ERASURE OF THE FATHER
Coercive Practices, Corrosive Effects
In Japanese International Parental Child Abduction
BRIAN W. PRAGER
Erasure of the father, the expulsion of a caregiving natural parent from the lives of young children, is epidemic in Japan today. Today roughly three million children in Japan have meager-to-no contact with one parent after divorce, due to the absence of parental rights and protection of the parent-child relationship in family law. This induces parental child abduction, and the disappearance of parents who despair of the loss of the close bonds they previously had with their children. Mr. Prager will highlight factors contributing to the devastation and bereavement suffered by overmatched parents who lose their children to parental abduction in an unresponsive institutional environment.
Conference talk delivered (with slides) on February 26, 2016, at
The Loss of a Parent to the Child
And the Loss of the Child to the Parent
Family Law and Family Forensics Training Program
Washington Square Institute, NYC
I. PHANTOM CHILD SYNDROME
A. SONG OF THE CROW
To speak publicly about my son’s abduction is the fulfillment of a desire, and an honor I’ve longed for; yet I feel a burden of responsibility and ponderous ambivalence about speaking. I am a parent, the father of a sorely-missed son with whom I have not had contact for six years. At the time of his abduction to Japan, he was 4 ½ approaching his fifth birthday and his first enrollment in kindergarten.
I enjoy communicating with people, but can’t enjoy communicating about this. I have doubts about the communicability of our experiences, & I’m aware of the risk that what I will say is something terribly unsubtle. So let me begin with a very unsubtle statement:
International Parental Abduction is masked in Japan as custody determination.
It means the elimination of our parental rights and the exclusion of our children from the protective umbrella under which we expect to find shelter.
It is therefore a permanent state of criminality. It is not a single event, nor an isolated action: but a normalized criminal state of affairs, against which there is no effective resistance.
What resistance could I propose to offer once six irretrievable years of my son, Rui’s childhood have been lost to us? Our children’s damaged hearts and memory can’t be remade again. The simple fact is that time doesn’t run backwards. Children don’t un-grow the effects of formative experiences. My humanity has also been degraded, and can’t be untransformed. None of us escapes unscathed.
Today we see the scandal of the generalized demotion of justice and citizen well-being to a low, or non-existent priority. Having inflicted and suffered pain and destruction, representatives of designated institutions wring their hands and shrug. They may express angst, but seek the means to withdraw. After souls are murdered, we investigate our illnesses.
I would like to rally support to the cause of parents of kidnapped children. I am asserting today that these kidnappings of infants and toddlers are deeply implicated in a politics which – today more than ever – is subsumed by the calculus of economic power and social domination. While I struggle –mostly unsuccessfully- to quiet my deeply pessimistic sense of outrage, the price for overmatched parents is the danger of personal dissolution, debilitating cycles of paralysis, and the unendurable angst and depression of being under siege from a diffuse enemy.
We are overmatched; and agency lies beyond our grasp.
One part of what I’ve been called on for today is to open my wounds to the light.
I would like to begin with a poem which captured for me the mood of the 6-years-so-far mission; an invitation into the dark rooms of the left behind parents.
The poem was written in January of 1946 by Primo Levi as he was beginning to write his memoir of the war years, during which he had been a slave and prisoner of Germany, & after which he struggled to redeem his life through acts of witness.
I was first caught by the poem because it evoked the memory of Tokyo, where the skies, telephone wires, and balcony railings of its endless expanses of drab concrete buildings, were often shadowed with bodies and wintry cawing of large black crows. They always appeared there, habitually lingering, and looking for all that like Balzac’s priests, who he said, dressed in black robes “because they are mourning for all virtue and hope.”
The poem, is called “Song of the Crow I”
By Primo Levi. (January 9, 1946)
(the words are the crow’s spoken thoughts…)
“I’ve come from very far away
To bring bad news.
I crossed the mountain,
I flew through the low clouds,
I saw my belly mirrored in the pond.
I flew without rest,
A hundred miles without rest,
To find your window,
To find your ear,
To bring you the sad news
To take the joy from your sleep.
To spoil your bread and wine,
To sit in your heart each evening.”
The abduction of my son has entirely consumed me. I read, study and brood on it, and have for the most part lost interest in pursuing pleasures, while ideas like ‘happiness’ have come to seem more or less trivial or absurd.
