There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
How is it possible to convey the corrupt practices of Japanese state sponsorship of child abduction? This story below is from a fellow left-behind parent living in Japan. His name is Alex. I’m appalled by what Alex has experienced; his story is typical and tragic. Alex bears witness: his family has been victimized. I’m reproducing his story here because this is the only rooftop I have to shout from.
I worry in reprinting Alex’s story this way that it will be traumatic for him to see it in print again. Replaying the events that are robbing us of our children is deadly for us, parents; we have been warned by those who care about us most that we are at risk of re-traumatizing ourselves. We haven’t elected to become martyrs. But until and unless we tell our stories, we know that the crime of child abduction and denial of parents to children will continue on and on indefinitely in Japan. To tell our stories is our answer, a part of, as Heschel said, our “persistent effort to be worthy of the name, human … [and] to control the urge to cruelty.” What follows is a story of cruelty played out in the name of the state’s power to determine their fate to the detriment of children in Japan.
For those less familiar with the arrangement of this extraordinary checkerboard, some background is required. Japanese family court encourages, even in effect requires, that a parent vigorously contest and refuse a divorce. How so? Amicable, mutually agreed upon post-divorce child-care arrangements are made next to impossible to achieve under the rule of law in Japan; once a divorce is granted, only one parent has custody of the child, and unlike here in the United States and around the world, custody means complete, 100% possession and control of the child, and the complete denial of 50% of the child’s right to a parent. Once custody has been given to one parent, the left-behind parent has absolutely no enforceable right to continue his or her relationship with the children. That right is abandoned, and “visitation and access” to a beloved chlid are left to the whim of the custodial parent, given or withdrawn at will. The left-behind parent is at best given eggshells to walk on for the rest of his life. Children can legally be hidden, alienated, and lied to about the divorced parent. Cruelty to and abuse of children in this manner is protected by Japan’s law enforcement apparatus. Numerous Japanese parents are sentenced to jail time every year for the crime of insisting that they see their children. Spousal abuse of this kind is also protected by law enforcement in Japan: parents are designated as the sole individuals who are not allowed to see and continue their relationships with their children. Denial of fundamental human rights, the child’s right to his parent and the right of parents to raise their children is forcibly removed by law enforcement. A more grim view of family relations can hardly be imagined.
So what must divorcing parents do? The parent who is demanding divorce and custody can use court mediators to try to force agreement on the other parent. But the other parent must refuse to sign a divorce agreement in order to protect against his children being permanently, legally taken away. The only remote possibility of a parent to see his or her children is maintained by keeping what soon becomes a contentious miserable marriage in suspension. Ultimately, this effort must also be doomed to fail however, because ultimately there is no long-term legal protection against having your children taken away once a marriage has become difficult in Japan. Contention is considered the only way forward because a parent who understands the profound bond with his or her child must “defeat” an “opponent,” the child’s other parent.
But it gets worse. Unlike the state-appointed mediators used by family courts in the United States and across the world, mediators in Japan are not required to have ANY qualification, social work training, family counseling or therapy coursework or background of any kind. Anyone the courts like, a personal acquaintance or crony of the court officials or judges, anyone, can be designated a mediator by a judge. Nice guy or not, no expertise, no knowledge of the psychological impact of divorce court decisions, no qualifying exams that show that the mediator understands any of the common psychological and emotional problems that may underlie marriage, family, and relationship breakup, familiarity with such common problems as borderline, narcissistic, paranoid or other personality disorders – no such qualification requirements exist. A mediator need not study. Economic factors, sociological, psychological factors – basic expertise is not required and unnecessary. Japanese family court mediation is simply not empowered (nor qualified) to conceive of, let alone produce, an outcome that sustains the rights of the child to both of his parents, nor both of his parents’ rights to raise their child. Shared parenting is therefore in effect essentially illegal. The custodial parent can be responsible and responsive to the vulnerable child’s needs, or not. Once custody is granted, it doesn’t really matter.
