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Hi Blog. Official English translation of the Asahi Editorial on the Child Abduction issue, with Japanese in previous entry today. There are some tweaks within, to eliminate “culture” as a factor in some places, while other places add it (as in, the lack of a “culture” of joint custody? Isn’t that a legal issue?). And how about the literal translation of Japan signing the Hague Convention now could be “as ineffective as grafting a shoot onto a different kind of tree” (I’m glad the original Japanese didn’t use an expression involving breeding dogs or something). Again, the need to “protect our own from NJ” is still too strong; the argument should be how everyone in Japan benefits regardless of nationality if you safeguard rights of custody and access a la international treaty. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
EDITORIAL: Child abduction in Japan
The Asahi Shinbun October 21, 2009, Courtesy of Matt D
When the United States and European nations say that more than 100 children have been “abducted” to Japan, they are not lying.
Troubles involving children of international divorces being taken from their countries of residence by their Japanese parents and brought back “illegally” to Japan are creating an international stir.
More than 100 such cases have been filed in the United States, Britain, Canada and other countries so far. Some people even accuse Japan of “encouraging child abduction.”
Last month, a U.S. citizen was arrested in Japan for attempting to snatch back his two children from his Japanese ex-wife who had returned to Japan with them in August.
The trouble occurred because of differences in the rules for dealing with children of international divorces in Japan and the United States. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, to which 81 nations are signatories, states that, in principle, when a child has been taken from his or her country of residence, the child must be returned to that country. The convention requires the governments of signatory nations to comply.
Among the Group of Eight countries, Japan and Russia are the only non-signatories to the convention. Disputes occur frequently between citizens of signatory and non-signatory nations.
Japan is now coming under increased pressure from abroad to join the convention. John Roos, U.S. ambassador to Japan, last Friday joined his European counterparts in urging Justice Minister Keiko Chiba to act.
Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada told a news conference, “We are approaching the matter with an open mind, but we must also take public opinion into account.”
How should disputes related to child custody be resolved between divorced couples whose cultures differ and who are subject to different laws? The argument that everyone should abide by the rules of the Hague Convention carries conviction.
At present, divorced Japanese parents whose children have been taken abroad by their non-Japanese ex-spouses have no legal recourse. The ranks of Japanese citizens marrying non-Japanese are swelling steadily, and the number tops 40,000 a year. It is probably not realistic for Japan to continue avoiding the Hague Convention.
On the other hand, there are other issues that need working out.
The great majority of parental child abduction cases filed in North America and Europe today involve ex-wives who are Japanese. And a number of these women say they have returned to Japan with their children to escape physical abuse by their ex-husbands. How can such women and their children be saved from their predicament abroad? This question cannot be ignored.
There are cultural and legal differences between Japan and the West. In the United States, visitation rights of divorced parents are clearly defined, but they are not spelled out under the Japanese Civil Code. Joint custody is not a recognized custom in Japan, and the overwhelming tendency here is to award custody to the mother.
Furthermore, courts of law are rarely involved in forcing one parent to hand the child over to the other. If Japan were to sign the Hague Convention now, the result could prove as ineffective as grafting a shoot onto a different kind of tree.
We must never lose sight of one fundamental principle–that each child’s welfare must trump everything. How do we respect the right of children to have a relationship with both parents after they split? This is an issue that has not been properly addressed, but it pertains to all divorces, not only international break-ups.
The time has come for Japanese society to seriously debate the welfare of children of divorced parents, in Japan and overseas.
–The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 20 (IHT/Asahi: October 21,2009)
6 comments on “Asahi Shinbun EDITORIAL: Child abduction in Japan English Translation”
“At present, divorced Japanese parents whose children have been taken abroad by their non-Japanese ex-spouses have no legal recourse.”
I don’t think this is true. They have the court system in those countries.
“And a number of these women say they have returned to Japan with their children to escape physical abuse by their ex-husbands. How can such women and their children be saved from their predicament abroad?”
Depending on the country of course and excluding Japan, it can be dealt with in pretty much the same way: the police and the court system.
Side note: at least this time it says “a number of these women say…” instead of just saying that 90/95% of the women were victims of domestic violence.
“And a number of these women say they have returned to Japan with their children to escape physical abuse by their ex-husbands.”
I know that we will never get an accurate number of cases that actually involve physical abuse (both because some people lie and some people are too ashamed to reveal being abused) but this vague “a number” of abuse cases is often brought up to support not signing the treaty.
I suppose the counter argument “If they are being abused they should seek legal recourse in the country in question,” won’t really do much to appease people who oppose the treaty based on the vauge “a number” of abuse cases.
I thought it was a pretty good editorial, actually, considering the kind of media treatment this issue usually gets. I suppose you could interpret some of the content negatively, but I saw it as more of a call to scrutinize the current Japanese system as well as the international issues. Particularly:
“How do we respect the right of children to have a relationship with both parents after they split? This is an issue that has not been properly addressed, but it pertains to all divorces, not only international break-ups.”
A major news organization is suggesting that children have a right to know both their parents after a divorce is a very positive thing. As close as the entire international issue is to my heart, there are far more domestic divorces that have resulted in the same sort of heartbreaking conclusions (some in my own family). The closer Japan comes to addressing that issue, the closer Japan will come to addressing the international issue. Kudos to Asahi for mentioning that which is usually swept under the rug.
“If Japan were to sign the Hague Convention now, the result could prove as ineffective as grafting a shoot onto a different kind of tree.”
This is a valid point. I hope Japan makes the changes. I think the abuse argument is a red herring, although a University of Oregon law professor makes this same argument with reference to women fleeing to the U.S.
This argument should be stronger for women coming from countries with weak domestic violence laws.
More important is for Japan to reform its family law. I could see the desire to introduce legislation at the same time as signing the Hague Convention, and could see that as a reason for waiting another two years. The “dekiru ka douka wo kentou suru” statement of an MFA official doesn’t sound too positive.
If Japan signed Hague and reformed its family law system, re-litigation of domestic violation allegations would still be progress. Germany still has the problem of re-litigation, but at least is part of Hague and returns children at least some of the time.
Being married to a Japanese citizen for many years and living in India, I can vouch for the fact that Japanese mothers married to foreignners always keep their Japanese citizenship, because they think it gives them an escape route in case the marrige does not turn out as per expectations. Also, it allows them to take (kidnap?) the children to Japan to prevent joint custody or visitation rights. I know of one friend who was married to a Japanese but when the couple divorced after 10 years of marriage, the Japanese lady remarried another Japanese man and then used forged signatures to let the new husband adopt the children without informing the ex-husband. Then she sent the kids to Japan and in this way prevented the ex-husband to know where they were let alone get any visitation rights. My wife from time to time reminds me that if i did not follow her rules or obey her wishes, she can also tke the kids and escape to Japan.
@Manoranjan P. – I think you may need some marriage counseling because threats like this aren’t conducive to happy marriage.