My son begins elementary school

Hello Hugo

I believe, although I do not know, that you started school at some point this month as this was the April following your 6th birthday.  I therefore thought that I would offer you a few words about the years ahead of you in school, college and university if you decide to study that far.

Education is important – especially it has to be said in Japan – as it is likely to determine to a great extent the course of your life.  So always study hard, listen to, learn from and respect your teachers and push yourself as much as you can at school.  Do not be lazy.  Make the most of the opportunities that are available to you inside and outside the classroom.  When I was at school I was involved in theatrical activities and, when I was older, politics and debating which was a good preparation for working in the law – even though none of that was on the curriculum.  I am sure that you will have a natural aptitude for English and I know that some Japanese schools hire western English teachers so, if that is the case at whichever school you are enrolled at, I hope that you will be fortunate enough to have someone from England and see something of your English background.

I wanted to send you something to mark both the start of this stage of your life and something that would be useful to you.  I wasn’t sure what specific books or equipment you would need, so I bought you a Japanese school bag instead – the Japanese word is Randoseru (ランドセル); see the photograph below.   I remember seeing school children carry these bags around in Japan.  It always surprised me the way in which the children there would have identical or very similar bags as that would not be fashionable in the UK.  As it was only available for purchase in Japan itself, I ordered it via Amazon Marketplace, had it mailed to the UK so I could see it and then mailed it to you in Japan.  I sent it over in early February 2015 in the hope that this would be sufficiently early that no one else would buy you the same thing in anticipation of you starting at elementary school.

Good luck at school and I hope you enjoy it.

School bag (April 2015)

 Post receipt 7 Feb 2015 

BBC News Channel programme on international parental child abduction


The mother who abducted her own child

Ami and Anish

The number of British children abducted by their parents and taken abroad has risen dramatically.  There’s a huge emotional cost for all involved.

One day, Ami asked her parents to buy flights to India for her and her son, Anish. With that she became an international child abductor.

Ami doesn’t accept this title but says she was aware she was breaking the law. “I knew there would be consequences,” she says, hesitantly. “But what the consequences would be, I did not know.”

Ami is one of a growing number of parents who have abducted their own child by taking them overseas.

UK cases of international child abduction and custody battles have increased dramatically. According to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, there were 477 recorded cases in 2014 – more than double the 2005 figure of 226.

The charity Reunite International thinks the actual figure is even higher – its helpline took 17,000 calls in 2014.
Aamina and Safraz
Safraz Khan’s daughter Aamina was taken by her mother

More problematic is the increase in abduction to countries not signed up to the Hague convention – an international agreement on the quick return of children. It means there is little UK authorities can do. Pakistan and India were the most common non-Hague destinations, followed by Somalia, Nigeria and Egypt.

More relationship break-ups, ease of travel and an increase in cross-border relationships are the main reasons cited for the rise. Trying to get them back isn’t easy.

It’s been a long wait to meet Ami, 32, and three-year-old Anish (their names have been changed because she doesn’t want her ex-husband to know she’s speaking to us).

Before we get to her house in the suburbs of Bangalore we’ve been speaking over email and the phone for more than a year, building trust so that Ami was willing to tell us why she abducted her own son two years ago.

We meet at the small house Ami and Anish now share with Ami’s parents. Her mother gets emotional as Ami recounts what happened to her. She had married a British Indian man, who she met on an online Asian matrimonial site. Ami says initially he seemed like a perfect match, she moved to the UK to live with him and got pregnant quicker than expected.

But Ami says her husband became controlling and would isolate her. He wouldn’t talk to her and wouldn’t let her talk to her family.

“I would call my parents and my mum would be crying. She would be asking me, ‘How are you? We haven’t heard from you. And we call your husband – he says you’re not available.'”

Their relationship fell apart. Ami’s husband said he wanted a divorce and she says she feared he would try and take her child away. In the end Ami left the house leaving in a note saying she was going to stay with friends. But after a few weeks, far from home, she says she ran out of people who could help.

