been taken away to another country by their ex-spouses. Japan, not being party to the treaty, has been powerless to rectify these situations.

Otani, an expert on family law, pointed out that there are many cases in which the ex-spouse is from a member country of the convention and that government has the responsibility to deal with these international parental kidnapping cases.

In Japan, the responsibility falls on the individual because Tokyo has not signed the treaty.

Otani also expressed concern that if Japan continues to delay joining the treaty, other member states will take harsher measures.

In the U.S., for example, several Japanese mothers are on the FBI website, wanted for “parental kidnapping.”

“I think it comes down to the fact that the Hague treaty is the active international rule,” Otani said. “If Japan refuses to join the convention, all the (member states) can do is make sure that the children cannot be taken out of their countries. They already have a tendency to do so, but I think they will make it even harder for the children to leave.”

In many cases, court orders are issued ordering the child not to leave the country.

Does this mean that Japan will immediately conclude the convention?

No. Even if the Japan signs the treaty, it needs Diet ratification. Related bills must also be drafted and passed.

According to the draft legislation, the “central authority” will be the Foreign Ministry, which will be in charge of overseeing cases related to the Hague treaty, including locating abducted children, taking measures to prevent child abuse and advising parents on the voluntary return of children.

But there is still strong domestic opposition among the public, as well as in both the ruling and opposition camps, and it is unclear how soon Japan will be able to conclude the treaty and enact related domestic laws.

If Japan joins the treaty, would it apply to current cases?

No. The treaty will only apply to cases that are brought against Japan after it signs the Hague Convention. Experts say it will be up to the government to decide how to handle the cases that occurred before Japan signs the treaty.

Otani pointed out that there were cases in which the mothers eventually want their children to make the most of their dual nationality, such as visiting the country they were taken away from, but can’t for various reasons, including the mother’s fear of being arrested if she were to accompany the offspring to a nation where she is listed as a fugitive.

“It may be impossible to resolve all cases or return the children, but there may be some fathers who would just be happy to be able to have access to their children,” Otani said. “The benefits of these children are being robbed . . . and I think that it is necessary to establish a (bilateral) scheme for those who want to resolve their case so that the children” can visit both countries freely.

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays. Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to hodobu@japantimes.co.jp
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Parents plea for an end to child abduction in Japan (video)

Posted on January 22, 2011. Filed under: Child Custody and Visitation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

CNN and several other new agencies covered the Left Behind Parents demo in Tokyo on January 16th, 2011. The following is part of an article written by CNN.

“Stop parental child abduction,” the parents cried. “Sign the Hague Convention.”

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Abduction is a multilateral treaty that dates to 1983. It often comes into play when parents divorce, and one parent takes the child back to his or her home country, keeping the child away from the other parent who may have partial or full custody. The treaty effectively forces signatory nations to recognize that custody.

Dozens of countries have signed onto it — the official website lists 84 “contracting states” to the convention — but Japan is not among them.

Calls for Japan to sign the convention have increased as heartbreaking stories have come to light.

But some critics say Japan joining the convention would not solve cases of international parental abductions. They argue Japan’s domestic legal system needs to be improved and prepared for the increasing numbers of marriages between Japanese people and foreign nationals. To read the full article or watch the video click on the link(s) below.

Stop the abductions now

Joint Custody video

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Tokyo Left Behind Parents Demo on Jan. 16th

Posted on January 22, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Hague Convention, Japanese Family Law, Video | Tags: , , , , , , , |

A group of left behind parents met in Tokyo on a cold winter day to protest and speak about child abduction and the need for Japan to change it’s outdated Family Law. Parents want more access to their children. Parents want joint custody like all of the other G-7 countries have. Children have the right to see and love both parents. Under Japanese law only one parent has custody after divorce and the other parent often loses custody and contact with the child. Left Behind Parents gave speeches and marched down the street in Shibuya. This was an excellent turnout for such a cold day. About 80 parents and concerned citizens showed up to raise awareness about child abduction. The children are the foundation of the future. Click on the link to view a 3 minute video of the demo.

Tokyo Left Behind Parents Demo

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