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Child abduction issue should be key concern in Japan-U.S. relations


The issue of international child abductions in Japan should be a key concern in bilateral relations between Japan and the United States.

For years, the international community has been pressuring Japan to abide by international human rights standards in preventing cross-border parental kidnapping.

Japan has been censured for not being a signatory to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which protects children from wrongful removal or retention from their habitual place of residence.

Though former Prime Minister Naota Kan announced on May 20 last year that Japan intends to sign The Hague Convention, Japan is the only G8 member that has yet to become a signatory. LBPs (Left Behind Parents) are cautious to find the signing as reason to cheer because changes are also needed in Japan’s family courts for them to be reunited with their children. The continued condoning of both domestic and international child abduction cases can be traced to Japan’s family court.

Japan’s family court often awards sole custody to the parent with whom the child is residing. If the other parent wishes to see their child, permission by the parent to whom custodial rights were awarded becomes necessary.

This means that the parent who takes away the child from the other parent first will be in a superior bargaining position, since the family court overwhelmingly recognizes the status quo of whom the child is residing with.

Many LBPs have criticized the Japanese judicial system for condoning abduction by granting sole custody rights to the parent who snatches the child away first. In situations where cross-border kidnappings take place, the foreign parent is effectively powerless, as the Japanese family court will rule in favor of the parent with whom the child is residing. This has led some bereaved foreign LBPs to refer to Japan as a “black hole for child abduction.”

First, the Japanese government’s stance to become a signatory of The Hague Convention is an indication of changes in favor of adopting international human rights standards.

The move comes at a time when the numbers of international marriages and divorces are increasing in Japan. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, approximately 19,000 international marriages ended in divorce last year in Japan, comprising 7.5% of the total number of divorces in Japan. In 2010, the ratio to divorces to all marriages in Japan was approximately 36%. Children of divorce are at significant risk of losing access to one parent in the current family law system.

Things are finally starting to change at both the international and domestic levels. There are two model cases, one in Wisconsin and one in Matsudo, Chiba.

Japan has stuck to awarding sole custody to one parent following a divorce since the Meiji era. Though some have mentioned this as evidence of sole custody being a part of Japan’s culture, in reality, this system has also created a legal system that condones child abductions.

In addition, on Dec 23, 2011, a girl was returned to her father in Wisconsin after being abducted by her Japanese mother nearly 4 years earlier, the first return of an abducted child from Japan by means of the courts.

She was reunited with her father when her mother, who had been arrested in April 2011 in Hawaii on child abduction charges, agreed to a plea bargain to be released from jail in exchange for returning their daughter to the United States.

The case, which received wide coverage in international and Japanese media, marked the first time for Japanese media such as NHK and Asahi to use the term “tsuresari" (abduction) rather than “tsurekaeru" (to bring home).

Of course, a plea bargain is still not the equivalent of a change in stance in Japan’s family court, but changes are also gradually being implemented in the domestic sphere as well.

Many people following the child abduction issue are closely monitoring the development of a high-profile domestic abduction case in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, to see if a judicial precedent making child abductions an unlawful act will be made.

On April 26, 2011, former Justice Minister Satsuki Eda mentioned three criteria that need to be considered in determining the custody of children after divorce, as stated in article 766, in his remarks to the Committee on Judicial Affairs.

The three criteria are: the abduction of children should be eligible for consideration as child abuse; the issuance of custody rights should favor parents who are willing to allow the other parent visitation of their children (also known as the “friendly parent rule”); and parents who commit unlawful abductions of their child should be at a disadvantage in the issuance of custody rights.

At the domestic level, article 766 of Japan’s civil code, which stipulates legal guidelines for the custody of children after divorce, was revised on June 3, 2011, to include a provision which states that visitation and economic support must be deliberated between the two spouses before divorce papers are submitted.

As stated in the “friendly parent rule,” one of the three criteria underlined by Eda, not allowing visitation, ought to work unfavorably toward obtaining custody rights. In cases where the child has already been abducted, the LBP may offer the abducting parent visitation in fighting to recover their child in court.

In effect, the revision of article 766 is significant, as the abduction of a child by a parent will be in breach of the new provision. This measure, if properly enforced by Japan’s family court, will help prevent the abduction of children by a parent.

However, when asked to recognize the remarks made by Eda, Tatsushige Wakabayashi, the judge presiding over the case, reportedly remarked, “What the justice minister says at the Diet is irrelevant.”