“I had nowhere else to go,” says Ami. She says all she could think about was finding a place for her and her son to live together.

“I thought, I cannot go back to my property with my husband. I would end up losing my child. The only place I could see was my parents’ home. I had nowhere else to go. I exhausted all my energy, all my willpower, my confidence. I was completely broken.”

Now Ami is stuck. She doesn’t want to come back to the UK and so is trying to get custody of Anish through the Indian courts. Her ex-husband knows where she is – she has to report to court in Bangalore every two weeks and there is an order telling her to return to the UK.

In cases like this it’s not always obvious who is to blame – many details are only known by the two people involved in the relationship – but in the end, it’s the children who suffer the most.

Aamina's school uniform
Aamina’s school uniform is still laid out on her bed

Safraz Khan knows this only too well. His daughter Aamina was kidnapped by her mother four years ago. He has travelled to Pakistan five times to look for his daughter because there are records of her and her mother entering the country. But he still has no idea where she is.

He says he feels totally helpless. All he has is a court order demanding Aamina’s mother and her family members bring her back or provide information. He says the courts and the police expect him as the parent to go to Pakistan, find his child and then let them know.”

When we meet him at his house in South London he takes us up to her bedroom where her school uniform is still laid out on the bed, alongside teddies and schoolwork – just as they were the day she went missing.

It’s something of a shrine to his daughter, awaiting the day she comes home that Safraz so desperately hopes will come. “When she does I want her to know I’ve never stopped thinking about her.”

The strain this is putting on Safraz is plain. “The loss that I’m facing is like a bereavement. I don’t have a grave – God forbid – but I don’t have anything. In four years I’ve heard nothing, nothing.”

Safraz is left waiting, worried his daughter will forget who is. He has re-married and had two more children but says it’s harder to bond with them because of the loss of Aamina.

But he feels as a father he’s not got the sympathy a mum may have got in the same situation. There is a perception that it’s largely fathers who abduct their own children, but according to Reunite 70% of parents who carry out abductions are mothers.

Mohammed Sheikh and his son Rameez
Mohammed Sheikh and his son Rameez

In some cases these children do come home – but the experience leaves a mark. We noticed the CCTV as soon as we arrived at the home of Mohammed Sheikh in Leicester, mostly because the same cameras were at Safraz’s house. Mohammed is another father whose child had been abducted.

Inside, his 11-year-old son Rameez plays on his computer and his dad delivers him a milkshake and breakfast as he competes with a friend on Call of Duty. Mohammad dotes on his son. He lives in constant fear of him being taken away again.

“The moment his mum arrives to pick him up or drop him off I’m watching on the cameras. Every time he’s with her I worry and I always will.”

Rameez was kidnapped by his mother, Mohammed’s ex-wife, and taken to the United Arab Emirates when he was five.

Because the country has not signed up to the Hague convention there was no system in place to locate Rameez and get him back. Sitting at the kitchen table, piles of court documents in front of him, Mohammad explains to how he started his own search.

“I used any means possible. I sent an email to his mum and there’s a way of tracing an email, it’s not illegal, so that’s what I did. I got an IP address for somewhere in Sharjah in the UAE so I contacted my cousin in Dubai. He went over, located them and followed them home.”

Mohammed now has full custody of his son, but the boy still sees his mother. Mohammed says he doesn’t want Rameez to ever resent him for keeping him away from her so they have limited contact. But Rameez is scared of going on trips with her in case she takes him away again – he takes a friend if they do “because she can’t take us both”.

And Ami knows she’ll have to explain where Anish’s father is one day. “Right now he doesn’t ask me anything about this,” she explains just before we leave. ‘But eventually he will and I have to be prepared to face it.”

Find out more

This story was reported on the Victoria Derbyshire Programme, which is broadcast from 09:15-11:00 BST on the BBC News Channel. You can catch up via the iPlayer, or you can listen to the full documentary at 1700 BST on BBC Asian Network.

