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When one looks into the abduction issue between North Korea and Japan, one cannot help but come across the campaigns by the Children’s Rights Network of Japan. Japan has not ratified the Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Furthermore, it has little domestic legal infrastructure to make up for this.

The problem is a serious one. Child born of international marriages can be abducted by their Japanese parent to Japan and their foreign parent has no means to fight for custody (as joint custody is not permitted in Japan). The Japanese courts do not uphold foreign court orders in such cases either. In addition, in the event of a divorce, the foreign spouse loses his rights to a spouse visa and is thus forced to leave the country, with little chance of seeing his child again.

I sympathise entirely with the cause, but their most recent campaign equates Japan’s abduction issue with their own leaving me a little uneasy. Spousal child abduction is a no doubt traumatic for the child, but it is not the same as a child being kidnapped by strangers, unable to see any of their family. I do not wish to be accused of moral relativism as I recognise that both are terrible things. The campaign is a series of protests outside screenings of ‘Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story‘. They are picketing and distributing flyers, as well as posting comments as much as possible on websites that mention Japan’s abduction issue. I understand why they feel it is a good idea, but part of me feels unsettled that grief is being piled upon grief. I am really on the fence on this, I just wish there was a more tasteful way they could conduct themselves. It reminds me of Fathers 4 Justice here in the UK, albeit less sensational.

Anyway, my own qualms aside, I wish to present you with their video on the issue. Please watch it and make up your own minds.

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10 Comments

  1. I’ve been following the US protests and have been exchanging views with the likes of Eric Kalmus in the US who is one of the protesters and has a child in Japan.

    I have a great deal of empathy for the US parents in this instance not least as I have a child taken to the US 4 years ago – she is 5 years old today.

    See http://www.emilyrosehindle.blogspot.com

    My empathy however is limited by my experience of having to deal with child matters in the US as a “gaijin” as far as the Americans are concerned – there is a real uphill problem with international child abductions to Japan, but that is also replicated by serious misbehaviour by the US authorities themselves in the matter of children abducted to the US sometimes with assistance of US government officials.

    Assistant Secretary of State Maura Harty, heads up the US Consular Affairs at the US Department of State and visited Japan in May last year with Mary Sue Conaway the section chief of the US Central Authority and gave a speech claiming Japans accession to the Hague Convention was a “leadership issue” for Japan.

    For many parents in my position, non-American with children in the US, there appears to be a leadership issue for Ms Harty to deal with and getting her own house in order before such criticisms of Japan and other countries can readily be addressed.

    After all, why should Japan accede to the Hague Convention if the US persistently violates it when it sees fit ?

  2. Karl, thanks for commenting.

    I assumed that there would be other states doing exactly the same thing, and I imagine it is something that occurs everywhere. I am not surprised to hear that it is the US that is responsible in this case, given their ‘inclusive’ definition of citizenship and the power it has in the international system. You are also probably right to ask why Japan would take part in a convention that is barely followed by the US.

    I am sorry to hear that you are having to struggle against US intransigence and I wish you luck. Looking through your blog, I can only express my hope and desire that you succeed.

  3. Please understand me -what is happening is completely wrong no matter which country is involved and this is a very highly emotive matter, even in those “simple” cases where there is no “hanky-panky”.

    I simply abhor the hypocrisy of the US government’s position in this matter, and I make a distinction between the US government and the US people, the latter I have found to be most generous and supportive.

    Japan in my opinion, is wrong in this matter too but at least it has the political decency not to smother it’s position by a tarnished gloss as the US government has done. Assistant Secretary of State Harty claims that 90% of children are returned from the US under the Hague Convention but refuses to provide the numbers from her department that back that statistic up. The only independent study of return rates from the US is that of Professor Nigel Lowe at Cardiff University in the UK – he shows 1 in 2 are returnedfrom the US under the Hague AT BEST and the true position is probably a lot worse and all of which is before we get to abuses of the system that appear to endemically infect the US.

    My position on this in totality is that the Hague Convention is creaking at the seams and is subject to such broad interpretation that in practice it is useless to protect children and should either be rigorously enforced or placed in the bin – and that is a true leadership issue Ms Harty is not up to.

  4. Karl, I understand that all the states involved are in the wrong, I appreciate that. I also agree that there is a disparity between the state and its people. I’m sorry if I made it sound like I held it any other way… That was not what I meant to say or imply.

    Are you then calling for a better treaty if the Hague Convention is about to flat-line? Do you have some recommendations as to where you’d like policy to turn? I am very interested to hear it from someone who is far better versed in the issue. Or is that something you don’t care for?

