Hi Blog. Another article cataloging the nastiness that occurs when Japan will neither allow joint custody of children after divorce (meaning one parent usually just disappears from a child’s life), nor sign the Hague Convention on Child Abductions (which in international marriages encourages Japanese to abscond with their kids back to Japan, never to return). More on this phenomenon at the Children’s Rights Network Japan site at http://www.crnjapan.com
I’m personally interested in this issue, as I too have not seen one of my children since Summer 2004, and am involved in the production of a movie talking about the Murray Wood Case. More on that in a future blog entry when the directors are good and ready for publicity.
The article below, by the way, disappeared from the Japan Today archives not three days after it appeared, oddly enough. I managed to retrieve it through a search engine cache. This is why I blog whole articles on Debito.org–to make sure information doesn’t just disappear. Enjoy. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
Japan remains haven for parental abductors
September 25, 2007, Japan Today/Kyodo News
By Alison Brady
LOS ANGELES — More than a year has passed since Melissa Braden was abducted to Japan by her mother, Ryoko Uchiyama. Brokenhearted and fearful, her father, Los Angeles resident Patrick Braden, prays for the day when he will see his daughter again.
Unlike in many cases of abducted children, there is little mystery about Melissa’s location. Braden is nearly 100% certain of his daughter’s whereabouts in Japan. But there is nothing he or the U.S. government can do to get her back.
On March 8, 2006, after months of custody proceedings, Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Gretchen Taylor ordered that Melissa’s passport, which Uchiyama had obtained, be turned over to Braden to prevent Uchiyama from fleeing with the child.
For the next eight days, Braden’s attorney fought Uchiyama’s to recover the passport, but to no avail. On March 16, they were gone.
The FBI issued an arrest warrant for Uchiyama within days of her departure. The FBI said she had committed a federal offense by fleeing the country to avoid prosecution.
But once on Japanese soil, Uchiyama was out of reach of U.S. law enforcement agencies. What is more, an injunction filed within hours of her arrival in Japan prevents Braden from following his former girlfriend to locate and negotiate the return of his daughter.
Experts identify several factors in Japan that have created a haven for parents who kidnap. First, Japan is not party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, a civil legal mechanism to deter parents from abducting their children to other countries.
More than 75 countries worldwide have [e]ffected the treaty, thereby agreeing to return any child abducted from his or her country of habitual residence to a party country in violation of the left-behind parent’s custodial rights, according to the U.S. Department of State website.
Another factor is that parental kidnapping is not considered a crime under Japanese law and Japan refuses to extradite parents who have kidnapped their own children and face arrest in other countries.
Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare statistics show that since 1976, the time of the Hague treaty’s inception, the rate of marriage between Japanese nationals and foreign spouses has increased more than 800%.
As a result of the increasing number of international marriages, more than 21,000 children are born each year in Japan to couples of mixed Japanese and non-Japanese descent. Add to that the number of children born to Japanese who live abroad and are married to a non-Japanese.
What becomes of these bi-national children when the parents separate or divorce?
Cases like Melissa Braden’s are not uncommon. If the breakup occurs in Japan with custody proceedings taken to Japanese family court, foreign parents must battle what critics call a one-sided and often discriminatory system that almost never awards foreign parents custody of their children.
“An American parent in Japan may not be awarded any visitation rights at all in a divorce action,” explains a U.S. government official at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.
Even if custody is awarded to a foreign parent in Japan, there is little means of enforcing such a court order as Japanese police rarely get involved in family cases, says Colin Jones, a professor at Doshisha University Law School in Kyoto.
Walter Benda, 50, a publisher living in Virginia, spent more than a decade and $100,000 trying to gain visitation rights to his two daughters after his wife disappeared with them in 1995 from their home in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture.
“I’ve tried every legal avenue available to me in Japan,” Benda told Kyodo News by phone. “I’ve gone to the Supreme Court with my case twice seeking visitation rights, partial custody rights, or any sort of way to see my children and I have not even had one scheduled visit with my children in all the legal efforts I’ve undertaken in Japan.”
“The police would not do anything,” Benda says, recalling the time his children first went missing. “They basically called my ex-in-laws, and the ex-in-laws said that they didn’t know anything but that they were sure the kids were okay. So, the police said that was good enough from them and they wouldn’t help me anymore beyond that except to say go see a lawyer.”
Benda went on to co-found a support group called the Children’s Rights Council of Japan, or CRCJ, to offer parents like himself a resource in the struggle to see their children again.
Issue ignored by Japanese government
CRCJ’s online group has over 90 members and in recent years the group has organized events in Washington and Tokyo aimed at increasing awareness about an issue the Japanese government has long ignored.
“No one is putting any pressure on the abducting parents right now,” Benda said. “They’re actually kind of being rewarded for their actions. Just by virtue of being born a Japanese citizen or by virtue of having abducted your children to Japan, you’re able to have 100% control of your children and deny contact to every other person…including the father and the extended family.”
There are no exact figures on how many children have been abducted to Japan. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports 46 American children have been kidnapped to Japan since 1995. That number grows considerably when factoring in children of other countries and cases that were either dropped or never reported.
Furthermore, the U.S. government has no record of even a single case in which Japan has agreed to return an abducted child by legal means to the United States.
In an increasingly global society, bi-national children have the potential to be key allies between Japan and other nations. But Japan’s failure to sign the Hague treaty is creating a barrier to good relations.
“People like me, and especially my daughter, we’re the bridge between the two countries,” Braden says, “and that fact that Japan wants to make enemies of us is a very clear demonstration of their lack of foresight on this issue.”
Not everyone believes Japan’s signing the Hague treaty will rectify the child abduction issue.
In an article for the spring 2007 edition of the Whittier Journal of Child and Family Advocacy, Doshisha University’s Jones argues, “…it might even make the situation worse by removing a red flag to judges in foreign countries who might otherwise be inclined to disallow custody or visitation arrangements that involve travel to Japan.”
But that does not deter others from fighting for progress toward Japan signing the treaty. With a growing voice, people like Braden and Benda and the CRCJ have finally begun to be heard by U.S. politicians.
California Sen Dianne Feinstein wrote a letter to Japanese Ambassador Ryozo Kato in Washington in June 2007, imploring him to take action in returning Melissa Braden to her rightful home.
Governor of New Mexico and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson wrote Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in May of 2007, lamenting that “no progress has yet been made” on the Braden case, and urging her to “pursue this important issue with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.”
Asked about Melissa’s case, Kazumi Yamada at the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s First North America Division in Tokyo told Kyodo News, “We are looking into the issue and attaching priority on the welfare of the child.”
“With regard to The Hague…we are still looking at the Convention to determine what our position will be,” she added.
The longer these children are kept from their non-Japanese mothers and fathers, the more likely their welfare is to be jeopardized.
Often fed lies about the left-behind parent and kept from school and regular socialization with other children because the abducting parent is afraid of being caught, children abducted by one of their own parents are likely to suffer deep developmental and emotional scars.
“It is very clear that the position that Japan takes is bad for the children. Bad for families. Bad for all people,” Braden says.
September 25, 2007, Japan Today/Kyodo News