Source:  “The mother who abducted her own child”, BBC Magazine, 22 April 2015

State of the reunion: Evaluating the Hague pact’s success

The Japan Times


State of the reunion: Evaluating the Hague pact’s success

More than a year has passed since Japan officially adopted the Hague Convention on child abductions and while the number of reported cases has fallen over the past 12 months, the government is still finding its feet on this complex issue

By Masami Ito 
Staff Writer
Apr 18, 2015
As most parents know, there is nothing quite so life changing as having children. Imagine the pain a parent feels, then, if their children are taken from them. Now imagine the shock a parent feels if the person who abducted their children was their own spouse, a trusted partner who fled the country and disappeared — never to be heard from again.

This, unfortunately, is the reality for many left-behind parents around the world. They then spend years trying to go through official channels in an attempt to get their children returned, typically without making much progress.

In 1980, a glimmer of hope for such parents came in the form of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which sets out rules and procedures for the prompt return to the country of habitual residence of children under 16 who were wrongfully abducted by one parent, if requested by the other parent.

Japan held off signing the treaty in the face of international pressure until 2013, when the Diet approved accession to the convention. Hague Convention legislation finally came into force on April 1 last year.

The Foreign Ministry — the central agency in charge of Hague pact cases — prepared long and hard for the launch. The 20-member department in the ministry responsible for handling any Hague pact applications consists of lawyers, a judge and social workers with expertise in domestic violence and child psychology.

Tatsuro Hayashi, principal deputy director of the Hague Convention Division, says it’s important for employees in the department to have a wide range of knowledge because of the sheer complexity of Hague pact cases.

“Each case is very different,” Hayashi says. “Some cases also involve domestic violence and so it is the duty of the government to ensure that we have a solid foundation to deal with them as a member of the Hague Convention.”

A total of 117 Hague Convention-related cases from 27 countries have been filed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as of April 16. Twenty-seven applications have called for the return of children from Japan, while 19 applications have requested the return of children from overseas. To date, 10 cases have now been resolved: five cases involve children who have been sent overseas and five cases involve children who have been returned. Earlier this month, Japan for the first time executed a court order return of a child, who was sent back to Sri Lanka.

However, these cases only account for abductions that took place after the convention took effect. The treaty is not retroactive and for parents whose children were abducted prior to April 1, 2014, they can only apply for access and visitation rights through the framework, not demand that children are returned.

To date, 71 access applications have been submitted. Fifty-six applications involve children in Japan while 15 involve children abroad.

Hayashi notes that two left-behind parents who filed for access have been successful in reuniting with their children. Five have regained contact with their children via Skype; and one had the child returned due to an overseas court ruling.

Hayashi says the Foreign Ministry has successfully located all children involved in Hague pact access cases in Japan.

Even if the ministry finds them, however, there’s no guarantee it is able to reopen the lines of communication between the separated spouses.

“Access cases are not as comparatively simple as return cases,” Hayashi says. “(Even if it’s an access issue), there are cases where the parent who is accused of abducting the child wants nothing to do with the left-behind parent. We cannot force parents who are accused of abducting their children to grant access, but we will continue to negotiate tenaciously.”

Caught in the middle

For parents who have had a child abducted, battles over access rights can seemingly take an eternity to resolve. Some will never be concluded.

Left-behind father Henrik Teton is a parent who is desperate to reunite with his son. The Canadian father says his son was abducted by his Japanese wife in January 2013 while they were staying at a hotel in Yokohama. Apart from a solitary photograph he was given as part of his attempts to arrange access, Teton hasn’t seen his 4-year-old son since.

When his wife and son first vanished, Teton recalls, he didn’t know if they were dead or alive. Police in Canada eventually informed Teton in June later that same year that they were both safe in Japan, adding that his wife wanted nothing to do with him. “How could she do this to me?” Teton says. “How could anyone do this to any other person? It really is a human rights tragedy in Japan … and, seen from a Western point of view, it is also child abuse.”

