Japanese TV Report About Child Abduction & The Hague Convention

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    Ever since the Japanese government announced it would be signing the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the treaty and the issues it addresses have received a considerable amount of attention from the Japanese media. Here is one report, which aired yesterday evening on FTV (quick summary below the video):

    The report begins with images of Japanese women who are “wanted by the FBI” because they brought their children to Japan. All of the women were once married to American men, and all of them took the child to Japan without the consent of American courts or their ex-husbands.

    To learn about such situations, they interview Brian Prager, an American whose Japanese wife took their son to Japan for a “3 week vacation” in June 2010. They never returned. Prager later received a divorce documents from his wife, who claimed that he had physically abused their son. Prager vehemently denies the accusation. He thinks that Japanese government’s refusal to help foreign fathers reclaim their abducted children is “state-sponsored child abuse.”

    Throughout the interview, Prager seemed to be on the verge of tears. At one point, he broke down and wept.

    To explain why foreign fathers like Prager are so frustrated, FTV had its artists create graphics depicting the differences between post-divorce child custody agreements in Japan and Western countries. In the West, it is common for courts to grand shared custody to divorced parents. In Japan, one parent having sole custody is the norm.

    FTV contacted Prager’s Japanese wife to hear her side of the story. They received documents claiming that Prager would abuse the child in ways that caused pain but left no visible physical marks. For example, he would strongly flick their son’s forehead with his finger. She says she took their son to a doctor, who concluded that the boy was suffering from mental trauma due to child abuse. She also alleges that Prager had wanted her to have an abortion when she was pregnant, and had refused to help her pay for the medical expenses for their child’s birth. For these reasons, she cannot allow the boy to see his father or return to America.

    Mikiko Otani, a Japanese attorney, explains that the Hague Convention has some flaws:

    • If the wife or children were facing domestic abuse, they would not be freely allowed to flee to Japan.
    • If the wife was unable to financially support herself after a divorce, she would not be allowed to return to Japan with her children.

    Japanese women who have faced domestic violence and cannot prove it in a foreign court flee to Japan with their children, knowing that they might be judged a kidnapper as a result.

    (In the past, Otani has represented Japanese women in legal battles over child custody. Her methods and views have earned her a place on CRN Japan’s blacklist.)

    However, the Hague Convention isn’t just about forcing Japanese parents to return children to other countries. There are also Japanese parents who have had their children abducted by foreign ex-spouses.

    Miyo Watanabe is one such case:

    She married her ex-husband who had been working at a U.S. military base in Japan in 1989. After their daughter was born, the three moved to the United States in 1995.

    The ex-husband was arrested after he physically abused Watanabe in the open.

    A domestic violence consulting office advised Watanabe to return to Japan, which she did with her daughter.

    Ten years later, the ex-husband contacted Watanabe and said he wanted to see his daughter. Watanabe sent her daughter to the United States for what was to have been a two-week visit, but she suddenly became unable to contact her.

    Watanabe later learned that her ex-husband had moved and took along their daughter, even though she did not want to go.

    Without her knowledge, the ex-husband won custody after going to a local court. The ex-husband has warned Watanabe that if she tried to take back her daughter, she would be found a criminal. Her daughter continues to live in the United States with her father.

    Watanabe said, “I hope with the joining of the treaty people who enter into international marriages will not experience the same unhappiness that I have gone through.”

    In her FTV interview, Watanabe describes how she was eventually able to visit her daughter. Her daughter apparently wanted to return to Japan, but Watanabe was not prepared to illegally “abduct” her child.

    At the end of the report, the news anchors discuss the Hague Convention. It is noted that the main participants in the Convention are Western countries. All G8 members except for Japan and Russia have signed it. Both Japan and Russia are now moving towards joining the Convention.

    News anchor Yuko Ando expresses the view that child custody should be determined by courts in the country of the child’s birth. Taro Kimura says it is a complicated problem, involving differences between Western and Japanese societal views. He seems to be in favor of abiding by international rules, but also thinks that people should consider such matters before entering into international marriages.

    [A note about privacy: In Japan, it is common for TV networks to blur the faces of people in photographs and video clips. Not doing so could result in lawsuits over violations of privacy. In this report, the faces of Japanese women and children who live in Japan are censored to protect their privacy. ]

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