In response, various LBP groups have called for Wakabayashi to step down. Wakabayashi has yet to make a final verdict, leaving both domestic LBP groups and the international community tense anticipating his decision.

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Execllent! Thank you for beinging light to our struggle.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Simple question, but why limit your focus on this issue to only the US and Japan? It surely affects relations between Japan and countries around the world in a similar manner, no?

7 ( +7 / -0 )

While this is a serious issue, it's kind of like the North Korea abduction issue. Quite horrible for those involved, but not a big enough problem, with big enough implications to affect any government foreign policy.

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

Gaijinfo, I think it is a huge issue - kidnapping, and that is what it is, is a huge issue in every country.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I agree with gaijinfo. It is important but not to those who aren't involved.

-8 ( +1 / -9 )

To call this "key" is just shopping around for political points. In the grand scheme of things its not remotely so important as issues like trade, all the territorial disputes, and the American bases in Japan.

And I don't find myself in agreement with any grandiose idea of a universal fix for this issue. Every individual case is different, and when you have people like Chris Savoie winning full custody in American courts and his wife being told where she can and cannot live, you know its not only Japan that is messed up on the issues here.

-9 ( +0 / -9 )

I also agree, and can confirm, it is extremely horrible to be involved, and yes it is a very personal struggle. However I don’t agree the problem is not "big enough" this problem IS big enough, and the implications of this child abuse must change government policy, sooner rather than later. Put simply, any form of child abuse cannot and should not be tolerated. As far as a "grandiose idea of a universal fix". I'm not sure you understand the issue @familienprobleme, having a consistent platform for parents/countries to resolve these issues is exactly what is needed. Hence the Hague Convention. Currently we have one parent removing children from loving families without consultation or consideration. These actions are selfish and only cause harm. To engage with the other party is the first step to resolve any issue. Turning your back on parents, families, and the law then abducting children and ignoring your own child’s birth rights is "messed up". If Chris Savoie's ex did not take the law into her own hands and engaged I'm sure the result would have been very different. I believe Chris Savoie's result is a prime example and highlights Japan's and Japanese Child abductor's poor behaviour and the lack of an ability to engage, cooperate and resolve a very serious issue........the shared parenting of children. It is a shame some parents take the law into their own hands, it is a shame we need laws to tell parents how to raise their children keeping the children's best interests in mind. Child abduction is not in the best interests of the child........ever.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, approximately 19,000 international marriages ended in divorce last year in Japan, comprising 7.5% of the total number of divorces in Japan. In 2010, the ratio to divorces to all marriages in Japan was approximately 36%.

I can't decide if the above is a bad translation or bad statistics. Please fix it. In order to be meaningful one needs to state:

What percentage of total marriages are "international marriages" (if it's 1% then a divorce rate of 7.5% is bad, if it's 10% then a divorce rate of 7.5% is sub-par). The author is trying to imply that the "average" is 36%, but the way it currently reads he's comparing total divorces to marriages against the total international divorces, in other words he's missing half the equation. The author may well be cherry-picking, comparing 2010 statistics to 2011 statistics, .
0 ( +0 / -0 )

Unless the kids are really young, with the internet, it is easy to stay in touch.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

Who says foreign policy and oversea military bases are important or more important than children. If you asked each person individual, what is more important your family or the foreign policy of your country, I think everyone would say my family. Of course the government looks at it differently. The big problem as I see it is, what happens to the kids if they are returned to their habitual residence? Will they be in a better place or a worse place? What will the parent that has been cut out of the child's life do if he/she gets their child back? Will they turn the other cheek or will it be an eye for an eye? Governments don't want to return children to bad parents. How do you know for sure that you are not returning a child to a bad environment. The honest answer is you don't know, so governments don't put a lot of effort into this child abduction issue. But it is an important issue. In 1999 when Bill Clinton was president, Hillary Clinton started a campaign to end international child abduction (see link below). It was important then and it is important now. Children are the foundation of our future. They need guidance from both parents. And as Godan pointed out this issue affects numerous countries, including Canada, Australia, and most of Europe, as well as Africa and South America. Japan is one of the egregious countries when it comes to child abduction. It is time to make Japan a better place for children. It is time to adopt policies that allow children to have meaningful contact with both parents.


0 ( +0 / -0 )

Now it`s only up to the Japanese to prove that they will respect the Hague Convention. The only problem is that the Hague Convention is to full of loopholes to be an effective tool. I think the convention needs to be re-written to become useful.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Yes, I am about to get a thumbs down here but...if you are a foreign parent married to japanese, if you live in Japan and you get divorce or if your foreign spouse spirits the child away to Japan, you are lost. Yes, there are a couple of foreign parents I know of marired to a japanese national who obviously cares about their child(ren) and are willingto custody but they are a super duper minority.