Teton’s case occurred prior to the Hague Convention’s implementation on April 1, 2014, and so he was forced to apply for access to his son through the central authority in Tokyo. He filed for action under the Hague treaty, attempted (but ultimately failed) to set up mediation with his wife and submitted a petition with the Tokyo District Court that sought immediate access as well as the right to see him in Japan and Canada. As a result of his efforts, Teton received a photograph of his son and an offer of supervised visits two to three times a year in Japan. He has since withdrawn his case.

“(Being handed) a picture and seeing your own child two to three times a year is considered a joke in the West,” Teton says. “We all probably had some hope that the Hague Convention would make a difference but it certainly looks like it will not.”

Emiko Miki, a family lawyer who is representing Teton’s spouse, acknowledges that his wife did leave the hotel with their son. However, Miki says, Teton’s wife left with the intention of getting a divorce from her husband, stressing that it wasn’t an abduction that falls within Hague Convention jurisdiction. Miki says Teton’s wife sought protection at the nearest police station to the hotel in Yokohama and was placed in a public facility.

Teton rejects any allegations of domestic violence.

And although Miki acknowledges that Teton wasn’t physically violent, his wife claims he was abusive in other ways. She says Teton’s wife “did this for her son. She felt that being with (Teton) was not good for him.”

Miki says Teton’s wife is willing to let her husband visit their son in Japan but, instead, he insists that their child is returned to Canada. However, Canadian authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Teton’s wife and she would be detained on the spot if she ever visited the North American nation again.

Miki claims Teton has yet to suggest any realistic alternatives and refuses to show any signs of compromise. Instead of trying to resolve this family issue, it seems (Teton) is trying to punish his wife for his perceived injustices,” Miki says. “He doesn’t seem to understand that he is just making the problem harder to resolve.”

Complex by definition

On March 25, a U.S. Congress subcommittee convened to discuss international child abductions by parents. During the meeting, New Jersey Rep. Christopher Smith didn’t hide his frustrations against Japan. According to an estimate by nonprofit organization Bring Abducted Children Home, 400 children had been abducted to Japan since 1994 — a situation that Smith slammed as being “unconscionable.”

“Since they have signed the Hague, Japan’s efforts have been breathtakingly unresponsive, especially for abductions that occurred prior to their ratification of the Hague Convention,” Smith said. “The status quo is simply unacceptable.”

Smith highlighted a new law that was passed in the U.S. last summer to enable the president to impose sanctions on countries that fail to take measures to resolve wrongful international abductions by parents.

Called the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2014, the legislation gives the State Department the authority to use “increasingly forceful measures” against any country that ignores requests to return an American child who has been taken unlawfully out of the United States. Sanctions include such measures as public condemnation, the cancellation of a bilateral visit, or the withdrawal, limitation or suspension of security assistance.

Steven Maloney, consul general of the U.S. Embassy in Japan, agrees that not enough has been done for left-behind parents whose cases happened before the ratification of the treaty.

“Technically, it’s possible for any country (Hague pact signatory or otherwise) … to have the law applied to them, but we are going to do our best to make sure that Japan is not in that category, and that Japan and (the U.S.) make progress so that the sanctions of the law will not apply to them,” Maloney says.

Maloney suggests that the government work harder to encourage long-distance contact between the left-behind parents and their children in Japan, either on Skype or by telephone, or in face-to-face meetings outside the home.

“We believe that a child has the right to access both parents, not when they are 21 but now,” Maloney says.

“I’m sure that members of Congress, members of this embassy and the Japanese government all have the same goal in that respect: We all want Japan to be successful and to handle these Hague Convention cases in the same way as the other longer-standing members of the convention do.”

But Mikiko Otani, a lawyer who is an expert on the Hague Convention and international child abductions by parents, says it is not unusual for a country to take a long time to settle access cases.

