Japan signed abduction treaty but for ‘left-behind’ parents that doesn’t mean much

Japan signed abduction treaty but for ‘left-behind’ parents that doesn’t mean much

The Washington Post 

James Cook is a Minnesota man in a custody battle with the Japanese mother of his children. (James Cook,/Courtesy of James Cook)
James Cook wants his four children home in Minnesota. His estranged wife, Hitomi Arimitsu, says they want to stay with her in Japan. And so they have been going around in circles through the courts for almost three years.

If child custody battles are messy, expensive affairs when the parents live in the same country, they’re exponentially more so when the parents live in different countries and are fighting over where the children should live and which place should have jurisdiction.

Japan signed The Hague Abduction Convention, the treaty that governs international child abductions, in 2014 but is struggling to put its provisions into effect.

That is where the Cook family is caught.

“For three years of their lives, these kids have not had their dad. Kids need their dad, they need both their parents,” Cook said via Skype from his home in Minnesota. “I can’t describe to you the hell that this has been.”

Cook, who studied Japanese in college, and Arimitsu, a Japanese woman who attended a university in Minnesota, had lived in the United States for almost the whole time they had been together. But three years ago this week, with their marriage on the rocks, Cook agreed that Arimitsu could take their four children to Japan for the summer — with a notarized agreement that she would bring them back.

When that ended, they agreed that Arimitsu and the children would stay on a little longer, while Cook, who had lost his job, looked for work.

By the end of the year, Cook realized his family wasn’t coming back.

In the past two years, the pair has been going through acrimonious court battles in Osaka and in Minnesota, and each has won some and lost some rounds.

As is common in such cases, they have wildly different versions of events and focus on the rounds they’ve won.

Cook says an order in Minnesota last month, which found Arimitsu in contempt of court and upheld two orders from December that she return the four children to their father, should stand. In that case, the judge awarded Cook temporary sole legal and physical custody of the children.

But Arimitsu, through her lawyer Tomoko Kamikawa, said that because the Osaka High Court in February rejected Cook’s request to have the children returned, there is no valid return order under The Hague Convention. Cook has appealed this ruling to Japan’s Supreme Court.

The children do not want to return to the United States, Kamikawa said.

The crux of the problem, Cook and other “left-behind parents,” say, is that Japan — unlike other signatories — has no way of following through on its Hague commitments.

“Enforcement is one of the key problems,” said John Gomez, an American who heads the Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion group in Tokyo and is helping Cook. “Every country has to create implementation legislation to enforce their orders, but Japan basically cannot enforce their orders.”

The legislation that Japan passed to implement The Hague provision forbids the use of force, and stipulates that the children must be retrieved from the premises of the parent who has taken them. The “taking parent” must be present. The enforcement officers are basically bailiffs who are more used to repossessing washing machines than extracting children from emotionally charged situations.

This essentially means that enforcement involves an official at the gate calling for the children to come out, while the taking parent is inside with them.

“All of this was completely predictable,” said Colin Jones, a law professor at Doshisha University in Kyoto and an expert on child custody law in Japan. “Without dealing with enforcement methods, it was just a matter of time until a case like the Cook case happened.”

The U.S. government has expressed misgivings about Japan’s implementation of The Hague convention provisions. “The [State] Department is concerned about Japan’s ability to quickly and consistently enforce return orders,” it said in its 2017 annual report on international child abductions.

But the Japanese government says that it is making good progress.

“It’s been only three years since Japan entered into The Hague Convention,” said Hajime Ueda, director of The Hague Convention Division in the Foreign Ministry. “It takes time because every case is unique. From that point of view, we have been doing quite a good job.”

Eight children involved in five cases have been returned to the United States since Japan signed The Hague Convention, Ueda said.

The convention was a politically charged issue in Japan, with a substantial amount of opposition to signing it, so even becoming a signatory in 2014 was a major achievement. Experts note that it took other signatories some time to change domestic legislation to allow enforcement of The Hague Convention provisions; Germany, for instance, took about five years.

The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo is dealing with about 70 child abduction cases, 42 of them filed since Japan signed the convention, and 10 of those seeking the return of children to the United States.

The other cases just involve access — another thorny issue in Japan, where there is no concept of joint custody.

The prevailing wisdom in Japan says it is upsetting or disruptive for children to continue to see both parents after a marriage breaks down, so one parent — almost always the mother — gets full custody and the other parent usually has two hours’ access to the children each month.

