Hi Blog. Last week I reported on the US Congress’s investigation of Japan as a haven for international child abductions, and a December 4, 2009 hearing that many of the Left-Behind Parents attended and issued statements to. The Congressman Lantos Human Rights Commission has since issued letters, signed by several Congresspeople, to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, requesting they personally meet with select representatives of the LBP and consider their issue. Scans of those letters enclosed below.
I was also invited to write a statement, as a LBP myself, for inclusion in the Congressional Record. The text of that follows the Obama and Clinton letters. FYI. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
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SUBMISSION FOR THE UNITED STATES CONGRESSIONAL RECORD
REGARDING POST-DIVORCE PARENTAL ACCESS TO CHILDREN IN JAPAN
December 10, 2009
By ARUDOU Debito, Sapporo, Japan
Associate Professor, Hokkaido Information University, and Columnist, The Japan Times newspaper (firstname.lastname@example.org, www.debito.org, cell +81[…])
I am a former American citizen (named David Christopher Aldwinckle) who became a Japanese citizen in October 2000. I have been living in Japan permanently since 1993, for a total of nearly 23 years. I wish to offer my testimony to Congress, as a divorced and left-behind father in Japan (who hasn’t seen his children for years), and from the perspective an immigrant. I hope to demonstrate how Japan needs drastic reforms to its child-custody and visitation system, not only for the benefit of its international marriages, but also for its own citizens.
Japan has not changed its divorce laws significantly since 1898 (Source: Harald Fuess, Divorce in Japan), particularly in regards to child custody and visitation. Its family registration system treats children like property, since after divorce children’s names are annotated on only one parent’s Family Register (koseki). This means joint custody is legally impossible in Japan (particularly for non-citizens, who by definition do not have a Japanese Family Register). The Registry System is used as grounds to sever one parent legally from a child’s life, a violation of children’s rights to be legally tied to and have access to both parents.
Additionally, child visitation, although technically permissible through negotiated Family Court settlement, is unenforceable in Japan. There are no criminal penalties if the custodial parent unilaterally decides to deny visitation with the non-custodial parent, and no effective enforcement mechanism exists in Japan’s administrative bodies to ensure that both sides keep their promises. Moreover, Japan’s flawed alimony child-support system (custodial mothers are legally entitled to receive benefits from the father, but custodial fathers are not; moreover enforcement in any case is often weak and needs time-consuming court orders) means that in a post-divorce dispute, “Fortress Moms” (who isolate the children) and “Deadbeat Dads” (who disappear financially, sometimes even change jobs to become untraceable) are not unusual in Japan.
None of this is beneficial to Japanese society, and if there is a (strong) chance that one parent will lose all access to his or her children after divorce, this is not encouraging for Japan’s future. Things are already unsustainable — with a rapidly-aging society and record-low birthrates below replacement levels.
In sum, it is my belief that, with Family Laws in Japan as they stand, nobody (Japanese citizen or non-Japanese) should get married and have children in Japan. The risk is just too great. Too many children are getting hurt by a system that encourages Parental Alienation Syndrome, and creates single-parent households that can be acrimonious to the point of deterring the children from becoming parents themselves.
I urge Congress to encourage Japan not only to sign the Hague Convention on Child Abductions, but also reform its long-outdated Family Law structure. Allow for joint custody and enforced child visitation backed up by criminal law penalties — for the sake of not only American citizens, but also us Japanese citizens.