I mean look at the general poulation here, one parent just willy nilly walks off with the child and that is it for the other parent. How on earth can any rich,developed country condone such backward behaivour. But hey, here in Japan they dont even list the foreign parent, male or otherwise, up their on the juminhyuo. Depending on your Ku,you are lucky if you get a look in on thebikuran(miscellaneous) remarks!

I personally know a lady who left Japan due to domestic violence, her husband pulled a knife out to her and her 6 month old baby. Japan had no hesitation in calling on the Hague Laws then and she had to return here or her child would have been put into the care of Socal Services and then returned. One law for one.....another law for those who feel they are above the rest of the world.....

6 ( +6 / -0 )

That's just it Sam - they don't want to sign but when the shoe is on the other foot, they cry and get the kid sent back regardless of the situation. It is sickening.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Agree with Kevin (kwbrown2), in Karina's case, there was significant logistic support from the US government and Nicaragua Government. However, the most important part was the "enforcement" provided by the State of Wisconsin. I am glad that in the article is mentioned that for the time the word "abduction" was issued by the Japanese media. They took this language from the same Japanese court. It is not well-known that the on the verge of the plea bargain, there was a possibility for my case for Karina to be given in adoption to the grandparents and lose any control over her faith. However, the position of the Japanese court together with the US enforcement, and international pressure (media and both governments) made the return of Karina possible. I think more than adopting a "sole custody" model, we should secure that "enforcement" of any order is attainable. For other cases, it is important to have "clean" facts (clear from DV, Child abduction, re-abduction or any other issue that could be detrimental for the children). In addition, cases with clear US jurisdiction, who were totally evaluated by US courts . Again, I think the principles "friendly parent rule" is well-known by the Japanese courts, what happens is that the diet is not given any enforcement power to the judiciary therefore, judge Wakabayashi said the comment from Eda are just political and irrelevant. Mr. Eda is just like any other politician "taking advantage of the opportunity without making any significant contribution". Sorry as I live in US, I mentioned the US, but this idea is similar for other courts and countries as well.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Japan's family court often awards sole custody to the parent with whom the child is residing.

So does American court, when it comes to the international divorce. My child was kidnapped by my ex-spouse from Japan to U.S. The worst thing was my ex-spouse had deceived me for 6months so that the jurisdiction would be in the states. Niether Japanese government or American government help me because Japan is not signatory to the Hague Convention.

I'm not the only Japanese who is suffering from this problem.

The parent who wrongfully remove children from other parent shouldn't get awarded the custody.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Quite horrible for those involved, but not a big enough problem, with big enough implications to affect any government foreign policy.

gaijinfo -- disagree entirely. A country/government is simply a collection of individual citizens. If Japan does not respect the rights of individual U.S. citizens, then it is hypocratic to say you respect the country as a whole. Seems all they respect is the U.S. military force and money and all the exports they send over. Japan needs to start approaching foreign policy as a true "citizen of the world", where all citizens of all countries are viewed as equals, and get past the notion that "Japan is special" and therefore its citizens' rights trump others.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The move comes at a time when the numbers of international marriages and divorces are increasing in Japan. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, approximately 19,000 international marriages ended in divorce last year in Japan, comprising 7.5% of the total number of divorces in Japan.

First, BIG THANKS to Ryo Takahashi for bringing this story to light again. Sincerely, thank you. Your article is very accurate. The quote above is there because I wanted to add that a small piece of data is missing.

The false marriages. Japan's human rights abuses go beyond just the child abduction. They are taking away freedom of choice, freedom of religion and countless others. 19,000 divorces in one year? You had better believe that some of marriages were falsified in order to create the facade that lends itself to the mother being a victim.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The issue of international child abductions in Japan should be a key concern in bilateral relations between Japan and the United States.

The first sentence of this article should say: "The issue of international child abductions in Japan should be a key concern in bilateral relations between Japan and the rest of the world."

Until the Savoie and Garcia cases, the US had taken a back seat on this issue, with countries such as France, Canada and Australia playing a much more prominent role. In fact, many Japanese parents who have abducted children to Japan are on FBI, Interport and other wanted lists worldwide. This is an emotionally-charged, increasingly high-profile issue outside of Japan, and anger toward Japan is growing as a result.