“Visitation is the most problematic thing with Japan. A lot of cases about return orders are actually about access, about the noncustodial parent being able to maintain a relationship with their child,” said Jones of Doshisha University.

According to Gomez’s research, about 3 million children in Japan have lost access to one parent after divorce in the past 20 years – about 150,000 a year.

Children age out of the system at 16, so time is on the taking parent’s side, according to people involved in custody disputes.

And nothing will change for international custody cases until the domestic system that favors sole custody changes, experts say.

This is difficult because Japan has a family registry system, which operates as the foundation for all documentation. A person can be on only one family registry so after a divorce, children are usually removed from their father’s family registry and placed on their mother’s.

“The parent who becomes noncustodial loses all of their parental rights and effectively becomes a stranger to the child,” said Bruce Gherbetti, another “left-behind” parent who is advocating for change through the Kizuna group.

For now, that leaves Cook, who has found work with a medical device company, sitting in Minnesota, having no contact with his children.

“I’m sad we are in this mess and I’m concerned about my children,” he said. “This is the heartbreak of being a ‘left behind.’ ”

An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Hitomi Arimitsu. The story has been updated.

 

Source:  “Japan signed abduction treaty but for ‘left behind parents’ that doesn’t mean much”, The Washington Post, 16 July 2017

 

When open minds fight closed courts in Japan

Open justice: Lawrence Repeta challenged court restrictions on note-taking and established a precedent studied by Japanese law students today.

| COLIN P.A. JONES
Issues | LAW OF THE LAND
When open minds fight closed courts in Japan
by Colin P.A. Jones
Special To The Japan Times

 

Jul 16, 2017

 

On Nov. 28, 2016, the Nagoya High Court overturned the acquittal of Hiroto Fujii, mayor of the Gifu city of Minokamo, sentencing him to 18 months imprisonment with labor, suspended for three years. Elected in 2013 at the age of 28, he remains Japan’s youngest mayor.
Fujii ran as an independent, defeating an candidate backed by the Liberal Democratic Party who was twice his age. He joined the LDP shortly after winning, but they expelled him the same day he was arrested for allegedly taking bribes from a businessman in connection with the installation of a school water system. It should be disheartening — but not surprising — that the party which rules the country apparently equates being arrested with being guilty.

 

The principal evidence against Fujii was testimony from the businessman who allegedly bribed him. Conveniently for prosecutors, he had already been arrested and convicted for the bribery and an unrelated fraud, a crime that literally involves lying to people. Finding the witness lacking in credibility and his account of sneaking cash to Fujii implausible, the Nagoya District Court acquitted the young mayor.
On appeal by prosecutors, the high court managed to decide that the convicted fraudster was more credible than either the mayor or the witness whose testimony supported his innocence. Not only that, the esteemed high court judges supposedly made this evaluation based solely on the record of the lower court proceedings. They did hear testimony from the fraudster, but this turned out to have been tainted (and thus unusable) because he had inexplicably received a copy of the district court’s decision. This meant he and prosecutors had months to iron out discrepancies before testifying again to the high court, which, supposedly unaffected by this testimony, nonetheless found him credible based just on the record of the lower court proceedings. The high court never bothered to hear testimony from the mayor and his witness before essentially deciding both were lying.
The citizens of Minokamo apparently have a different view; Fujii was re-elected mayor in May. He ran unopposed, so popular despite his conviction that apparently no other parties thought it worth standing opposition candidates. Now on appeal before the Supreme Court, his case offers a cautionary tale for young people who challenge Japan’s wrinkly-faced establishment. It is also a sad reminder of how low one should set expectations of the nation’s criminal justice system. This is not just because of the result at the high court, but because the process started with a judge rubber-stamping a democratically elected sitting mayor’s arrest and prolonged detention, the latter on the farcical grounds that he was a flight risk. In just a few days an astounding 40 percent of Minokamo voters signed a petition calling for him to be released on bail.
Just as with all trials, Fujii’s was about competing narratives — his and the prosecutors’. Judges are supposed to balance the evidence and decide which is true. Yet apart from the testimony and other evidence submitted in the courtroom, at a higher level there is also a separate narrative playing out about whether trials themselves are being conducted fairly. Authoritarian institutions and marketing executives both appreciate that controlling narratives such as these is critical.
Judicial efforts to control the narrative played out in a shocking fashion in Fujii’s case. By law, the judgment of a court in a criminal case must be read to the defendant in open court, though it may take several days from being requested for a formal written judgment to be delivered to the defendant and his lawyers. In high-profile cases, however, courts have a practice of issuing a summary of the judgment to the media so they can report on it immediately.
In Fujii’s case, accredited media were given a 60-page “summary” of the high court’s decision the day it was rendered. At the same time, the same court refused to give Fujii’s counsel the same summary — that was for the media only. The defendant and his lawyers were supposed to wait until the official judgment was ready. This left them (and the government of Minokamo) to field questions from journalists who were better equipped with information about the judgment than they were. Control of information is a source of power — both to criticize and prevent criticism. Japanese courts — like all government institutions — know this very well.
Which brings me to why we should all be sorry to see Lawrence Repeta leaving Japan.

