In an annual report released last week, the U.S. State Department removed Japan from its list of countries deemed non-compliant with the Hague Convention on cross-border parental child abduction. Even though Japan was removed from this Blacklist, child kidnappings in this country still remain rampant.

The Hague Conventions refer to a large number of International Laws, but one Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction was created to return absconded children to their home of origin.

What happens when the Hague Convention is purposefully exploited by an ill-intentioned parent?

In our world today, there is an ever-growing portion of international marriages. As a result, child-custody has become even more complicated, and for some, more heartbreaking. Many parents hope to involve and integrate their children into their home countries to enjoy the best of both worlds. The Hague Convention can make this more difficult. Japan is a recent signatory to the treaty, and it officially came into effect April 1st, 2014—but this still leaves much to be desired.

In Japan, there is a marked increase of parents (both foreign and Japanese), left behind and ignored by this Convention. It’s particularly noticeable here because Japan doesn’t recognize joint-custody. For many of these “left behind” parents, the home of origin (in this case) is usually Japan.  Sadly, this means that if a parent abducts their children overnight and moves somewhere else in Japan, very little, if anything, can be done.

When we further dissect the Hague Convention, it’s easy to see why there is such a procedural breakdown in Japan (paraphrased from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan):

(a) Assistance Provided by Central Authorities:

  • The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs governs the role as Central Authority.
  • The left-behind parent may make an application for assistance regarding the return of the child, either in their home country or in Japan.
  • Upon petition, the court then makes a judgement deciding whether the child will be returned. IF the court decides the child to be returned, the Central Authority will provide support to ensure safe return.

(b) Procedure for the Return of the Child:

If neither party can reach an agreement, the court will issue an order for the child to be returned to their habitual residence. NOTE: The court may refuse to order the return of the child in exceptional cases, if any of the following applies:

  1. A petition must be filed to court (this must be more than one year after the child was wrongfully removed to a new environment.)
  2. The applicant of the petition must not have been “exercising custody rights” at the time of removal.
  3. The applicant consented to the child’s removal.
  4. Grave risk of physical or psychological harm to the child should they be returned.
  5. If the child is of “an age and degree of maturity,” to object to being returned.
  6. If the request contradicts the fundamental principles of the requested state in relation to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Take note of the above, point “5.” If the parent who took the child manipulates the child with Parental Alienation Syndrome, then all is lost. This often-used tactic manipulates children into believing the left-behind parent is evil or no good to be around. Their small ears have been poisoned by lies that are hard to overcome. If any of the above points are met, the Court can refuse the wishes of the child.

Assuming the left-behind parent is lucky enough to prove all conditions are met, but the child cannot be returned, this Convention is supposed to ensure the opportunity for parent-child visitation or contact. However, because there are no effective enforcement abilities of Judges in Japan, it is difficult to effectively force the issue.

Be advised, the court often pushes for an agreement between the parents. In Japan, the Judges and counsel view themselves only as a necessary last resort, wherein by Japanese law they are only expected to interpret the law and make decisions based on precedent. They don’t fight for you, like attorneys might in other countries. If you want an advantageous agreement signed and followed, then you need to be the one to act. Be smart, be vigilant, and make sure the agreement is signed and witnessed—go above and beyond in order to guarantee visitation rights.

Many stuck, or “left-behind” parents are affected by these loopholes. Especially when Parental Alienation syndrome is in play and used as an evil tactic. This is explored in detail in the moving and compelling documentary, “Why Estranged Spouses Take Kids To Japan”. A father notes, “[Japan] has become a country where whoever abducts the children wins.” Most left-behind parents would agree.

There was a recent seminar held at the end of January, where local Japanese speakers came forward to discuss this issue. “国連に日本の子どもの連れ去り問題を報告するセミナーin 東京”, A seminar discussing how to report to the United Nations, regarding the problems with parental kidnapping in Japan. About 250 people attended. It was a tense and moving event that sparked some arguments about strategy and policies. A well-researched presentation disclosed that “domestic violence” is the common argument made to immediately ostracize fathers from their children. Although there are cases of domestic violence in Japan, left-behind fathers are rarely given the chance to defend themselves against the (usually false) allegations.

There are several factions of left-behind parents throughout Japan, and they often dispute over how this issue should be solved. Some say it’s a matter of making a new law allowing joint-custody (this could take five years!), others argue that it’s about how the law should be interpreted (not definitive enough!), still others argue that the system and police need to be retrained to discriminate between true cases of domestic violence and claims that hold no water (impossible!).

At one point in the seminar, a speaker asked, “How many parents in this room haven’t seen their child, or children, in 6 months?” A few hands were raised.

“How many parents in this room haven’t seen their child for a year?” A large number of hands flew up, but the majority of room still hadn’t moved.

“How many parents haven’t seen their children for more than three years?” There goes the majority.

This issue largely remains unsolved with many left-behind parents who are forced to suffer on their own. Langley Esquire is a staunch ally in support of those who seek to be reunited with their children. If you are suffering and are looking to connect with other left-behind parents, consider joining this community of parents who are actively protesting the abduction-friendly loopholes still found in Japan.

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