“Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.”
-Jean Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract)
“Some people are beginning to catch on; they will no longer take banging for music.”
– Denis Diderot (Rameau’s Nephew)
There is now more than ever a need to renew our efforts to create a movement here to reunite children and parents, and to oppose state-supported, state-sanctioned Japanese International Parental Child Abduction (JIPCA). Two and a half years after Rui’s abduction, children and parents have none of the protections they need today, and the Japanese government has made zero progress towards addressing the issue; the result is the continuation of cross-border and internal parental abductions in Japan.
Every week on the mailing lists of Japan-focused, left-behind parent groups, I see another newly uninitiated parent lamenting his or her fear of the now-present threat of parental abduction and wondering what if any recourse he or she has. This should be a matter of worldwide public concern, a problem in international relations with a “friendly” State that harbors and rewards child abductors from without and within the country with the termination of the child’s and the other parents’ familial rights – at an estimated rate of 150,000 children per year. Any person with a Japanese spouse at one or another time of conflict finds him or herself having to weigh the probability of whether his or her spouse will discover and act on the power that the Japanese state provides to prevent him or her from ever seeing his child again. Virtually anyone with a whimsical resentment of a husband or wife (-and what married person has never felt any resentment?-) and a bit of determination to separate his or her life from his or her spouse can construct an abduction of his or her child in this way. A brief search of the internet provides the tools to carry it out. One only needs to find the resources, or to get a child behind the Japanese border where the parent can be provided with them by a state official, legal professional, or family court judge who has them to give.
Japan’s government, via its Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice, via its news media, even via its universities, puts many agents into the field to offer the world misinformation and deception about the scale, frequency and impact of this mass human rights violation, undoubtedly because it is a widespread but disavowed phenomenon within Japan. The numbers continue to be staggering: between 2 1/2 and 3 million Japanese minors have no meaningful access to one of their parents because of Japan’s winner-take-all custody rules and the self-interested, jealous bigotry of its courts. The maintenance of this system has depended for its survival on relative invisibility to the world at large, and suppression of discussion of the issue to the Japanese public itself. Silence reinforced with shame weighs on the parents of abducted children. To speak out is frowned upon and suppressed, and brings more shame on the complaining victims than on the perpetrators, who have the family judiciary, Diet members, and members of the Japanese academic and legal professions for allies. They also have the cooperation of numerous governments and international agencies that are beholden to Japanese financial interests to keep them afloat. This applies to the United Nations, United States, members of the European Union and countless others. It seems the price of complicity in the abuse of children and families is not so high that it can’t be paid.
Stop Being Quiet
One of the primary communication goals we take on as parents and activists is to bring this silence to an end. Not until victims speak up loudly and in greater numbers can the key shift in awareness take place, from regarding parental abduction as a “normal social custom”, to a criminal activity that is brutally detrimental to children and adults, with wide-ranging psychological and social-institutional ill effects.
Speaking up has always been transformative, as it is for us. It turns victims of crime into agents of change.
There are precedents. An obvious parallel to this internalized silence about a criminal enterprise in modern Japanese history that is still fraught with political danger and controversy is the Japanese military’s use of mass rape as a weapon of war during the attacks on Japan’s Asian neighbors throughout the era of the 2nd World War. For decades, this internationally well-known decade-long regime of war crimes could scarcely be discussed within Japan – and even today it is best known euphemistically as the “comfort system” that brought “comfort” to Japanese soldiers in the field, engaged in a brutal war against China, with the Korean people its unwilling subjects. That women from China, Korea and Japan were pressed into sexual slavery – euphemistically called “service” – and turned into prisoners of rape camps was not widely condemned as a crime until the surviving victims themselves were able to gather the courage given to them by the solidarity of the Korean feminist movement to testify publicly in the face of pressure to keep silent. It has not been a smooth process for them. Japanese officials and conservative ideologues fought against them by claiming that the women were “prostitutes” – in order to place them into a category that would taint their testimony as that of undeserving women whose deficient “purity and credibility” cast doubt over the reliability of their stories. It’s easy to see how tradition can be brought to bear on popular sentiments in an extraordinary case like this. A rich legacy of patriarchal relations were brought to bear in defense of the conduct of war, conquest, domination, terror and pacification. Patriarchal power relations are in play again now, protecting Japanese officials in today’s disputes over nuclear power and the collusive co-responsibility of private enterprises and government regulators for the consequences of the nuclear radiation disaster that followed the earthquake and tsunami of March, 2011. That the United States and its military’s continuing expectation of a monopoly on nuclear capability plays a super-ordinate role adds a layer of patronage, protection and justification to this disastrous arrangement. We have to intensify our efforts and speak out against our government for this exchange of courtesies.
Our obligation to care for our children is not blunted by the prolonged pain we are still suffering today. We are faced with endless delays, foot-dragging, resistance and inactivity on the part of the U.S. and Japanese governments. And we have got to push back in order to restore the dwindling hopes of our destiny, which is to reunite with our children.