My goal, which for me is an ethical necessity, is to attempt a portrayal in words, bridging the private worlds within the tragedy of Japanese international parental child abduction to their proper context.
There is an injunction on page one of Fredric Jameson’s The Political Unconscious: “Always historicize!”
What I take this to mean in this context is that the Japanese state-supported abduction of my son, our kids, and theirs, with all the causes and effects of which it is a part, must and can only be understood when it is situated historically and politically.
From this it follows that the international relations and enabling conditions of our children’s abductions, inclusive of larger constitutive projects for the world that have the sanction and collaboration of the United States and its Japanese client, can’t be left out of the story without severe distortion. I subscribe to a view (familiar to readers of Lacan) that our experiences do not comprise us as subjects who are trans-historical and invariant, but regard the effect of historically specific discourses, including those of law and rights, that leave us, individuals, defined within absolutely unequal structures of power, state power sometimes, in front of which we are ever more severely overmatched.
The United States, and Japan’s Compromised and Partial Sovereignty
I take the firm view that the United States and Japan are both, mutual bad actors in this regard within the global community. I insist on the first importance of this.
The canonical rejoinder, repeated ad infinitum by the Department of State Office of Children’s Issues to all parents, is the claim that because Japan is a “sovereign” country, the United States is and has always been helpless to press for the repatriation of our children.
But I contend that this discourse of sovereignty does not describe contemporary reality. Japan’s sovereignty today is partial, selective, convenient, and contingent. Japan has “all the trappings of Westphalian sovereignty and independence, so it is not a colony or a puppet; but Japan has internalized the requirement to give preference to those ‘other’ interests” which have the power to demand that it do so. (Gavan McCormack, “Obama Vs Okinawa”, New Left Review, 64, July-August 2010.)
Under direct pressure from the United States Department of State, the accession and ratification in 2014 of Japan to the Hague Convention on the International Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, after 35 years of evasion and the pretense of ‘studying the problem’, with Japan’s abduction-enabling laws and practices intact and functioning, subverts – in my view – the authenticity of the State Dept.’s claims, and the Convention’s pretensions.
In particular, the assertion that as a representative piece of contemporary international law, the Hague Convention is claimed to be, as follows:
- – a sign of progress towards the provision of access to justice and law for every individual; and moreover,
- – a sign of the universalization of an international standard of reciprocity and mutual respect for human dignity that is inclusive of the vulnerable, children, and parents.
The flag of the benevolent system of international law has a large hole in the center. Japan’s presence within the Hague Convention, as it is configured, mocks this principle, counterfeits the Convention, and reveals the international consensus to be the mask of a calculus of power, providing political cover for the continuing ‘persistence of the old regime’ which the Convention’s existence is claimed to have abolished. The throne of protective justice, today, is empty.
The single most important objective I feel we have on this occasion is to see that professionals – such as judges, lawyers, psychologists, social workers, and so on – in the U.S. and around the world, understand clearly that permitting high risk parents in contentious family situations to travel to Japan with their children is inadvisable – and puts children in grave danger – even though Japan has ratified the Convention.
The practice and implementation of the Hague Convention today in Japan is abysmal.
According to a Human Rights NGO that is monitoring Japan’s implementation of the Hague Convention very closely, less than 10% of Hague applicants have received a form of assistance or relief that lies between a pittance and zero. Until the Hague functions properly, professionals and parents in the United States and elsewhere need to know that the Hague as it now stands in Japan is no protection, nor is it a deterrent. Therefore Japan continues to be a haven for parents who have abducted their children.