Again, even if a mediator could be convinced to recommend that both parents be kept in the child’s life, Japan provides nothing to be done to enforce such a recommendation. In practice, therefore, such a recommendation isn’t made. What sort of court bureaucrat, after all, would recommend a state action that cannot be enforced? Given that divorces are often contentious by definition, and given this stunningly backward system of divorce management that promotes a further, more dire level of contentiousness between the divorcing couple over whose right to maintain the parenting relationship with their children is at stake – a parent who loves his children has no choice but to keep challenging the courts and the mediators, to resist, and never to settle on child-care arrangements with the court. To do so is to risk losing your child forever. To walk into a family court in Japan, for a parent, is suicide, and acquiescence to the psychological murder of his or her own child.
While still resisting this process and trying to fight for his children last winter, Alex was repeatedly in a family court room, refusing divorce every month because he knew that if he agreed to one, the court would take his children away.
In the meantime my wife has denied me all access to my children since last April–I have not even been able to speak to them on the telephone. For instance, last Christmas Day my mother in my presence spoke to my daughters on the phone. Then when I tried to speak to them, they switched off the phone.
Since the family court was unable to persuade me to sign divorce papers and was equally useless at getting my wife to allow me access to my children–which I am not sure they even asked since in family court each party goes in separately and makes requests which the court mediators are supposed to pass on to the other party–mediation came to an end.
The impasse of failed mediation meant that the decision would now be given to a Japanese family court judge. Alex held out for free access to his kids in exchange for an economic arrangement and a trial period to ensure that his rights and his children’s rights were to be respected.
The judge ordered an investigation pursuant to a final decision; and now we come to what may be the most egregiously abusive of all of this collection of judicial practices, an unjustifiable, horrific violation of children’s human rights. A panel of investigators is vested to interview small children to determine their choice of custodial parent. Underage, minor children are asked to play “Sophie’s Choice ” for the court: denied access to their daddy for months and months, under the influence and persuasions of the parent in whose possession they have been kept away from their loving flesh and blood father, they are forced to choose. Their natural formation as persons is interrupted, violated, to conform to the expectations of the officials. Here is Alex’s description of how he learned of the results of his daughters’ interviews:
Today I went to family court to find out the results of its “investigation” of the self-stated attitudes of my two abducted children–missing since April 3, 2010–to their being abducted and whether they would be interested in reuniting with their Daddy. I told the court months ago that there is no point in interviewing two abducted and extremely brain-washed children who have been held in captivity by a nutcase for the last 14 months what they think of their situation–just rescue them is all I want. Anyway, they ignored me and went ahead with their investigation. Today they gave me the results.
They had been to see my children twice and asked them three questions each: what do they remember liking about their Daddy, what did they not like about him, and do they want to see their Daddy again. Yes, they actually ask children whether they want to see their own parents again. Then the investigators told me what my beautiful angels said. Both described memories of playing with Daddy as things they remember liking. One, but not the other, gave a list of dislikes about me that were straight out of their abductor’s mouth! –How they did not like me taking them down the pub, when actually they loved those occasional, brief visits during the late afternoon before dinnertime on a Saturday, when they played computer games and played with the staff. It was their mother who did not like me taking them to the pub, not the children!
Then finally they were asked the sick, monstrous question of whether they wanted to see their father again. Imagine you are a child and a gloating, deviant, inhuman, reptilian being asked you something like that. It’s something out of a nightmare, isn’t it? One girl, good as gold and obeying her mother as ever, not knowing what is being done to her by kidnappers and brain-washers, said that she did not want to see me again. It is the moment I have dreaded for the last more than one year, to join the ranks of other left-behind parents whose children were manipulated to say the same thing about them. The other girl could not say it. She wrote it down on a piece of paper and prevaricated by adding question marks. The investigators showed me the piece of paper, which they had brought with them. Then finally my daughter wrote that she did not want to see me again. They must have pushed her and pushed her till at last she wrote it. At the end, I said to the investigators’ faces–”One day, I hope and pray that you, too, will lose your children and have to try to get them back through the Japanese court. Then you will know what you are.”
After we left, the translator, a European woman who helps me out of kindness, cried. She couldn’t help it. Being in the presence of kidnappers and their conspirators leaves one feeling dirty and repulsed. These human beings almost smile as they give you the news that your children don’t want to see you again. One day, I would like to see these “investigators” and “judges” tried at Nuremberg.
“Alex Kahney, father of Selene and Cale Kahney”
And so would I Alex.