 

Larry is a friend of mine and was, until recently, a law professor at Meiji University. Had you been sitting in the public seats at the Nagoya High Court when it reversed Fujii’s acquittal, you could have pulled out a memo pad and — like Fujii’s lawyers — frantically tried to take notes as the judgment was read out. If you had done so, you would owe a debt of gratitude to Larry Repeta.
When I first observed a Japanese criminal trial, courthouses had signs on the walls saying “Taking notes prohibited.” This didn’t apply to everyone, though: Journalists accredited to the court’s “press club” could do so, but other observers could not. Press clubs are an omnipresent narrative control device in Japan; journos who write anything too critical of the institution can have their accreditation revoked, losing access to precious information. Members of the general public are not subject to this sort of control.
Larry first came to Japan in the early 1980s as a young lawyer and researcher. He encountered the ban on note-taking when trying to observe the trial of a bubble-era stock promoter for tax fraud. Repeated requests to the presiding judge for permission were rejected without explanation. Aided by the Japan Civil Liberties Union, he brought suit on the grounds that the prohibition on note-taking violated the Japanese Constitution’s guarantee of open courts, freedom of expression and equal protection. To a young American-trained lawyer, it seemed so obvious.
As so often seems to be the case in Japanese constitutional litigation, Larry won by losing, with all but one of the Supreme Court’s 15 judges acknowledging that “note-taking by spectators in the courtroom is worth respecting and should not be hindered without due reasons,” although such behavior was nonetheless subject to “restrict(ions) or prohibit(ions) if it interferes even slightly with the administration of the fair and smooth trial proceedings in the courtroom.”
Declining to find any clear constitutional violation (and, in my view, fudging on equal protection by simply declaring it reasonable to give journalists special privileges), the court rejected his appeal while at the same time declaring that permitting note-taking should be the rule rather than the exception. This was driven home when the Supreme Court’s General Secretariat issued a directive to courts throughout the country to permit note-taking by spectators. That the court’s administrators are able to issue edicts to judges about how to conduct trials is one of the lesser-known but vaguely disturbing aspects of Japan’s judicial system.
Nonetheless, Larry’s case wrought change, though not through law but through narrative, by establishing a high-profile negative story about closed courts — Larry embarrassed the judiciary into submission. In this respect it probably helped that he was a conspicuous Westerner, though it would be nice if more Japanese people had been — still are — embarrassed that it took a foreigner to care enough to fight for this right.
Despite the technical result, Larry’s case was regarded as a great victory. It is one of the basic precedents studied by Japanese law students. Thanks to his efforts, research on trial practice and citizen monitoring of judicial behavior is easier, and an entire new genre of nonfiction exists — books based on watching trials, and more recently court-watching bloggers. Larry is rightfully a folk hero among progressives, civil libertarians and others who care about informational justice, a field he has devoted himself to since becoming an academic. He has also published countless articles on Japanese law (including a book chapter for which I was co-author).

