End of Summer 2016 message

Hello Hugo

So ends another summer, your 5th in Japan, although yours will last well into September.

I shall send you a package shortly to bridge the gap between Children’s Day in Japan and your birthday in November.  I will post photographs below after doing so, either tomorrow or next week – I still have some items to buy.

It has been an eventful summer.  The UK voted for “Brexit” and this month saw the 2016 summer Olympics take place in Rio; the UK took second place in the medal tally, eclipsing even the London Olympics 4 years back.  That success  has been attributed to the (at the time slightly controversial) launch of the National Lottery in 1994 to provide funding for arts, heritage, sport, community projects etc.

I wrote about the London Olympics here, the day after Tokyo was successful in its bid to host the 2020 event.  I have posted this, this and this in relation to the Tokyo Olympics – no doubt there will be more such posts over the next 4 years.   No doubt, also, that the 2020 Games will be one of the key events in your childhood – I well remember the 1988 and 1992 Olympics and, more vaguely, the 1984 ones, all of which took place when I was a boy.  You were born in 2008, itself an Olympic year.

I have had something of an Olympic year myself work-wise but the less said about that the better.  The weather has been nice in London for the most part these past months, including this incredibly hot day in July.

Although I don’t want to say too much here just now so as not to prejudice anything that may happen, there are some signs that the Foreign Office here is beginning to take your situation more seriously, albeit 5 years on from your removal to Japan.  I pray that something concrete will emerge.

summer-2016-1

summer-2016-2

summer-2016-3-receipts

 

Foreign Secretary’s Visit to Hiroshima, Japan

As posted this time last week, our Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, is at present in Hiroshima, Japan, the city remembered by all but me for other reasons.  In my case it is the city in the world that has the greatest resonance in my heart because my son is there, abducted from his father.  That much at least I know.

I have not heard from the Foreign Office in response to my email as reproduced in the post of a week back.  Nor was there a response to an earlier email to the Foreign Office – covering similar ground – as far back as 16 August 2014.

The news reports of Mr Hammond’s visit to Japan stress the importance given to security issues.  No one would seek to detract from that.  But I struggle to understand why – as I fear must be the case – Mr Hammond and his officials, even without sight of my email, failed to free up a few moments with the Japanese Foreign Minister to raise the issue of pre-Convention cases of international child abduction.  That is something that should be one of the very few issues of real contention between the UK and Japan, two countries that for a long time have enjoyed a good relationship.  The current UK guidance on parental child abduction to Japan recognises the problem but has nothing to say about the resolution of it. The guidance simply states that:

The Hague Convention cannot be used retrospectively.  If children were taken to Japan before 1 April 2014, left behind parents will be unable to use the UK Convention to return their children to the UK.

So what is the Foreign Office’s answer to this statement of the obvious?  And why was nothing apparently said at this meeting?

The G7/G8 meeting of Foreign Ministers in Hiroshima today – Mr Hammond is sat to the immediate left of US Secretary of State Kerry; source:  Mr Hammond’s Twitter account

Mr Hammond meeting with his Japanese counterpart, Mr Fumio Kishida; again taken from Mr Hammond’s Twitter account

Welcome reception today at the Grand Prince Hotel, Hiroshima; see article on MOFA website here

 

 

 

 

G7/G8 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Hiroshima, Japan, 10-11 April 2016

Text of my email to the Rt. Hon. Philip Hammond, MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs:

From:  Richard
Sent: 03 April 2016 21:53:51
To: fcocorrespondence@fco.gov.uk (fcocorrespondence@fco.gov.uk)

Dear Mr Hammond

I understand that you will be attending the G7/G8 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Hiroshima in a week’s time.  The last time that Japan hosted this meeting, and the summit that it is the precursor of, was in 2008.  That was the year in which my son, a British and Japanese citizen, was born in Bromley.  As documented on this blog – https://hugojapan.wordpress.com/ – I have not seen my son since 20 November 2011 because his mother took him to Japan and now fails to provide access to him.  That, in itself, is wholly unacceptable, but the situation is exacerbated by the approach, or more accurately the lack thereof, of the UK government to cases of international child abduction that concern Japan prior to the coming into force of the Hague Convention.

Whilst in Japan I ask that you raise the issue of my son, and others like him about which your department must be aware, with your Japanese counterpart.  I can think of no better venue as my son lives in Saeki-ku, a ward of Hiroshima city.  Despite having been there, despite having sent him money, food, cards, presents and so on, I have not seen the little boy since the date he was taken there in 2011.  I can make no decisions about his future, am not allowed to be his father and he is growing up without any contact with his family in the UK and without any appreciation of his cultural background and native language.  All of that is as profoundly shocking as it is true.

The Hague Convention, which came into force in Japan two years ago last Friday, does not have retrospective effect in terms of its summary return procedures.  Therefore I have had no effective legal remedy in terms of bringing my son home.  Whilst there are procedures contained within the Convention that provide for the grant of access rights – even in pre-1 April 2014 cases – the Japanese courts simply maintain the status quo; they are, at best, incapable of recognising the concept, let alone the importance for any child, of dual parenting and are, sadly but frankly and for whatever reason that may be, hostile to foreign parents.