Otherwise, this is a very thoughtful and informative article. Thank you Ryo Takahashi (the author)!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The parent who wrongfully remove children from other parent shouldn't get awarded the custody.

I think most of us agree on that. Thing is, in most cases, it is Japanese parents snatching their kids and running to Japan. Rather shocked to hear your case as I've never head a case of the US not sending a kid back to Japan if they've been kidnapped.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Dear Ryo, dear JapanToday, thank you for bringing to public attention this issue and updating us on the proceedings. Thank you thank you again.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A child needs both parents however majority of media reports only one sided.. I don't thing by Japan signing the Hague convention will change things. The courts in Japan needs to be changed. Regarding the Marina case. The farther got full custody and the girl has to live with step mom and relearned English. Not sure if themother gets to see the child. Usa media only report what one side said but no report of the other parent interview. The law needs to change so a prentice who is aforeigner can see their kids.. but mostly the children should be protected by law. I do wonder true side effect of being" forced " to live with theo biological patent. The reason I say forced is because the child was forced to live apart from their mom or dad and moved to Japan and after fewyears they might be forced to live in aculture they do not remember completely. Its not the parents I am concerened about but the kids...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Rather shocked to hear your case as I've never head a case of the US not sending a kid back to Japan if they've been kidnapped.

It is happening. Those cases are not reported as well as opposite cases or people don't pay attention. American government doesn't care about the incoming cases as much as the outgoing cases and Japanese government doesn't help us either. In these cases, I wish the us goverment would give us some kind of visa to live in the states to be close to the children....

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

As "right" as it may be...it will NEVER be an issue between two huge rich governments that are pretty much set on world domination. I would simply hope for the best.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Just one word for Mrs.Reder. You are quite contradictory in your statements, for one side you agree that children should have contact with both parents, from other side you disagree that Karina is living with me... Please notice, US is the only chance for this little girl to have both parents in her life. For 4 years, her mother, her family and her whole country blocked any access that I could have with her.... The media reports what is out there....She was in Jail for a crime and that is her side of the story....She pledged "Guilty" (meaning the State of wisconsin had enough evidence against her), so I don't see why Mrs.Reder insist about listening her side of the story ! when we all know it! SHe is remembering US and Nicaraguan culture, at the same time I am respecting her Japanese heritage... I speak, cook, and know Japanese culture...she has contact with her friends in Japan and her extended family...so what is wrong with this?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

First, I thank you for covering this important issue.

Secondly, I would like to point out something which I never see mentioned in any article - mainly that even without signing the Hague, Japan is in violation of other international treaties - and by extension, it's own constitution.

Japan is already signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ( http://www2.ohchr.org/english/​law/crc.htm ); Japan having ratified the treaty in 1994.

Per the treaty, parental abduction is to prevented, not condoned:

Article 11

States Parties shall take measures to combat the illicit transfer and non-return of children abroad. 2. To this end, States Parties shall promote the conclusion of bilateral or multilateral agreements or accession to existing agreements. This is widely understood to include to parental abduction ( http://www.unicef.org/crc/​files/Protection_list.pdf )

Also, the Japanese system denies parents and children basic rights to access and relationship, which again violates numerous articles in the treaty. To name a few:

Article 7: ....the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.

Article 9(1): States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will...

Article 9(3): States Parties shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis...

Article 10(2): A child whose parents reside in different States shall have the right to maintain on a regular basis... and direct contacts with both parents.

And so forth.

The current Japanese system of course does not provide for complying with these basic rights, and actively violates them.

According to article 98 of the Japanese Constitution:

Article 98:

This Constitution shall be the supreme law of the nation and no law, ordinance, imperial rescript or other act of government, or part thereof, contrary to the provisions hereof, shall have legal force or validity. 2) The treaties concluded by Japan and established laws of nations shall be faithfully observed.

So, the bottom line is that Japanese courts and current Japanese legal system is already in violation of Japan's international treaty commitments, and therefore, is in violation of the constitution of Japan.

The question everyone should be asking is, "What is the value of law, in a country which allows it's courts to violate the nation's constitution?"

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Hypothetical question: If you "abduct" your child(ren) out of Japan and go to a country that IS a signatory of the Hague Convention, is there a legal obligation for that country to return the child to Japan given that Japan is hasn't signed anything? There's a post up above about Japan invoking the hague laws when a mother fled Japan due to domestic violence but had to return or the kid would be given over to Social Services. Doesn't seem fair if it only works one way...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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