 

Retired from his teaching position in Japan, Larry returns to Seattle, where he graduated from law school and once practiced as a lawyer. Before his departure we caught up over beer in Kyoto. Asked to reflect on what had changed in the 35 years since he first started asking questions about Japan’s criminal justice system, his response was: “The saiban’in (lay judge) system has been introduced and there have been some other changes, but the fundamental rules have not changed, and they are the rules of an authoritarian system where the presumption of innocence is denied.”
The defendant in the trial where he had tried to take notes was ultimately acquitted of the principal charge yet ended up being detained for over two years during the course of a trial that lasted four. Prolonged deprivations of freedom regardless of guilt or innocence remain a foundation of the criminal justice system.
We discussed the case of Okinawan anti-base activist Hiroji Yamashiro, recently released on bail after five months’ pre-trial detention for relatively minor charges. I asked about right-wing criticism about Yamashiro’s activities being too unruly and aggressive. Larry’s response was: “Without civil disobedience in America, where would African-Americans be today?” This may seem very American, but all too often in Japan the expectation — unspoken requirement — that people be polite and obedient can be the opening for all sorts of rights-infringement scenarios, whether involving government use of land or questioning by police.
In any case, at Yamashiro’s trial people will be able to watch, take notes and debate their own evaluations of the evidence against him. For that, thank you again, Larry Repeta.
Colin P.A. Jones is a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto. The views expressed are those of the author alone. Send your comments and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp.

Source:  “When open minds fight closed courts in Japan”, Colin Jones in The Japan Times, 16 July 2017

JT: ‘Second-Best Justice: The Virtues of Japanese Private Law’: Championing mediocrity in the courts

Although it comes as no surprise, this short book review speaks volumes about the inept approach of Japanese courts to civil matters:

The Japan Times

‘Second-Best Justice: The Virtues of Japanese Private Law’: Championing mediocrity in the courts

BY

SPECIAL TO THE JAPAN TIMES

Ignore the irony of a tenured Harvard professor railing against the pursuit of excellence and employment security and J. Mark Ramseyer’s book is fun and enlightening.
Second-Best Justice: The Virtues of Japanese Private Law, by J. Mark Ramseyer.
352 pages

THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS, Nonfiction.

By essentially settling for mediocrity, he argues, Japan’s civil justice system works better than America’s which, in seeking to offer excellent individualized justice to every plaintiff, actually delivers dismal results for most litigants and is easily hijacked by unscrupulous tort lawyers and frivolous class actions. Unlike American juries, Japanese judges decide predictably enough that lawyers (and insurers) know where to settle.

Even when judges get it wrong — Ramseyer cites overprotection of tenants and employees as examples — they do so predictably, meaning employers and landlords can plan accordingly. Some conclusions surprise: Japan has few medical malpractice trials because the public health insurance system is also mediocre, giving most doctors incentives to perform well-established routine procedures rather than try new treatments, a source of much U.S. medical malpractice litigation. At times his assumptions — seemingly based on the “law and economics” orthodoxy that informs much of his work — can distract: whether doctors are “good” is a function of how much income tax they pay, for example. That aside, it’s a useful overview of some key features of Japan’s legal system.

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.

Source:  “‘Second best justice:  the virtues of Japanese private law’:  championing mediocrity in the courts”, Colin P A Jones, The Japan Times, 22 April 2017 

Two years after Japan signed Hague, children have been returned but old issues remain

|

Two years after Japan signed Hague, children have been returned but old issues remain

The Japan Times

by

Apr 17, 2016

‘What brand of Champagne did you drink?”

The lawyer delivered the question with a dramatic flourish, and I suppose it was a reasonable question to ask, even if rhetorically. I was being cross-examined as an expert witness in a child custody-related trial in a Western courtroom. One parent wanted to relocate to Japan with the child, the other was objecting.

This was 2015. In a 2008 Japan Times column written about a rumor that Japan was preparing to sign the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, I had declared: “I do not plan to crack open any Champagne until an abducted child is actually returned home.” The rumor proved wildly premature, but Japan ultimately ratified the convention, which, together with a package of baroque implementing laws and regulations, came into effect from April 2014.

The question about my Champagne preferences (Veuve Clicquot, by the way, if anyone is buying) was reasonable as a challenge to my reliability as an expert, yet was arguably irrelevant to the issue at bar: What could the court expect in terms of preserving the relationship between the child and the left-behind parent after the other parent and their child relocated to Japan? Unfortunately, “Not very much” may still be the answer.

But first, credit where it is due: In the two years since Japan signed the convention, more children abducted to or unlawfully retained in Japan have been returned to their home countries than at any time in the past. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan’s “central authority” for convention purposes, has handled almost 200 applications for assistance, and returns have been achieved in both directions (see table).

