Your great-grandfather

Hello Hugo

You are exactly 4 1/2 years old today.  In other words, you are actually 1/4 of the way to being an adult.  You were born exactly 6 months to the day after your maternal great grandfather died on 28 May 2008), so you never got to meet him. At the time of his death, he was not aware that you were on your way into the world, a cause of sadness to me.

I make a point of going to his grave every year at around this time as I am the only family member who lives in London. His ashes are interred in his family grave at the Kensington Cemetery – which is actually in Hanwell in West London and not Kensington as the name would suggest.  He is buried with his brother – who died during World War II – and his parents.  His father died in the mid 1970s before I was born and his mother, my greatgrandmother – who I do remember, in the mid 1980s.

This year I joined my grandmother (so his widow) and aunt and uncle who all came up to London to have lunch and tend the grave.  We tidied up the grave and planted some bulbs and seeds with the hope of, in time, brightening it up. Beforehand, I joined them at a local restaurant for a glass of wine – as they were finishing lunch in nearby Ealing by the time I could get there from work – and then we took the bus to the cemetery where we spent over an hour.

Image

This photograph was taken at the grave by my uncle.  It shows my maternal aunt, your maternal great-grandmother and myself.

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Care urged for split families when Japan joins Hague pact

The Japan Times

Care urged for split families when Japan joins Hague pact

by Maya Kaneko

Kyodo

May 25, 2013

With the Diet endorsing the Hague Convention to help settle parental cross-border child abductions after years of lobbying by foreign governments and citizens, Japan is being urged to provide adequate support to parents and children separated through failed marriages.

The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction sets out the rules and procedures for the prompt return to the country of habitual residence of children under age 16 taken or retained by one parent, if requested by the other.

Japan aims to join the pact, which currently has 89 signatory nations, by the end of the year after completing all necessary domestic procedures. The country has been accused of being a “safe haven” for such child abductions and will be the last Group of Eight member to accede to the treaty.

The Foreign Ministry will serve as the central authority in charge of locating children who have been taken from their country of residence by a Japanese parent and encouraging the parties involved to settle the dispute through consultations. If that fails, family courts in Tokyo and Osaka will rule on the matter.

According to 2008 figures compiled by the Hague Conference on Private International Law, judicial decisions were made on 44 percent of all requests for the return of children filed by citizens of Hague pact signatories, with courts ordering they be returned in 27 percent of the incidents and granting visitation rights in 2 percent. Their return was rejected in 15 percent of the cases.

Japan will make exceptions in the return of children if abuse or domestic violence is feared. The treaty in principle calls for returns that ensure the child’s best interests and is not retroactive, only entering into effect after a country formally becomes a signatory.

In the past, courts in Hague treaty member states have turned down requests for the return of children when they or the abducting parent has fled from an abusive spouse or in cases where a parent could face criminal prosecution in his or her country of habitual residence, Foreign Ministry officials said.

For Japanese parents who have had a child taken overseas by their spouse, Japan’s accession to the Hague accord will have a positive effect, increasing their chances of being reunited with their children, according to experts.

Mikiko Otani, a lawyer and member of a government panel on the Hague treaty, said Japan “needs to understand the perception gap” between it and many other countries on the parent-child relationship following divorce or separation, so as to offer appropriate assistance to those involved in international child abductions.

Japan adopts the sole custody system, under which courts tend to appoint mothers as the sole custodian after divorce. It is not unusual for children to stop seeing their fathers after the parents break up.

Many Hague signatory countries adopt a system of joint custody and parenting, enabling children to have regular access to both parents after divorce or separation.

“The Hague treaty only stipulates procedures to help settle disputes, and Japan does not need to change its sole custody system,” but its society “should at least understand” the different norms on parent-child relationships in other Hague signatories, Otani said.

“Unless supporters are well versed in cases to be treated under the Hague pact, (as well as) judicial processes and family law in other signatories, they cannot offer proper advice,” Otani said. “As Japan has yet to join, it does not have enough manpower at present” to assist those involved in cross-border parental child abductions.

“Decisions to return the child or reject the request will not end the problem. Continued support for families torn apart internationally will be needed following those decisions,” she said.

Otani also said the government needs to raise awareness among Japanese married to foreigners, as well as Japanese couples living abroad, to prevent future incidents. “Not only international couples, but Japanese couples overseas could be involved in cross-border disputes covered by the Hague Convention if one parent takes their child to Japan without the permission of the other,” she said.

Before couples separate, they should be aware of the risk of being criminally prosecuted over parental abductions since the divorce rate is continuing to rise in many countries, she said. According to government statistics, 17,832 Japanese and international couples involving a Japanese partner were divorced in 2011.

John Gomez, chairman of Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion, an organization supporting parents separated from their children, said “social education” is needed in Japan to ensure the Hague treaty will function properly.

