If, in a science fiction tale that takes place in a surreality full of excessive, ominous foreboding and half-visible appearances, 4000 jumping, running, frolicking children suddenly vanished from the playgrounds in your city’s neighborhood parks, leaving startlingly empty desks in school classrooms, bunk beds instantly voided of their giggling inhabitants, PJ flannels dangling unused over the backs of chairs, and the warm presence of the sound of children’s laughter and voices abruptly ceased, leaving the air violently empty, toys clatter to the ground, and no sound but the wind blowing the pebbles, brushing the leaves and grass, swaying the slow squeak of empty swing-sets, what would the expected plot turn be?
You can easily envision the scene. The police and national guard race haphazardly through the streets, sirens blaring; the President and Secretary of State stand before cameras speculating on the latest source of the terrorist threat to national security. Attorney General Holder is called before the kleig lights to order urgent emergency investigations. And the TV screens, well you can just imagine! The flag graphics are unfurled; news teams fan out to make doorstep living room couch interviews with shocked, hysterical parents who wring their hands and handkerchiefs and plead for mercy for their disappeared children. Anxieties would flow back into the audience to meet the terrifying facts on screen.
Facts, it seems, do not entirely speak for themselves. If they did, it would be widely evident that a tremendous and geometrically growing number of children have been caught up in what is not a cinematic fantasy, but a matter of diplomatic avoidance and delusion leading to a colossal, unacknowledged human rights abuse: an internal and international hot war on parents and children that has a long and dreary history in Japan, our key Asian geopolitical partner. Children, property of one apparently sovereign Japanese parent, are routinely swept over borders and hidden from their parents — with the weapons of the police, courts and prisons of Japan aimed squarely at any Dad or Mom that dares to challenge this exceptional sovereignty of the Japanese National Parent, regardless of the child’s home origins. Yet despite the bureaucratic extravagance of the practices that separate millions of children from their parents, the Japanese have until now led a relatively charmed life in which the consequences of this practice have remained largely unacknowledged and unchallenged. Damaged children pass their damage onto the next damaged generations, leaving a suffocating and brutal reality. With the cause absent, the effect thrives.
Child abduction and denial of parental access are masked as ‘custody determinations” in Japan
There are many facets that combine to enable the Japanese’ systematic elimination of children’s and parents’ fundamental rights. The vast majority of people in Japan and around the world do not know that a child abduction problem of great magnitude exists in Japan, because through the agency of government institutions, the problem is masked in significant ways.
What do we mean by this?
Child abductions are masked within Japan as custody disputes — a reality that brings horrible consequences.
Here I focus only on the numerical elaboration of the abduction problem within Japan and try to estimate the number of cases. Without this understanding of the numbers, human rights organizations and national governments have successfully avoided open conflict with the Japanese over this extraordinary extension of Japanese sovereignty beyond its borders into the cradles, playpens, strollers and bedrooms of the world. But this is not to go on forever; and the first step is to count!
Parental abduction, it is said, is not illegal in Japan, so abductions are not counted. The first assertion is, has been, and will continue to be challenged. Parental abduction is a crime requiring a cohort of malicious and unscrupulous judges and lawyers, and legal trickery which counts on the cooperation and feigned ignorance of the law by Japan’s partners. Therefore, it is difficult to know how many there have been. Maintaining this circumstance creates a grossly distorted misrecognition of the nature of the problem and keeps it under the radar of human rights organizations, governments that ought to be concerned, and most importantly, the general public. Masking is a powerful ideological mechanism, which keeps ugly and violent human rights abuses invisible behind an appearance of order, and fair, rational international governance.
Let us attempt to estimate the numbers, on the basis of the “known knowns”; those things which social agencies in Japan can reveal to us.
First, we know that after divorce in Japan only one parent retains custody, and there is no enforceable visitation. This is the zero-level fact of the national and international issue of child abduction and deprivation of children’s rights in Japan.
How many children in Japan are affected by this?
To answer this question, we can consider this research obtained from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare’s divorce vital statistics, and visitation rulings obtained from the Supreme Court of Japan.
Here, we have vital statistics on divorce and dependent children reported by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW) in Japan.
From 1992 to 2009, the following numbers are reported in this public record.
There have been:
4,358,276 divorces in total, including Japanese-Japanese divorces; that is, divorces in which both husband and wife were Japanese nationals.
230,672 divorces where one spouse is a foreigner (non-Japanese)
7,449 divorces where one spouse is American
There are about 250,000 divorces per year in Japan.
There is, on average, one child per divorce in all categories.
We all know and have known for decades, perhaps a century, how vital close relationships with their parents are to children in order for them to develop the vast capacities that are their right and human inheritance. How much contact between parents and children exists today in Japan after divorce?
Half of the children of divorce in Japan cannot see their parent even as little as once every month. This is seen by considering Supreme Court of Japan rulings that show that the frequency of visitation, post-divorce in Japan, is less than once a month for them. This means that many divorced parents in Japan see their children less than 24 hours per year.
Below is a line graph of data obtained from the Supreme Court of Japan. This data shows how much visitation the highest court in Japan thinks children should have.
The pie chart below appeared on NHK’s Close Up Gendai on September 8, 2010. It shows a survey in which 58% of respondents stated that they do not have visitation with their children after divorce in Japan.
If we multiply the number of divorces or children by about 50%, (those who have less than once a month visitation), then we can see the estimated number of children who do not have regular visitation with their parent. Under these conditions, parents and children cannot maintain their relationship with each other. This is a human rights violation that in effect is an abduction that has been institutionalized by the court and law and called a “divorce and custody determination.“
Let us continue to consider the magnitude of this deprivation of children of their parents:
From 1992 to 2009 this has affected an estimated:
2.2 million total children in Japan
115,000 children of dual nationality
3,825 children with dual American nationality
The US State Department also reports 374 American children have been abducted from the US to Japan since 1994.
3,825 + 374 makes an estimated more than 4,000 children who have lost a meaningful relationship with their American parent.
Of course, the numbers within Japan are staggering. It seems there are about 2.2 million Japanese children or more who have lost meaningful contact with their fathers or mothers under Japanese law and court practice. All of these are children who cannot spend Japan’s Children’s Day with both parents; who cannot benefit from the richness of their parent’s love and experience; and who ultimately must of necessity be developmentally crippled by the loss of their primary attachment. In the context of a nation that is capable of educating itself and its people, and of deriving the full benefit of its wealth and social stability for the public good, this is a remarkably violent, one might say sadistic way to treat parents and children.
It is vitally important to note that the U.S. State Department knows about this, all of it and more, very well; the State Department has known of this in fact for years. If the State Department and allied agencies and governments had addressed this issue head on with the knowledge and influence they have possessed over the years, if long ago it had proclaimed directly with conviction that this was an intolerable illegal and abusive practice, the abduction of my son Rui and the children of perhaps millions of lost and despairing parents in and outside Japan might not have been allowed to occur. Instead, a regime of childcare, co-parenting, respect for family rights, children’s needs and the sovereignty of the states with whom Japan shares the world might have been allowed to develop, be respected and preserved. Instead we now have a conflict that is traumatic indeed for the Japanese and the rest of us. Let us not forget to whom we owe our protection and under what principles.