The Foreign Ministry has put significant effort into implementing the treaty and performing its central authority role. (A ministry representative also kindly responded to my inquiries in connection with this column.) It has sought to deter abductions through awareness programs, as well as foster amicable resolutions to abduction and visitation disputes by supporting mediation programs specifically designed for convention cases. (I am a mediator for one of them.) It also provides financial assistance for the translation of court documents and has set up a special online system (named Mimamori) for supervised cross-border “virtual visitation.”

Amicable resolutions are great, but there is not always much amity left between parents when one of them unilaterally spirits the children away to another country. Sometimes fear of abuse is a factor, but not always. Sometimes it is not; sometimes the taking parent is just trying to erase the other parent from his or her life, which necessitates erasure from the children’s lives as well. Having spent over a decade watching countless cases like these transpire, I believe that intentionally denying a parent — a former spouse, or life partner at that — a loving relationship with his or her child may be the worst thing one human being can do to another, short of physical violence. It is rarely good for the child, either.

The Hague Convention makes this harder by requiring that children taken or retained across borders in violation of custody rights be returned to their home country (where the other parent is typically also resident). Returns are the rule, but there are exceptions. One of these is if the child is living in Japan with the consent of the other parent. Disputes over relocation during or after divorce also being common, a child may also end up living in Japan with one parent through the permission of a foreign court.

When Japan was not a convention signatory, it was a red flag to foreign judges whenever a parent sought leave to take the children to Japan, whether to visit or live. “Just taking the kids back for the summer to see Grandma” and then staying is a pretty common abduction scenario everywhere (with Grandma sometimes playing a role in persuading the parent to stay). In Japan it was almost always a successful strategy — one that would frustrate whatever a judge in the country of origin might have decided about the child custody arrangements. Now, this type of “abduction by retention” should result in a Japanese court issuing a return order.

With Japan having joined the treaty, parents and foreign judges alike may now feel more secure about the idea of a child being brought here to live. Yet if that happens with the consent of the other parent or permission of a foreign court, a return order will then be difficult — if not impossible — to obtain. While judges in American states may be accustomed to retaining jurisdiction over children taken to another state and being able to enforce their rulings on custody, this probably won’t work with a child taken to Japan; if the scenario does not constitute an “abduction,” parents will likely be left to seek relief in Japanese family courts outside the convention framework, and they should lower their expectations accordingly.

Judges still finding their way

First, conversations with lawyers indicate that even in abduction cases that clearly fall under the convention, the Osaka and Tokyo family courts charged with resolving them are still figuring things out. Family court judges are likely accustomed to resolving domestic cases without being constrained by the rules of evidence and procedure that should apply in Hague cases.

At the same time, however, such cases are supposed to be resolved more expeditiously, despite involving complex issues such as the interpretation of foreign law: What do “rights of custody” mean in Country X, for example? (There is an international network of “Hague judges” in which Japanese judges participate, but apparently not to the extent of using it as an informal source of information on foreign law and practice in specific cases.) Similarly, which party has the burden of proving what — a parent’s consent, for example? And what if a parent or foreign court’s permission to relocate to Japan with a child is based on the relocating parent’s promise of cooperation with visitation — a promise that is immediately broken after getting off the plane?

Some of my lawyer interlocutors complain about a lack of procedural clarity. Perhaps this is a matter of time and more cases will resolve these issues.

Mixed messages on visitation

Second, visitation in Japan remains patchy and difficult to enforce. The convention provides for facilitation of cross-border access (aka visitation) but with limited substance. While the Foreign Ministry offers support, it is just that — support, such as contacting the other parent and offering online visitation and mediation. Such support has reportedly resulted in visitation in some cases, and even led to a few instances of children being returned.

If cooperation is not forthcoming, however, the parent seeking visitation is left seeking recourse in family courts, pretty much like everyone else. Here the stories I hear seem have not changed dramatically: parents going for months without seeing their children, mediation sessions where nothing seems to happen, judges who seem unduly solicitous of parents engaging in alienating behavior, and courts making decisions based on expediency rather than the best interests of children.

There are some signs of changes: Courts seem to be awarding visitation more, and I hear more about overnight stays, though recent judicial statistics show them occurring in less than 10 percent of cases. Also, in a December 2014 decision, the Fukuoka Family Court transferred legal custody of a child from mother to father due to the former’s obstruction of visitation. Only last month, the Matsudo branch of the Chiba Family Court ordered a mother to hand over her daughter to the father after years of blocking contact between the two. Japanese family court professionals have long written about the “good parent rule” — giving custody to whichever is more understanding of visitation with the other — as a remedy for such intransigence, but these are the first instances I have seen of it actually being applied.