Access cases are complex issues by definition, Otani says, pointing to the prevalence of domestic violence that typically arises and the fact that, in some cases, many years have passed since the abduction.

“It is wrong to think that just because Japan joined the Hague Treaty, all cases will be resolved quickly,” she says.

Indeed, domestic violence was one of the key factors that put Japan off from joining the treaty in the first place. Domestic lawmakers were concerned that Japanese mothers who were fleeing abusive environments could be forced to return if the country signed the convention. Proponents, however, pointed to Article 13 of the pact, which stipulates that a state or court can decide not to return a child if it is in grave danger of being sent back to “an intolerable situation.”

To allay such fears, Japan tried to codify some circumstances that may fall within the definition of such a situation in the treaty’s accompanying implementation legislation, stipulating that the courts must consider not just violence against the child but also against the parent who abducts them. The courts are obliged to consider whether the abuse toward the parents who abduct their children could psychologically harm them upon being returned to their habitual residence.

Otani believes it is too soon to evaluate how Japan is faring with the convention and, ultimately, the success of its application depends on how the courts will rule when determining the more controversial and difficult cases.

According to the Supreme Court, a total of 16 lawsuits have been filed with domestic family courts to seek the return of children abducted by one parent since April 1, 2014. Twelve suits were lodged with the Tokyo Family Court and four with the Osaka Family Court. Of the total, 11 cases have already been settled, with the family courts ordering the return of children to overseas in nine cases and turning down the request in one case. The remaining one was settled through mediation efforts.

Otani expresses concern that the spotlight on such cases may make it more difficult for Japanese courts to reject a request for a return — even if there is a legitimate reason.

“Each trial is really based on each case, each situation,” Otani says. “Right now, however, the international community doesn’t trust Japan and even if it is in line with international standards and makes the right decision, I am afraid it will be the target of criticism. Japan is in a difficult situation right now.”

Teton has been traveling back and forth between Canada and Japan in the hope of getting his son back. He says he would never prevent his wife from seeing their son and believes that the best situation would be a split-custody arrangement in which their son spent half of the time with him and half of the time with his wife.

“This has been the most difficult thing in my life and the very worst thing for anyone to go through,” Teton says. “I struggle with difficult emotions and pain — it is never going to go away. I still wake up every morning with the same sadness and the same disbelief that this happened.”

Until his case is resolved, Teton — and probably many parents like him — feels he is a long way from closure.

Children hit hardest in abduction cases

Alison Shalaby’s daughter was only 7 years old when she was abducted and taken to Egypt by her father in 1991. Her daughter was returned three months later but is still haunted by the experience.

Shalaby’s daughter told her she blamed both her parents for ruining her life, and that the abduction took place because of the failed relationship between Shalaby and her ex-husband.

“It is the children who suffer,” Shalaby says. “(My daughter) is no different to any of the children who are caught up in these cases. They all suffer long-term effects of it unless it is dealt by the courts very, very quickly.”

Shalaby is the chief executive officer of Reunite International, an international child abduction charity group. It has been operating for decades, offering support for parents whose children have been abducted by their spouses and taken overseas. The group also specializes in international mediation. Now that Japan has ratified the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Reunite International members have been to Japan to train lawyers and government officials on mediation to resolve Hague pact cases out of court.

“It’s always best if the parents can step away from the courtroom and reach an agreement themselves,” Shalaby says.

Even if the cases go before the courts, it’s still important to come to a decision quickly when ruling on Hague pact abduction cases in order to negate any long-term negative effects on the children involved, says Peter Singer, a retired British High Court judge who specializes in family law and dealt with Hague cases throughout his career.

The best way for courts to resolve these issues is “to act rapidly and unemotionally, and not get involved in trying to decide which parent is the best parent but to send the child back so that argument can happen in the place where the child has his or her roots,” says Singer, who currently works as a family dispute resolution facilitator and continues working as a part-time judge.

