Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Japan: The Safe Harbor For Parental Children Kidnappers

Imagine having your child criminally kidnapped and abducted by the child’s other parent to another country that is known as a fortified and impenetrable safe-harbor for child abductors. Now consider the notion that this nation is one of the United States main strategic allies and trading partners. Are you thinking that this is impossible? Are you wondering what country this is?

Welcome to Japan.

As astronomers push our minds and imaginations by studying the universe, we have come to learn that ‘black holes’ exist many light years away. Think again.

Since at least the inception of The Hague Convention On The Civil Aspects On International Parental Child Abduction – the main international treaty that addresses international parental child abduction – which Japan still has not signed – there has never been one criminally kidnapped and parentally abducted child returned by Japan to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, or anywhere else for that matter.

Once a criminally kidnapped child enters into Japan with their abducting parent, the abducting parent has entered a safe harbor, and fear of prosecution or extradition are put aside. As for the abducted, victimized child – they, like the Chasing Parent left behind in the wake of their child’s abduction, have entered into a black hole where both short and long-term damage almost always plagues the child for the rest of their life.

I will reiterate the unthinkable: It is believed that no child abducted to Japan has ever been returned.

According to various government and independent reports, it is estimated that there presently are 85 active cases involving approximately 230 American children-citizens who have been kidnapped and are presently illegally detained in Japan during the time period of 2000 through mid-2009. There have been hundreds of cases that have been closed during this time period. Information on why these cases have been closed was not available at the time of this article.

In addition, there are at least 38 children-citizens from the United Kingdom, and at least 37 children-citizens from Canada presently being held illegally in Japan. According to William Duncan, the Deputy Secretary General of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, there are approximately 1,300 children in total presently living in Japan that are considered abducted and who’s wrongful retention is in violation of criminal kidnapping and abduction laws originating from these children’s countries of original jurisdiction.

So what do you do if your child has been abducted to Japan? This question is the very same question scores of heartbroken but determined loving parents have asked themselves for some time.

Except now, it appears that the tide is turning, and the voices of determined Chasing Parents have finally reached the policymakers in Washington and Tokyo. And their message is clear: Japan’s failure to uphold the laws of the nation of an abducted child’s original jurisdiction will no longer be tolerated.

Last month a two-day close door meeting took place between leading Hague-signatory countries and leaders in Japan, the Ambassadors of the Hague-signatory nations stated in a joint press conference:

We, the Ambassadors to Japan of Australia, Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States have on several occasions expressed our concern to the Government of Japan about the increase in international parental abduction cases involving Japan and affecting our nationals.

We welcome recent statements by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Justice Minister and other Japanese officials recognizing the seriousness of this international problem. We are encouraged by recent positive initiatives by the Government of Japan, such as the establishment of the Division for Issues Related to Child Custody within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In this spirit, today we have concluded a two-day symposium during which experts from our nations discussed aspects of child abduction with Japanese Government officials and other leaders in this field.

So, you might be asking yourself, why is Japan clearly violating court orders from foreign courts that possessed jurisdiction of the child due to the child’s habitual residency?

Well, the answers are can be found in the nation’s culture and laws. First, change in Japan typically does not occur from within the nation’s borders. If change does occur, it is typically due to the international community expressing urgent concern over this country’s behavior. In addition, the family laws governing divorce and separation in Japan give only one parent custody and guardianship of the children of the divorce, and custody is almost always issued to the mother of the children. And in almost all cases, the non-custodial, non-guardian parent seldom sees the children of the marriage once the divorce action begins.

In addition, parties in Japan have consistently stated that there is great fear in ordering the return of the child and abducting parent because the majority of these cases involve domestic violence.

On February 2nd, 2010 Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell was asked a specific question regarding domestic violence and Japan’s policy of no-return from Maegawa, a reporter from Japan’s national newspaper Asahi Shimbun. The following was taken directly from the United States Department of State’s website.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. I’m Maegawa from Asahi Shimbun, a national newspaper in Japan. I have a question on the Hague -- this issue – because some Japanese citizens are very concerned because this issue includes some of the domestic violence cases where some spouses or ex-spouses have actually fled from the spouses and had no choice but to take the children with them. How do you answer that question?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CAMPBELL: I have to say, I've heard this on a number of occasions from Japanese friends, and I think that there is the view that this is a very widespread phenomenon. These allegations caused extraordinary unhappiness among this community, most of whom in the United States already had legal custody, sometimes had gone through divorce or were separated. We can find almost no cases of alleged or actual substantiated claims of violence and where those apply, we of course, understand and support that. But because of the legal situation in Japan, I think that this allegation is used very loosely and oftentimes inappropriately without any supporting criteria whatsoever, and our particular issue is with a situation in which once there has been a separation or a divorce in the United States and when a parent is given dual custody -- parents are given dual custody -- and one of the parents takes the children to Japan outside of a legal framework that's been established. That's kidnapping, and that's a very grave and worrisome problem that needs to be dealt with. I would say that there is a substantial misconception on this issue in Japan that the cases that we are dealing with are primarily those of domestic abuse. Our judgment would be that that is not the case. Okay, last question.

Pressure inside Japan seems to be mounting to sign the Hague Convention. Recently, a Czech father took his Czech-Japanese son to the Czech Republic outside of court orders. The action was met with a loud outcry in Japan, as the mother of the child collected 10,000 Japanese signatures urging Japan to sign the Hague Convention so that the left behind mother could legally attempt to recover her child.

So, perhaps change is occurring within Japan, but internal change has not been something the country is known for.

Diplomatic efforts by countries including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Italy, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom continue to put great pressure on the Diet and Japan’s Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama. In February of this past year, Hatoyama stated that he was willing to sign a treaty that addressed international parental child abduction, but cautioned that it might take until next year before this is achieved.

Japan’s Prime Minister Hatoyama is scheduled to visit Washington, D.C. on April 9th, 10th, and 11th in conjunction with the Cherry Blossom Festival.

It is expected that a large and vocal group of Chasing Parents from the United States will make their concerns known during the weeklong festivities in Washington. These parents of criminally kidnapped and wrongfully retained children are anticipated to meet with various legislative leaders, key members of the U.S. Department of State, and are expected to pass out flyers and other information during the Cherry Blossom Festival.

For more information of the children still captive in Japan, the parents who are desperately trying to bring them home, and how to show your support, please visit http://bachome.org. For more information on Peter Thomas Senese and ‘Chasing The Cyclone’ please visit www.chasingthecyclone.com