From what I can see, the UK government has not done anything meaningful since the coming into force of the Hague Convention to resolve the pre-Convention cases of international parental child abduction in Japan.  It seems, without more, that the attitude of the Foreign Office is that the issue has simply gone away by virtue of Japan enacting the Convention.  That is a wholly misguided approach.  The meeting next week offers an opportunity to do something to put this right.  That is why I am asking you to raise my son’s case.  The Foreign Office is very quick to condemn Japan for its use of the death penalty even though that, a sovereign matter for Japan to decide about, is none of the UK’s business (unless of course it concerned a UK resident).  Yet the UK falls wholly silent when it comes to the welfare and rights of my son, a British national, and no doubt others like him.  That cannot be right.  International parental child abduction manifestly does raise issues of British national interest as it concerns British children and that is why I send this email in the hope that you can offer some help.

I have been in contact with the Child Abduction Unit in the past but I would be happy to provide any further information that is required to facilitate my request.

 

Two years on from consular visit

It has been 2 years since I had any significant information about my son:  the occasion of the visit by British consular officials on him on Saturday 16 March 2013.  It is now 16 March 2015.  The report can be read here – and a slightly earlier post concerning the scope of the visit can be read here.

In the weeks and months immediately following receipt of the report, I read it over and over again.  I pored over every word, and attempted to read between the lines, to mine as much information as I could about my son’s life in Japan.  A couple of discoveries, though neither were in truth particularly surprising, were that he attended a nursery and that he did not seem to understand much English, although he was said to be learning a little.  It was also implied that he lived at his grandparents’ home with his mother, although again that did not come as a surprise.  It was reassuring to learn in an email from an official that gifts mailed to him there would be passed on to him.

After about 6 months or so I stopped reading the report as it became hard to do so and because I almost knew it by heart.  The report mentioned a couple of my son’s friends and, whilst I was pleased that he was well settled, it made me bitter that they (just friends) saw more of my son than I did.  It was by then also clear to me that, whilst Hugo’s mother had consented to the visit taking place, it was not going to be the first step towards a greater level of information about my son’s life in Japan, whether through the conduit of the Embassy or otherwise.

The Child Abduction Unit at the Foreign Office made clear that the visit was unlikely to be repeated and I have received no significant ongoing assistance from them or the Embassy in Japan at all since the visit. I hope that it might be possible for an exception to be made, and a further visit conducted, a couple of years down the line from now as by then, unlike the situation that existed in March 2013, my son would understand what the visit was about and would be able to ask questions of his visitors. On reflection, perhaps it was this that was the reason why my son’s mother agreed to the visit occurring when it did, i.e. when my son was so little, safe in the knowledge that the visit was unlikely to be repeated when he was older, able to understand what such a visit was about and capable of asking questions of independent visitors about his past life.

The report did tell me a little about my son’s interests – he likes dogs and “mechanical things”. I have done my best in the last two years to use that limited information to help inform what gifts I send to him and what I write on this website; the previous post but one, for example, would at first seem to have little to do with child abduction – it was posted because my son likes mechanical things so I hope that the post would interest him one day.  I recall that he was always fascinated by aircraft, trains, buses and so on of which there was never any shortage to see in London.

Re-reading the report 2 years on, I am left wondering why, during an hour spent in my son’s presence, more information was not obtained and why, for example, the officials did not ask for copies of school (nursery) reports, nor for details of that nursery nor for details of where/how he is said to be learning a little English.  It seems from the report that the question was not asked, not that the information was refused.  Why not give the name of the TV programme that he enjoyed so I could view it too?  In hindsight, I wish that I had sent a list of questions in advance of the visit.  In addition, my son’s mother was not directly asked to explain her conduct in taking such a young boy, unable to understand what was happening to him or to make decisions for himself, despite the fact that Hugo is a British citizen and the Embassy exists to safeguard the interests of all British citizens; it must be the case that such duties are heightened, not diminished, when it comes to children.  Although I welcomed the information that I did glean from the visit, I cannot help but think that more could have been achieved from it.

Another Hague case

There have been reports that another child has been returned to Japan by virtue of the Hague Convention.  Needless to say, the seeming alacrity of non-Japanese courts as to enforcing the Convention’s provisions has yet to be matched, adequately or at all, by the Japanese judicial branch. The only statistic that stands out in the above article is that of the 12 pending applications for the return of children taken to Japan.  It remains to be seen what happens when one of those applications fall to be determined by the Japanese courts.  Bear in mind that this figure represents 12 cases of abduction to Japan since the Hague provisions came into force in April this year.  Somewhat alarmingly, it equates to about an abduction to Japan every 2 weeks or so (and only counting the reported cases) – which suggests that the Convention’s acquisition of legal force has not had any deterrent effect in Japan and things continue much as before.

The latest case concerned a child taken from Japan to the United States.  The article cited above also refers to the Swiss case that I posted about 2 days’ back.  Yet these cases also represent a paradox:  as set out fully in this excellent blog by an American father, the return of these children to Japan, even if otherwise the right thing to do, will risk the overseas (invariably non-Japanese) parent losing all contact with the child concerned because of the refusal of Japanese courts to accept the principle of contact with the non-resident parent, let alone any notion of dual parenting.

My email to the Foreign Office in August 2014 made these points and others but has not yet been responded to.  That perhaps is not surprising as the status quo is, notwithstanding Japan joining the Hague Convention, undeniably unacceptable.  But, it being a matter for Japan, there is nothing that foreign governments can do about it.  There remains an absolute need for a root and branch shake up of attitudes to family law in Japan as, without this, Japan’s membership of the Hague Convention will, in some cases, be an unwelcome fact.