It was over urgent, beseeching pleas and objections of parents of kidnapped children, that the U.S. Department of State pushed Japan to accede to the Convention, sanction-free, prior to any substantive changes in Japanese law or practice, with an up-front, in-advance open concession to Japan that the Treaty holds NO obligation to return any of the thousands of currently abducted children first. The State Department by its actions, and very apparent intention, encouraged Japan to implement the Hague Convention as configured (under the family law regime as described by Colin Jones) not to help children and their parents, but to protect the Japanese State from (1) bad publicity, and (2) from assuming collective responsibility for the numerous criminal State and Federal kidnapping warrants issued by U.S. Courts, by Interpol, and from around the world, for parental child abductors having found safe haven in Japan. Easily accessible evidence for this lies in the public transcripts and video record of the twice yearly Human Rights Subcommittee hearings held by Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, in which the State Department has consistently sent representatives to the public stage to offer extenuating apologetics for Japan’s cavernously futile bad practices. There, the State Department was met by the best lawyers in the country, who declared the State Department’s reporting “stunning” in its disingenuousness, its concealment of numerous open cases, its resistance to disclosing facts accurately, and the wholesale absence of results. Parents recognize this, a product of the Department’s obvious conflict of interests. (See: Patricia Apy, Congressional Testimony, Human Rights Subcommittee Hearing,16-07-2015)
In the 36 years since the Hague Convention was completed, Japan developed a systemic technology of abduction, a quasi – subsystem of the modern State, while refusing to accede to this supposed international regulatory code of conduct. The modern providence of these structures constitutes a refutation of the “cultural” objections that the State Department and abduction advocates employ. These are no timeless immutable practices, but contemporary ones, shifting as change is forced on them by globalization.
An estimated 150,000 children per year enter into this condition, unaccounted for, and so long as Japan gave what was wanted by those captured state and private entities, within the United States and elsewhere, and allowed them to prosper, Japan was ceded and now retains complete, permanent jurisdiction over our children.
What did Japan give? It bore enormous financial and social burdens of forward-basing U.S. military forces on its territory (to the tune of four billion dollars per year), and attempted to educate into, and when that failed, enforced acquiescence on, the Japanese people, again and again and again.
Now ratified, the Hague Convention, which has no backward-looking applicability prior to its date of implementation, has achieved the State Department’s treasured aim: it has successfully suppressed knowledge of the irritant of outstanding human rights violations against Americans, all of them, our kids, from general circulation; and it has secured the permanence of the abductions. None of us – parents – retain hope of raising, or perhaps even knowing, our children. Being children, the wounds are theirs to suffer alone, in an environment of denial and of criminalizing and blaming their missing parents.
C. PHANTOM CHILDREN, PHANTOM FATHERS
Now to the topic of the parent’s loss and psychic pain: I acknowledge, with Nietzsche, the necessity of forgetfulness, that “there is a degree of sleeplessness, of rumination, … which is harmful and ultimately fatal to the living thing…” (Untimely Meditations, p.62)
I think those of us whose kidnapped children are forever missing know something very personal about the impossibility of healthful forgetting. I, at least, can’t choose it. The ties to our children are bonds of love, but they extend further. The neuroscientist and (notorious) mind-mapper, V.S. Ramachandran, revealed something of value to me in a book about his work with amputees in which he sought ways to relieve them of suffering from incessant pain associated with Phantom Limb Syndrome. The persistence of pain of an amputated limb results from the brain’s inability to release the memory of the object of which it is expectant, and to which it is habituated: the lost limb is not only still felt to be present, but the brain registers sensations such as itching and movement as if it were still there.
Worst of all, a lost arm or hand is felt often by the sufferer to be locked into a moment of muscular constriction and tearing. There is no arm or hand, but just as we are hard-wired to experience empathic sensations at seeing others scratching or suffering a shocking blow – or hearing a baby cry – the patient perpetually suffers the moment of loss.
Similarly, parents of abducted children continue to sense the tactile and very material psychological sensations of our children’s warmth, bodily weight, the stroke of their cheek against ours, their scent, their captivating gazes, the memory of their breath, their voices, and their tears.
These tricks of the brain proceeded to multiply in me over time until I couldn’t bear to walk through parks, ride trains, or hear the charmed sounds and yelps of children without fiery electrical jolts, nervous system wounds – itching on my face, arms and hands, and prickling and burning along my body. The emotional pain was unbearable, and I did not know a path to relief.
There was a phase of walking into traffic, desiring to obliterate myself.
At times, I feel the deep desires and longing that accompanied growing into parental identification, which altered me, itself prefigured and resembled the pathology. One becomes ‘the Other of demand’, or ‘one who has’ – in this instance, a child we love. It enveloped me, and now I was being forced to reverse direction, to deny or remove all at once the physiological and psychological presence of my son; to abjure the ways that I had been altered. This for me was not possible. It was not a matter of will. It was the materiality of abjection.