Yet such developments should be treated with caution. Seemingly revolutionary decisions have to survive appeals and be enforced to be truly meaningful. In the Fukuoka case, only legal custody was transferred, something that can be accomplished simply by filing the judgment with the family registry; it does not automatically equate with the father getting contact, only the mother needing to seek his cooperation to take legal acts like applying for a passport on their child’s behalf.

As for the other case, branch family courts have long been the dumping ground for judges disfavored by the judicial hierarchy, meaning the Chiba case could be an anomaly as much as a harbinger of true change. Even the family courts’ increased acceptance of visitation seems to be tied to growing use of supervised visitation through NPOs staffed by (surprise!) retired family court personnel. In other countries supervised visitation is limited to cases where a parent is abusive or potentially dangerous; in Japan it seems to be becoming the easy-to-award/recommend default solution for when the custodial parent is intransigent.

Visitation thus still seems to be driven by what the custodial parent can be convinced to agree to, rather than what might be meaningful for the child. The Foreign Ministry’s Mimamori online supervised visitation system seems to be an extension of this logic: that any contact is better than none, and might lead to something more meaningful (which is sometimes the case). Understandably, some parents who have done no wrong yet are expected to accept being treated like criminals in order to interact with their own children find this abhorrent.

Lack of enforcement — and details

Third, an order from a Japanese court to return a child, whether across the street or to another country, can often still be frustrated by a parent simply refusing to comply, or getting the child to refuse. This is said to have already been an issue in convention cases, which should not surprise anyone: Before the treaty came into force, the nation’s shikkōkan — the bailiffs who enforce civil judgments — announced that it would likely be impossible to enforce return orders without the child’s cooperation. While the process of implementing the Hague Convention has brought some clarity to the theory and practice of enforcing returns, without sanctions for contempt (which Japanese judges lack in these cases) or other police-like powers to back them up, court orders can end up being meaningless pieces of paper.

Fourth, and finally, after two years and a number of cases, the workings of Japan’s Hague courts remain invisible. No judgments have been published, nor do there appear to be any statistics available on case resolutions. There is no way for outsiders to know how Japanese courts are deciding whether or not to return children.

At least I can drink some Champagne (Moet & Chandon is fine too): Japan did join the convention, and lawyers tell me it is having a real effect in deterring abductions. Yet it shouldn’t be forgotten that the convention’s potential remains limited by the constraints of the Japanese family justice system as a whole. Describing those requires more words than a single column allows, so keep watching this space.

Colin P.A. Jones is a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto. The views expressed are those of the author alone. Law of the Land appears on the second Monday Community Page of the month. Your comments and story ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp

(April 1, 2014, to March 31, 2016) APPLICATIONS FOR HELP WITH RETURNS APPLICATIONS FOR HELP WITH VISITATION
APPLICATIONS TO MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS RELATING TO CHILDREN IN JAPAN (AND THE FOREIGN COUNTRY INVOLVED)
  • U.S.11
  • France4
  • Australia4
  • Germany3
  • Canada2
  • U.K.2
  • Singapore1
  • Italy1
  • Spain1
  • Russia1
  • Switzerland1
  • Belgium1
  • Sri Lanka1
  • Turkey1
  • Fiji1
  • Colombia1
  • South Korea1
  • U.S.39
  • U.K.6
  • France5
  • Australia4
  • Canada4
  • New Zealand3
  • Singapore3
  • Mexico2
  • Germany1
  • Costa Rica1
  • Subtotal37
  • Rejected*8
  • Total45
  • Subtotal68
  • Rejected*7
  • Total75
APPLICATIONS TO MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS RELATING TO CHILDREN IN FOREIGN COUNTRIES
  • Thailand6
  • Russia4
  • Brazil4
  • South Korea3
  • U.S.3
  • Germany2
  • Canada2
  • France1
  • U.K.1
  • Italy1
  • Spain1
  • Switzerland1
  • Slovakia1
  • South Africa1
  • Peru1
  • Romania1
  • Sri Lanka1
  • Belarus1
  • Sweden1
  • U.S.5
  • Russia3
  • Canada3
  • Germany2
  • Ukraine2
  • Thailand2
  • Australia1
  • South Korea1
  • Uruguay1
  • Netherlands1
  • Poland1
  • Hong Kong1
  • Subtotal36
  • Rejected applications*3
  • Total39
  • Total23
Total Applications 84 98**

STATISTICS IN TABLE COURTESY OF MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Notes

* Applications for assistance may be rejected by the Foreign Ministry because they do not satisfy requirements for assistance (e.g., the requesting parent is unable to demonstrate rights of custody or visitation). In some instances, rejections reflect the fact that the taking parent has already returned with the child voluntarily, rendering the application moot.