“From the Western point of view, for most people, abducting a child is completely illegal, shocking, damaging, and most people would never even think of it, let alone do it,” Gomez said. “But as we can see, it’s a very common mindset in Japanese society.”

“People typically take children if they’re afraid they will lose custody,” said an American father who is separated from his child and is seeking joint custody and visitation rights in Japan. He also urged people to understand children’s right to have access to both parents and to “recognize the damage that is caused when the relationship (to one parent) is severed.”

Takao Tanase, a lawyer versed in family law and a professor at Chuo University’s law school, aired concerns over “serious discrepancies between international and domestic standards,” saying that parental abductions are “condoned” in Japan to some degree and authorities are reluctant to intervene in family matters.

If the international community views Japan as not complying with the spirit of the Hague treaty after joining, the country will come under heavy pressure from other signatories to change its viewpoint, Tanase warned.

Source:  Japan Times, 25 May 2013

Hugo

I omitted to post again regarding the consular visit on Hugo back in March.  After it took place, I emailed my point of contact at the Foreign Office.  My email and the reply are reproduced below.  As I feared, there is nothing more that they can do.  Given this, given the fact that the Hague Convention will not have retrospective effect and given that reform of Japan’s custody laws is not anywhere on the horizon, the outlook for left behind parents in pre- Hague Convention cases looks as bleak as ever.

————————————————————————————————-

Dear [name removed]

Thank you for your email. I have passed on your thanks to my colleagues in Japan.

I am not sure there is anything else we can do at the moment as the apparent obstacle in your case is one of access to Hugo.  The advice given by Catriona Gorry in her email to you of 23 January still stands and I have repeated that immediately below:

“If you have not already done so you may also find it helpful to speak to Reunite, a UK-based organisation who specialise in international child abduction and custody issues. They have a mediation service that you may wish to ask them about. Reunite can be contacted on 0116 2556 234 and have a website: http://www.reunite.org

 

I also attach, for info, a link to a list of lawyers in Japan. You may be able to approach the Family Court in Japan for assistance in retaining contact with Hugo in the longer term:http://ukinjapan.fco.gov.uk/en/help-for-british-nationals/when-things-go-wrong/if-you-need-lawyer/

I also attach a copy of our leaflet which explains what we can and cannot do to assist in similar cases.  If you think there is something we can properly do to assist further that we have not yet done, please do let me know.

Regards

[name removed]

 | Caseworker Child Abduction Section: Middle East & North Africa | Consular Assistance | E4.4| Foreign & Commonwealth Office| London SW1A 2AH | |Tel: + 44 (0)20 7008 0200 | FTN: 8008 0200 |www.gov.uk/fco

If an email reply is overdue please telephone the above number.

From:
Sent: 28 March 2013 16:01
To: * (Restricted)
Subject: RE: Consular Visit Report on Hugo

Dear [name removed]

Thank you for the report about Hugo, photograph and the confirmation of the bank details.  Please thank the officers who conducted the visit on him.  I am very grateful that the visit was undertaken as it brought with it the first real news about Hugo in well over a year.

Given that Hugo is not yet even 4 1/2, is there anything else that the FCO can do, now or potentially in the future, to assist with this situation?

Regards

 [name removed]

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Diet finally passes Hague Bill

The Hague Convention bill has now cleared both Houses of the Japanese parliament.  Surprisingly, given all of the fuss and prevarication that there has been in the past, the Bill passed unanimously.  There is a BBC news report here and a report here from the Jurist website, both of which  set the matter out in greater detail.

The Treaty itself is expected to be ratified by March 2014.  As is clear from the articles, it is difficult to see, in the absence of wider reform to Japan’s approach to child custody, what impact this change is going to make – all the more so as the Bill is said to be littered with “exceptions”.  The letter of the Convention will become part of Japanese law, once the Bill receives Royal Assent, but whether the spirit of it will remains to be seen.

Its been 18 months

Hello Hugo

Today marks exactly 18 months since you were taken from the UK and, as such, 18 long months since I last saw you. Today also marks 6 months since this blog was set up for you.  I miss you every day but on the “anniversary” days such as this I miss you even more.  I am representing a client in court later this morning but hope to get away quickly; afterwards, as I often do, I plan to again return to the area where you used to live in Kingston Borough and again re-trace the routes that we took when we would go out walking there, just the two of us.  It makes me very happy to do that.  About 3 weeks ago – on 29 April 2013 – I made the 50th such visit since you left for Japan; today’s visit will be number 54.  I often wonder how many such visits there will be before I can get to see you again.

One thing that your mother and I always agreed about was that we want what is best for you.  Although being separated from me is not for the best I hope that you are enjoying your life in Japan and that, in time, you will be able to take full advantage of the good educational opportunities on offer there.

Anyway, I need to go to work now – it is just after 7 am here.  Have a nice day in Japan, Hugo, whatever you are up to.