Hi Blog. Amid rumblings that Japan will sign the Hague Convention on Child Abductions this year (the Yomiuri says it’s currently being “mulled”), here’s another reason why it should be signed — child abductions after separation or divorce are driving parents to suicide. Read on. The Yomiuri articles follow. Arudou Debito
A Killing Separation
by Regis Arnaud, courtesy of PT
FCCJ No.1 Shimbun, Mon, 2010-12-20 13:20
The life and career of Arnaud Simon once could have exemplified the excellent relationship between Japan and France. A young French historian teaching in Tokyo, Simon was preparing a thesis on the history of thought during the Edo Period. He was married to a Japanese woman. They had one son.
But on Nov. 20, Arnaud Simon took his own life. He hanged himself. He did not need to leave an explanatory note; his closest friends knew he had lost the appetite for living because his wife would not allow Simon to see his son after their marriage broke up. Simon apparently tried on multiple occasions to take his boy home from school, but the police blocked the young father each time.
“The lawyers he met were trying to appease him, not help him,” one of his former colleagues remembers.
Another Frenchman in the same situation, Christophe Guillermin, committed suicide in June. These two deaths are terrible reminders of the hell some foreign parents inhabit in Japan – and because of Japan. When a couple separates here, custody of any children is traditionally awarded to the mother. After that, the children rarely have contact with the “other side”; they are supposed to delete the losing parent from their lives.
There is no tradition of visitation rights in Japan, and even when those rights are granted, the victory generally comes at the end of a long and costly judicial battle fought in Japanese courts. The visitation rights given are also typically very limited – sometimes just a couple of hours per month. Worse yet, the mother ultimately decides whether she wants to abide by the agreement. The police will not intervene if she refuses, on the grounds that this is a private matter. While there are exceptions, Japanese fathers seem to have basically accepted this practice. For foreign fathers, it is almost universally impossible and unbearable.
France is particularly touched by these tragedies. There have been many unions between Japanese women and French men, and many breakups. Simon’s death was shocking enough to the French community for the French ambassador to issue a stern and in many ways personal press release afterward: “Mr. Simon recently told the Consulate of the hardships he endured to meet his son, and it is most probable that to be cut off from his son was one of the main reasons (for his suicide). This reminds us, if necessary, of the pain of the 32 French fathers and of the 200 other (foreign cases involving) fathers known to foreign consulates as deprived of their parental rights.”
During a recent trip related to this subject in Japan, French judge and legal expert Mahrez Abassi said: “Japan has not ratified the Hague Convention on civil aspects of international children’s abductions. There is no bilateral convention on this topic, and our judicial decisions are not recognized in Japan.” Tokyo is in a precarious position on this issue, since one of the main topics of Japan’s diplomacy is the case of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea, for which Japan requires international solidarity.
Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs seems preoccupied by the problem, which only promises to grow because of the constant rise of international divorces in Japan – now at 6 percent – and of Japanese-foreign births (20,000). Various diplomatic delegations have visited Japan to discuss the issue. France and Japan set up a “consulting committee on the child at the center of a parental conflict” in December 2009. But the National Police Agency, the Justice Ministry, and Japanese civil society in general care little about the issue.
“There is no system better than another for the child after a breakup,” says a foreign psychiatrist who has followed cases of foreign fathers that have lost access to their children in Japan. “The French and American systems have deep flaws as well. But it is simply unbearable for a French father, for example, to be unable to meet his child.”
A French lawyer based in Tokyo, adds: “The principle of joint custody as it is known in France does not exist in Japan. To implement such a principle here, we would have to amend the Civil Code, which is very hard for family law matters in this country. If this change is enacted, the police should then compel Japanese families to hand over the ‘disputed’ child to the foreign father. This seems pretty hard to achieve.” ❶
Regis Arnaud is the Japan correspondent of leading French daily Le Figaro and has been covering Japan since 1995. He is also a movie producer. His next project, called CUT, laments the decline of the Japanese movie industry.
Govt to mull joining child custody pact
The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 11, 2011)
The government has decided to set up a council to weigh joining the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which pertains to disputes over parents’ custodial rights to children born in international marriages, sources said.
The council of senior vice ministerial-level officials, to be set up by the end of this month, is to compile a report by the end of March.
That would allow Prime Minister Naoto Kan to make an announcement on joining the convention during his visit to the United States in spring.
The move comes as the government works to mend ties with the United States, which have been strained by the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture and other issues.
The U.S. government has repeatedly urged Japan to join the Hague convention.
Despite the fast-track timeline for the council’s report, some in the government and the Democratic Party of Japan remain cautious about joining the convention.
The convention stipulates that children born in international marriages should be returned to their original country of residence in cases where parental rights are in dispute.
The convention came into effect in 1983. As of December, 82 countries, including most Western nations, were party to the convention.
Among Group of Eight countries, only Japan and Russia have not joined the convention.
There have been many cases in which Japanese whose international marriages failed have brought their children to Japan without notifying their spouses or former spouses.
Non-Japanese parents in such cases who want to meet with their children are unable to take any legal action because Japan has not joined the convention.
Many such cases therefore become seriously problematic.
Western countries have urged Japan to join the convention as soon as possible.
The U.S. Congress in September last year adopted a resolution demanding Japan join the convention. The pressure from Washington has been mounting and the issue has become a point of tension between the two nations.
On Thursday, when Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met in Washington, Clinton asked for Japan to act expeditiously to join the convention. Maehara replied that the Japanese government would discuss it seriously.
In February last year, then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama instructed the Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry to examine joining the convention as quickly as possible, but a decision was put off due to resistance within the ministries.
Some voiced concern that joining the convention could mean Japanese wives who had escaped with their children from abusive husbands would be forced to return to an unhealthy or dangerous environment.
At the time, a senior Justice Ministry official said there was no public consensus on the issue.
A number of DPJ members have expressed reservations about Japan joining the convention.