Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
Regarding the editorial “Joining the child-abduction treaty” (Japan Times, Friday, February 21, 2014) I have no hope at all that membership in the Hague Convention will do anything to change Japan’s status as a refuge for criminal kidnappers. The editorial admits that “Domestic laws enacted for implementing the Hague Convention do not call for direct enforcement - which seems appropriate in view of the need to protect the children in question from harm.” First, what’s the point of joining the child abduction treaty if there is no protocol for enforcing it? Obviously the Japanese government plans to rely on that habit of avoiding uncomfortable confrontation by merely advising and recommending rather than forcing compliance with the law. The goal of the Hague Convention is to force the return of children illegally removed from their country of residence - the country where the parents’ divorce is adjudicated, the country whose courts have jurisdiction over the terms of the separation, terms that include the disposition of the children. Second, it is not at all appropriate not to have a legal protocol for enforcing compliance. That is a Japanese strategy for gutting the terms of the Convention. “Protecting children” will be an excuse to do almost nothing - and Japan’s international reputation will still be in the dirt because of it.
Japanese parents - usually the fugitive mother - have been allowed to take refuge here, I think partly due to a cultural view of children as the property of the mother. In these custody disputes the absolute right of the children to have their fathers in their lives isn’t even recognized. It just doesn’t register. Every foreign husband will be portrayed as a potential ‘abuser’ and unsubstantiated claims of spousal violence will be a catch-all way of cutting foreign fathers off from their children. Japanese will - and already do - embrace this notion as it plays into the cultural stereotype of the raping foreign barbarians.
Maybe the post-April 1 situation will not be as dystopian as I fear. But now that Japan is set to join the Convention in name at least I want to thank Christopher Savoie who forced the government’s hand on the issue. The 2009 case in Fukuoka saw Savoie arrested for abducting his own children away from his Japanese ex-wife who, in turn, had illegally abducted them from America. Savoie sought amnesty in the U.S. Consulate there but was turned over to the Japanese police. He was eventually released without charge (“Fukuoka cops drop child-snatching case against Savoie,” Japan Times, Saturday, November 14, 2009). I always thought how could the police charge him with a crime when he was so obviously in the right to begin with? Basically Mr. Savoie shamed Japan into action, demonstrating once again that no progress is made here without external pressure. Shame still goes a long way here.
Published on Thursday, February 27, 2014 as “No guts in child-protection plan.”