In cases where domestic violence is cited as a reason for the abduction, Singer says each court has to rule on what constitutes an “intolerable situation” under Article 13 of the convention. However, he says there are times when a judge would decide to return a child even if he or she came from an abusive environment if the country of origin had a legal framework in place to prevent domestic violence.

According to the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit, 240 applications were filed with the central authority dealing with Hague pact cases in England and Wales for the return of children to overseas destinations in fiscal 2013. Of these cases, 104 applications were approved by a court and nine were rejected.

“In England, we set the threshold very high,” Singer says. “I have not sent children back, of course, but it is the exception rather than the rule. If a country operates the Hague Convention in a way where the default position is not to send children back, then that country is not operating the Hague Convention as it is supposed to work.”

Reunite talks to people who were abducted as children and finds that many suffer from anxiety, exhibit a strong need to control every aspect of their life and have serious trust issues with other people.

Singer says that parents who abduct their children sometimes tell lies about their former spouses, which makes it extremely difficult for the left-behind parents to reconnect with their children.

“As they grow up, (children) carry that trauma into their adulthood,” Shalaby says. “It will stay with (my daughter) forever as it will do with a lot of the children.

“(Abduction) isn’t about love. It’s about one parent making a choice for themselves and making that choice for the child as well.”

Source:  “State of the reunion:  Evaluating the Hague pact’s success”, The Japan Times, 18 April 2015

Rights of access under the Hague Convention

The Hague Convention, in addition to providing a means by which a wrongfully removed/retained child can be returned to their country of origin, contains a provision for the organization of rights of access in cases where an international abduction has occurred.  This may be of benefit to parents in cases where the abduction pre-dates the coming into force of the Hague Convention (the provisions in relation to access apply to pre-1 April 2014 cases, unlike the summary return provisions), who choose not to contest the abduction or who do contest the abduction but a court declines to order a return.

Article 21 of the Convention is concerned with rights of access and provides as follows:

An application to make arrangements for organising or securing the effective exercise of rights of access may be presented to the Central Authorities of the Contracting States in the same way as an application for the return of a child.

The Central Authorities are bound by the obligations of co-operation which are set forth in Article 7 to promote the peaceful enjoyment of access rights and the fulfilment of any conditions to which the exercise of those rights may be subject. The Central Authorities shall take steps to remove, as far as possible, all obstacles to the exercise of such rights.

The Central Authorities, either directly or through intermediaries, may initiate or assist in the institution of proceedings with a view to organising or protecting these rights and securing respect for the conditions to which the exercise of these rights may be subject.

In the year since the Hague Convention entered into force in Japan, much less has been written about the provisions relating to contact than the headline provisions relating to the summary return of snatched children.  There was, however, a report entitled “Child abductions down in year since Hague pact, but not all are happy” that appeared in The Japan Times on 2 April 2015.  This reproduced some more general statistical information in the public domain, and about which I have already written over recent days.  However the article also addressed the issue of access rights in the context of the Hague Convention.

On this, the respective positions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Canadian left behind parent quoted in the article could not have been further apart:

As for facilitating meetings between a child and a non-custodial parent, the ministry said it mostly succeeded in making those arrangements possible.

The official said Japan has so far been praised for its efforts to abide by the convention, which applies to international marriages and to disputes between Japanese and non-Japanese couples.


One Canadian father who was left behind claims the pact is ineffective in Japan. The man, who has not seen his 4-year-old son in Japan for two years and has been seeking visitation rights, said he found the treaty “disappointing.”

There is “no difference before the convention was implemented and after the convention was implemented,” he told Kyodo News.

“I was convinced more or less I would see my son because under the Hague Convention, they are supposed to quickly arrange that you meet your child,” he said.

Instead, under court mediation, he was eventually offered strict conditions for meeting his son: a maximum of two or three times a year, only in Japan, and always under supervision so as to prevent another abduction.

The father called the offer “an insult” and said was it would be “considered a joke” in Western countries.

“In the West generally, supervised access is only used in case of, for example, the parent is a drug addict or mentally ill,” he said.