Social Ills – Social Roots
A recognition that this problem is shared, and is social and political in origin and nature, is still lacking potency among the community of left-behind parents. It requires a solution based on group interest – shared and social- even though the groups are large ones: divorced or divorcing Japanese, non-Japanese, parents, and children. As parents and active members of a community of persons whose lives intersect on the basis of international and court-derived child abduction and termination of parental rights, we have an obligation to provide renewal which may only come from a refreshed and revised look at the issue. When my son, Rui, was first captured, withheld and hidden from me in Japan, fellow sufferers – parents who lost their children to Japan – warned that the abduction would challenge all of my beliefs. That has turned out to be maximally true for me. The psychological trauma of child abduction morphs into physiological symptoms and pain many a parent has had to run from. It interminably wrenches our insides, alters the nervous system, and wears the parent down until it bleeds us white . But eventually, we have to either die or regather ourselves to counteract the anemia. I think it’s time now – time for us to ask each other whether or not we know what there is left for us to do.
Reframe the Issue
We can do a lot. Breathing life back into the conversation requires us to listen and study, and successfully reframe the genealogy of the issue. The ever-rising rate of international abductions is a symptomal reaction to many, various stimuli. It’s not enough to say that it is related to a poorly-defined, hysteria-driven “crisis of family” – a known political and social current (or subcurrent) that has played since well before our time. It’s not only a crisis of belief, or faith, or the breakdown of traditional bonds; nor is it comprehensible as exclusively a problem of inadequate law. To look upon the abductions as the actions of sociopaths is inadequate too, even though they often may be. The abductions haven’t multiplied solely on the basis of one group of parents’ increased privileges over and against those of another; the ownership and low regard of the needs of children has a much longer history. Neither is it the rise of a more brutal family, nor an increase in the reporting of domestic brutality alone that is fueling the rate of increase of parental abductions. Just as surely as there are no innocent abusers of children or spouses, there is no need either to project the distinction of ideal “undeserving” victims from “deserving” ones. The problems of family, marriage, relationship, and of legal guarantees that protect children and parents from violence and alienation of parent-child bonds will not be reduced to one cause, nor resolved by one solution; nor should larger economic and military realities in the foreground of the relationships between countries be ignored, or provide absolution.
Family crisis. Loss of faith. Loss of bonds. Inadequate law. Sociopathy. Identity politics. Civil Rights. Gender equality. Childism. Child abuse. Domestic violence. The deserving and undeserving. This post I’m writing today is only a scratch on the surface; but I believe that we can sort out an approach to greater insight into what this madness, Japanese parental abduction, is derived from. Every day that I’m able to sit up straight and think, I recognize that we, parents of abducted kids, are now forced to become anthropologists, historians, psychologists, sociologists, activists, diplomats, lobbyists, lawyers, social workers, moral philosophers, and public relations agents. The ability and willingness of third parties to minister to abductors or turn their heads and ignore parents and children are profound; indifference and corruption are bred into the institutions.
But fear is also a great enabler. Governments of countries, municipalities, foreign affairs bureaus, ministries of justice and police forces, whose actions determine the conditions of the development of the problem are dramatically inhibited by saber-rattling nationalists in Japan (and its neighbors), think tank “security” policy analysts from Washington who dominate diplomatic agendas, and self-interested bureaucrats with career paths to protect. None can be excluded; all should be considered part of what has gone wrong.
The denial of dignity to children, the refusal to protect women and men from real, authentic domestic brutality, and the rigid roles and loss of family intimacy that are forced on working people all disrupt familial, community and human solidarity, and provide the roots from which the inspiration to commit parental abductions spring. They are problems of modernity, of industrial society, of non-democratic economies, of unequal distributions of power, and of manipulated feelings of men and women who have no other outlet for their pain than to afflict one another. These issues might seem less daunting to address in a materially prosperous Japan than they would have been in the conditions of, say, the impoverished outposts of empire. Yet today, Japan shares a rate of parental abduction that exceeds that of all the rest of developed world, and victimizes the totally innocent – parents and children who love one another.
Today, liberal rhetorics are employed to achieve illiberal aims. Social and judicial concepts that were created to work to benefit and protect families from gendered violence are turned into weapons of the same. We must organize ourselves again, and renew our efforts to overthrow tyranny visited on children. Keep your eyes wide; the chance won’t come again.
We can take inspiration from many sources. Among them, Darwin saw life as an increasingly complex emergence from earlier forms, and the outcome of an environment that throbs with impulses of attraction to maximally differentiate individuals and species. I think he knew that the production of difference is relentless. Our job as living beings is not to denigrate nor merely tolerate this differentiation, but to learn to be amazed by the changes as they flower. The family form is changing under tremendous pressure. It is our job as adults to see that children’s need for the love and care of their families are met all the same.
“… before you can say Jack Robinson, there’s the idol, flat on his back!”
– Denis Diderot, Rameau’s Nephew