  5. Hi there,

    I’m glad you’re talking about this issue, particularly the misgivings you have with these so-called “children’s rights” people. I can say unequivocally that I do not support them mainly because their tactics are flat out rude and misrepresentative not only on their issue but also the issue behind the film, “Abduction the megumi yokota story”. They claim that they are victims just like the parents in the film whose children have been kidnapped by a foreign country. By making the false connection with the families in the film, they are grasping at any straws they can to get media attention to what is clearly a private matter between two spouses that should be settled in the courts. I saw them once protesting and they had a sign saying, “Japan Abducts Children” which is a flat-out lie. Japan has never kidnapped any of their kids. Not one. Their wives did (if it is indeed true). Moreover, on some of their blogs they seek to fuel the Japanese hatred for their cause even more when they make a connection between their suffering and the Koreans who were forced to go to Japan in WWII and work in factories. This sensationalist and disingenuous attitude towards the film and the Japanese government completely destroys any credibility they have and will win them zero supporters in Japan. Moreover, we are hearing only one side of their story. How do we know that their wives DIDN’T have good reason to take their kids and flee the country out of fear or any other reason? I appreciate that you seek answers and dialogue on this but I just don’t like the fact that they are, as you correctly stated above, “piling grief upon grief” by forcing their unrelated issue on the families in the film who are clearly victims themselves.

  6. Karen, thank you for your comment.

    I agree entirely that Japan did not abduct the aggrieved parents’ children, but rather its citizens did (parents in their own right too). I also agree that the issues are different and to attempt to connect them is dishonest. Certainly those parents have lost their children, but the similarities stop there (although even at this point, it is a sad thing to experience).

    I also agree and acknowledge that some of these parents engage in Japan-bashing, whereby they connect historical and current events where perhaps they shouldn’t. Some may also engage in more general racism (or sexist-racism), if I am right in attributing some posts scattered around the internet.

    As for the one-sided nature of the issue, that unfortunately is the way these things are always presented. One cannot say for sure if the protesting parents are obscuring crucial details, and I doubt one ever will be able to say for sure.

    That said, I understand their three main motivations:

    1. The loss of a child: I am not a parent (yet? ever?) but I have no doubt that this experience can be a major force in one’s life.
    2. Media exposure: The protests, as you say, are about media attention for an issue that really needs it.
    3. Accessing Japan: The film is about Japan, and perhaps by bringing this issue up in a fashion that generates media interest, maybe they can access public sentiment in Japan or encourage grass-roots concern in the country.

    Just like you, I am concerned that they are destroying their credibility in what is a truly important issue. I disagree that the matter is solely for the courts, as there might be a case for engaging politicians so that they can encourage the full implementation of and adherence to the Hague Convention, or perhaps encourage international efforts to strengthen this lacking regime. But ultimately, their protests are disingenuous in connecting the abduction issue to their own problem, and perhaps self-defeating in such a manner.

    Thanks for your comment, I’m glad to see I’m not the only one thinking that way.

  7. Hi Shingen:

    Sorry for my delay in repsonding with this – touch of the flu in cold damp Angleterre.

    I doubt the Hague Convention will flat-line in this regard, but it does need a lot of improvement – with that in mind we have to understand that this international treaty is relatively very young in the scheme of things – signed intially in 1980.

    How we deal with improving the Convention, in my own opinion, is probably best tackled by improving how the HC is implemented and managed right now rather than writing new law. Producing tangible evidence of success and benefits for children and families involved is probably the most damning or enhancing indictment that could possibly be made.

    I was recently quoted by Roger Alford of Opinio Juris, a US law discussion forum (www.opiniojuris.org) with my thoughts on improving prevention and resolution of international child abduction cases.

    http://emilyrosehindle.blogspot.com/2007/03/emilys-dad-quoted-on-opinio-juris.html

    Do I believe Japan should accede to the Hague Convention ? Yes and no.

    Yes it should – international abduction is deeply wrong and harbouring child abductors is simply shooting oneself in the foot – as many children will be abducted from Japan as to it, so on paper at least the treaty should benefit as many Japanese parents as non-Japanese so I cannot see any form of arguement against acceding on the basis of any “ingrained xenophobia”.

    No it should not – in practice the Hague Convention, as with many others, is simply misused and abused by US authorities(among others it must also be said) who treat international accords as transitory routes to their ends. Foreign parents in the US are treated appallingly badly, by judges, courts, law enforcement and the US government .

    The US, the richest country on the planet also refuses to accede to certain very important practical aspects of the Hague Convention – notably funding the legal bill for a foreign parent applying under the Hague for the return of a child from the US. Without legal representation being made available freely (as the bulk of other “poorer” signatories of the Convention have done) simply means no justice, so what is the point of having it anyway if you need to be rich to use it?