The position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is an astonishing one – it is not quite untrue but is misleading in the extreme.  The wording used, “…the Ministry has mostly succeeded in making those arrangements possible…”, makes a non-point.  It is clear that, whilst procedures have been put into place as required by the Convention that does not mean, and importantly it is not suggested by the Ministry, that those procedures have resulted in meaningful contact being secured in any international case.  There have been no reported cases of even indirect access being granted through the Convention – and the Ministry has not tried to suggest otherwise.  Had there been such cases, then attention would surely have been drawn to that as the Ministry, being the Central Authority, would have the statistical data even in the absence of media publicity in any individual case. Yet the issue is more fundamental than that.  How can there even be such access when the attitude of the resident parent and the courts in Japan are in the main dead against the notion of meaningful contact on the part of the other parent?  How can there be meaningful contact in the absence of any willingness on the part of the courts to enforce any (probably limited and supervised) contact that is granted?

The Canadian parent quoted in the report was treated wholly inappropriately for the reasons given by him in the article.  Being granted “a meeting” with your child for a “maximum or 2 or 3 times” a year and on a supervised basis, ostensibly so as to avoid a “further abduction”, adds insult to injury and runs counter to the policy of the Hague Convention which is to put right a wrongful removal or retention of a child or, where that cannot happen, at least ensure that the child is able to have something approaching a normal relationship with both parents.  But what sort of a message does it send out to the left behind parent and the child if contact can only be supervised?  What impression will that leave on the child?  Whilst the Convention does make clear that contact can be subject to conditions, that would be the case in any country’s system, and regardless of whether the case had an international element, but a condition of supervision would only be imposed in a right-thinking country in cases where the absent parent had a criminal history or was considered a potential risk to children – which might, in any event, mean that it would not be in the best interests of the child to have contact with them anyway.  Supervised contact cannot therefore be the norm and the Convention recognises this in that it also speaks of the need for “effective exercise of rights of access” and “peaceful enjoyment” of those rights.  Without doubt, the situation in Japan does not even begin to satisfy these requirements.

40 years later, former sailor still searching for lost daughter in Japan

40 years later, former sailor still searching for lost daughter in Japan

By Seth Robson 

Stars and Stripes 

Published:  March 29, 2015


YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — It’s been 45 years since James Walker went to war in Vietnam, leaving behind his daughter and her mother in Japan.

The young sailor thought they’d be reunited once he got back from deployment on the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany. When the letters he wrote to his young family were returned marked “wrong address” Walker realized something was wrong. Almost four decades later, he’s still searching for them.

In 1967, when he arrived at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Walker was 18 and fresh out of basic training. He started work as a mechanic with VR-21 — a squadron that flew Grumman C-1A transport planes delivering mail, supplies and personnel to the fleet.

The bright lights of nearby Tokyo were a world away from his hometown of Harrisburg, Ark., a close-knit farming community where his father worked as a carpenter. Back then, Atsugi was surrounded by fields, soon to be covered in houses, shops, factories and schools sprawling from the Japanese capital.

Tomie Hashimoto was wearing a kimono when Walker approached her in a Yokohama street. He was surprised when she answered him in English and gave him her phone number, and after a few dates, the pair fell in love. He visited her parents’ home near Yokohama several times and got on well with them despite the language barrier.

“They cooked for me,” he said. “You could tell they weren’t wealthy, but they seemed like hard-working people.”

It wasn’t long before the couple had moved into an apartment, about 1 1/2 miles from the Atsugi gate and were expecting a child.

Sailors needed permission from their command to marry, so Walker filed a request. The officer who received it told him that he’d need to re-enlist to get it approved, so he filed that paperwork, too.

“When I went back two weeks later he said it had been denied and there was nothing I could do,” he recalled. “At age 18 or 19, you don’t argue with an officer, so we were stuck.”