** The far greater number of requests for visitation assistance for children in Japan in part reflects the fact that Japan allowed applications for assistance with visitation with children in Japan even in cases pre-dating the Hague Convention’s coming into force.

Returns

• The data regarding returns reflects applications to the Foreign Ministry for assistance in achieving the return of a child either in Japan or in a foreign country, which in the first instance involves encouraging the taking parent to return voluntarily or to mediate with the other parent. Accordingly, only some of these cases are ultimately resolved through court.

• According to the ministry, 14 children were returned from Japan, through mediation or other voluntary arrangements, alternative dispute resolution or court orders, and nine children were returned to Japan.

• These figures do not include some voluntary returns in cases where the Foreign Ministry was not formally involved.

• Three returns from Japan and one to Japan reportedly resulted from the visitation assistance process rather than the return process.

 Source:  “Two years after Japan signed Hague, children have been returned but old issues remain”, The Japan Times, 17 April 2016

Japan ‘breathtakingly unresponsive’ on US child abduction

Congressman: Japan ‘breathtakingly unresponsive’ on US child abduction

By Erik Slavin

Stars and Stripes

March 27, 2015

A congressman chastised Japan’s efforts to return the abducted children of U.S. citizens and called for more pressure on Tokyo to comply with its international obligations, according to congressional testimony Wednesday.

Cultural and legal obstacles in Japan — where child abduction by one parent isn’t necessarily viewed as a crime — have long prevented U.S. servicemembers and other citizens from gaining custody or even seeing their children.

Japan adopted the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in April 2014. The accord requires the government to set up processes for legal appeal from foreign parents seeking either visitation or the return of their children to another country.

Japan has since returned one child to a German parent and two others to Canadian parents, while five children have been returned to Japan.

A court ordered the return of a child to the United States last month, said Susan Jacobs, State Department special adviser for children’s issues, at a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Human Rights hearing Wednesday.

If the ruling moves forward and the child is returned, it would mark the first time in recent history than an American parent was reunited with an abducted child through a Japanese legal verdict.

That bright spot failed to placate Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), who stated that U.S. parents submitted 30 claims with Japan a year ago, when Japan officially adopted the international accord.

“Since they have signed the Hague [Convention], Japan’s efforts have been breathtakingly unresponsive,” Smith said.

Smith cited 400 cases of children kidnapped to Japan since 1994, a number he called “unconscionable.”

Next month, the State Department is scheduled to issue an annual report on international child abduction, which has been expanded over previous years to include reporting on non-Hague signatories.

Jacobs told Smith that she shared his frustration and is planning to visit India in May and Japan in June, where she and Ambassador Caroline Kennedy will discuss the annual report with Japanese officials.

“I talked to Ambassador Kennedy yesterday, and she is energized and she is ready to launch,” Jacobs said.

After signing on to the Hague Convention, Japan began accepting applications for visitation and child return to its Foreign Ministry, as well as accepting requests through the State Department.

Cases of child return prior to April 2014 fall outside the scope of the agreement, which Smith blasted during testimony. Parents in those situations can still apply to Japan for visitation rights.

However, it remains unclear whether Japan will develop an effective enforcement mechanism for parents in Japan to comply with government efforts, Colin P.A. Jones, a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto, told Stars and Stripes last month.

Joint custody remains a foreign concept in Japan and it has been relatively common since the 1960s for divorced fathers to be largely excluded from their children’s lives.

In recent years, courts have begun to accept that “visitation is good for children,” Jones said, but even court-ordered visitation may only amount to hours per month.

Also on Wednesday, Japan Foreign Ministry officials announced they plan to introduce a revamped system next April for arbitrating custody and visitation disputes.

Source:  “Congressman:  Japan ‘breathtakingly unresponsive on US child abduction”, Stars and Stripes, 27 March 2015