    Coming back to Assistant Secretary of State Maura Harty’s address when visiting Japan last year, she stated that accession to the Convention by Japan was a leadership issue. I agree with her entirely but perhaps not in the way she means.

    There is an opportunity for Japan to provide leadership in this area for itself and the global community by negotiating the fair implementation of the treaty with the United States – who I understand are desperate for Japan to sign up not least as US parents and US interested parties have a great deal to gain by this happening.

    While tucked up on the sofa with the aspirin, I also watched the Megumi documentary in the UK last week – extremely distressing – and Karen’s comments did strike home with me when she wrote that Japan did not abduct these American children while N Korea clearly did and a “false connection” was being made. I agree – the two sets of abductions are not the same in terms of perpertrating the act.

    I do however, take serious umbrage with Karen on some of the other things she wrote – to my mind some comments indicated a lack of understanding or knowledge of international child abductions. Karen, if you read this please do not take this personally – hardly anyone actually understands very much about international child abduction.

    Fact – most international child abductions are committed by mothers not fathers (the most recent study is that of the Australian Social Science study 70% of abducting parents were mothers).

    http://emilyrosehindle.blogspot.com/2007/03/international-child-abduction-and.html

    Fact – almost 100% of abducting parents (of either gender) complain of domestic violence, sexual abuse of self or child, drug, alcohol or substance abuse and so forth – as sure as night follows day, these allegations surface.

    Fact – whether child abductions are a civil (and hence a private matter) or of a criminal nature (and hence a public matter) the neccessity for increased government intervention and cooperation is going to be a prerequisite for any form of success – to this end, I disagree with you both as far as that there is no scope for government intervention in one set of circumtances but not the other….consider the numbers involved here, thousands of children every year…not a handful.

    http://emilyrosehindle.blogspot.com/2007/03/australian-danger-to-baby-so-headline.html

    Fact – international child abduction is international child abuse – there is no excuse for it.

    My final fact is something I have learned from the experience of having to deal with my own daughter and it is simply this – being angry may get you somewhere for a while, but anger will consume you and twist your ends to dust. The only way to go forward is because of the love you feel for your child – it feels a lot harder because it is easy to become angry in a situation where no-one understands what you are being put through unless they have personally experienced it themselves – and I do mean no-one understands because you simply cannot connect to it at any level outside of personal experience.

    When I watched the abducted children reuniting with their parents on the Megumi documentary, I saw people very much in love not full of hate and anger. When I get to be reunited with Emily I want her to see a father that loves her and not an angry man.

    Karl

  8. Karl,

    Great to hear from you. I’ve been suffering too, between the gales and the rain last week, and the cold, flu and infection flying around, I’m surprised the country is still working.

    You make some very good points, and it’s good to hear some kind of way forward. I am quite concerned to hear that the US does not even provide free legal representation.

    I tried to catch Storyville’s showing of Abduction, but I found out a day too late :( The air turned blue, that’s for sure. I don’t know when/if BBC4 will repeat it.

  9. Hi again,

    I just happened to read Karl’s response and interesting comments on international child abductions. I don’t take anything you say personally, by the way, mainly because we’re more or less saying the same thing and I think your approach is a lot more dignified than the American fathers I saw. They are definitely an angry bunch and some of them seemed a little off-kilter. I guess I would be the same way if my child was taken by my husband to another country. I think my initial response would be not only anger but militancy. I agree that love is the thing that will overcome everything. That seems to be the message in the documentary. The parents’ love for their children is the thing that’s driving them and will hopefully get them the results they are seeking. And I hope it’s the thing that gets you what you are seeking. I will pray for you.
    Again, however, I have to point out that tact is important here. These parents in the US were comparing themselves to the people in the film. There’s no connection at all, as we all agree. And while I realize their attempts to leech off the success of the families who’ve campaigned for years to get the government’s attention are a feeble attempt to get attention themselves, their approach shows their complete lack of sensitivity and concern for the families in the film (even though they make the absolutely absurd statement, “we support the families” in the film…a load of hooey to be sure).
    I don’t doubt for a second that you love your child just as much as your spouse but I can’t see myself wanting to get involved in a personal dispute with someone’s ex-wife or ex-husband, which is all it really comes down to in the end. I think the American protestors know that, too, which is why they are trying to make a phony, inconsequential link to the North Korean abductions. It’s much harder to say to someone, “hey, can you help me fight my child custody battle?” than it is to say, “did you know thousands of children are abducted every year to foreign countries and my child is one of them?”

  10. karl hindle is a total phony LBP


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