Soon afterward the couple went to a clinic near the base where their child was born. Walker said he helped the young mother breathe and push while a Japanese doctor supervised the birth. His daughter was born around midnight on New Year’s Eve 1967, although it’s possible that the birth is registered as Jan. 1, 1968, he said.

Walker named his daughter Kim, but said it’s possible that she was registered under another Japanese name in either Yamato in Kanagawa prefecture or Yokohama, he said.

Father and daughter formed a strong bond, he said.

“I remember teaching her about her eyes, nose, mouth and ears,” Walker said “I remember her little laugh, and she was always waiting on me when I got home.”

Life involved shopping trips and outings to the beach and an amusement park near Atsugi.

“We were just a typical family,” he recalled.

One day orders came for Walker, now a petty officer 3rd class, to report to VA-195 — an A-4 Skyhawk squadron in Lemoore, Calif. He reluctantly boarded a train, riding with his daughter in his lap, to Tachikawa Air Base for his flight.

“Her mother and I were both crying all the way,” he said.

In California, he was told not to unpack; he was headed to Vietnam on the Oriskany. As he waited for the ship to depart, he wrote letters to his family, who he hoped to bring to the U.S.

All were returned marked “wrong address.”

When the carrier pulled into Osaka part-way through the deployment, he took leave and rode the train back to Atsugi but found his apartment empty. The neighbors didn’t know where the family had gone, and Walker couldn’t find his way back to her parents’ house. He came back again after he returned from the war. Nothing.

Back in the states, he wrote letters to the Japanese Embassy and the Japanese prime minister’s office but didn’t get a reply.

After he left the Navy, he became a commercial pilot, flying out of Memphis, Tenn. He eventually married and, when his wife gave birth to a daughter in 1972, they named her Kim, after her Japanese half-sister.

But Walker, who now lives in Arkansas, said he never stopped looking for his lost family.

Now 68 and retired, he recently set up a Japanese Facebook page and posted a photo of himself with his Japanese family that has been shared more than 2,000 times.

Walker has the support of his wife and American daughter who, he said, is eager to meet her Japanese sister.

He obtained his military records in hopes that his marriage request, listing the names of his daughter’s Japanese grandparents, would be there. They weren’t; he thinks it was never filed by the officer he gave it to.

Jim Auckland, another former sailor who worked alongside Walker at Atsugi, said the Navy was eager for sailors to re-enlist during the Vietnam War.

“Every time I was promised something there was always the proviso that my enlistment would be extended,” he recalled of his days at Atsugi.

Auckland said he remembered his friend and others dating Japanese girls. It was common for officers to make parental decisions about young sailors and it wouldn’t have been unusual for a marriage request to be denied, he said.

“They tell you: If the Navy wanted you to have a family they would have issued you a family,’” he said.

Yoshihisa Sawai, who worked as a civilian mechanic at Atsugi in the 1980s, has been helping with the search. He recently spoke about the case on a Kanagawa radio station and hopes to persuade a television station to produce a show about it.

“I have been searching for two years but it’s difficult,” Sawai said. “He only has a little information.”

Eric Kalmus helps run the Japan Children’s Rights Network — a group that aims to reunite children in Japan with foreign parents, often servicemembers. Strict privacy laws make it hard to track people down in Japan if they don’t want to be found, he said.

“It is like looking for a needle in a haystack,” he said.

Kanagawa police say people can file missing person reports but that they won’t actively search unless a crime is suspected. Several non-profit organizations, such as Missing Person Search, can help track down people in Japan and put the seekers in touch with private detectives, officials say.

It may be a long shot, but Walker isn’t giving up. He said he still prays daily for the family he left behind.

“Tomie was a wonderful woman,” he said. “I pray that they are doing OK and, if I have any grandchildren, that they are safe and well.”

Walker said if he found out where his daughter was living, he would leave for Japan the next day.

“A team of wild horses couldn’t keep me back here,” he said.

Source:  “40 years later, former sailor still searching for lost daughter in Japan”, Stars and Stripes, 29 March 2015