Any parent who has experienced a momentary panic at losing sight of his or her toddler on a crowded city playground or in a crowded department store knows this hot, sinking, hysterical sensation. It is a primitive and irresistible kind of agitation. Now imagine experiencing that 24-hours a day, for years at a time. It has onerously deleterious effects on the nervous system.
During the first year, after speaking to ABC News and meeting some fellow parents, the Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Meltdowns of March 11, 2011 struck Japan, greatly intensifying the cruelty & bitterness of the unknown fate of my son. Radiation, we heard, rained down on the Eastern Japanese coastal cities while the government that had abducted our kids told us and the people of Japan that there was no danger. Trust their word? Wreck and ruin, shorelines full of drowned children… these images fed our obsession to breaking point.
In ensuing months, news clips told stories of Japanese people who reacted with waves of anxiety to every fluttering of a breeze in the trees, and responded to every urban noise or a truck rumble, or subway vibration along the sidewalk, with unsteadiness, losing their equilibrium, falling to their knees and gripping the ground with their palms, believing that another apocalyptic earthquake was striking them. These turned out to be traumatic traces, phantom limbs.
I imagined my five year old having the same jolts of fear in the months after the quakes, and it tore at me day and night until I couldn’t work. I could not reach him, I could not comfort him, nor was an adequate acknowledgment of this violent absurdity on the way. Parents demanded a rescue. What followed, was a long night of despair, and passive resistance from our government. Phantom quakes suffered by Japanese people evoked the phantom children we had lost to the State, and we became Phantom Parents to our kids.
II. WEAPONIZED PSYCHOLOGY IN THE COURTROOM
A. A SAVAGE SORTING OF WINNERS AND LOSERS:
INDUCEMENT TO ABDUCT, HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
“Dangerous lies do not always dress the part.”
-Karen and Barbara Fields, Racecraft. P.3
I want to turn now to the technology of child abduction, and parent removal. There are many, many elements deserving of a conference’s worth of attention. But under the despotism of the clock, I have to select a small sample.
In this instance, I choose the use of inflammatory and inaccurate psychological evaluations as an aid to Japanese child abduction-by-court.
I refer to State-sponsored abduction, and “abduction-by-court” because the Koseki system [described by Colin Jones] and the family law practice described by Takao Tanase, show us that child abduction is not only condoned by Japanese family court practice, but is induced.
Where sole custody granted to one side of the family is an incontestable absolute, the parent who does not obtain custody from Japan’s family court is henceforth no longer in any legal sense related to his children. He is legally, a stranger. State instruments – the household registries among them – used to assert this, impose a powerful, codified, State-sanctioned identity on all Japanese citizens. Without a place in a State registry, classes of people are symbolically castrated – disempowered, excluded from a place in society, and are easily made abject. Like corpses, they are quickly expelled.
Despite challenges from anti-discrimination law to the control and imposed conformity imposed by the family-unit registration system, conservative forces in Japan continue to have the last word, claiming in hyperbolic terms again and again that the moral fiber and social stability of Japanese society rely entirely on the maintenance of these arcane, inflexible, antiquated, panoptical disciplinary devices. They say, legislative changes to the Civil Code and Family Law would bring about total (hokai) “collapse” of Japanese society. (Chapman & Krogness, p.5)
A rigid biopolitical rationality underlies this Japanese state institution. It functions as a tool of obstruction to reform, and reserves to the State the power to impose living death. “To make live, and let die” as Foucault wrote.
This means that separation in a marriage becomes a potential catastrophe for one of the parents, and a lethal, trust-wrecking trauma for children; what Liss Haviv has called, “a ruptured identity.”
This is the inducement.
Parents contemplating divorce or separation, who want to prevent themselves from becoming thus victimized, are induced to pre-meditate extremely-conceived measures to take the child and keep him or her away from his or her other parent as long as possible prior to any court hearing, and to veil that intention with as much illusion as he or she can muster. The end is rewarded with the exclusive right of custody, whose primary feature is the capacity to permanently exclude the other parent from the child’s life without remedy. This is the course followed by thousands, including my son’s mother.
Every one of these cases, with the elimination, adjudicated or not, of the child’s right to a secured parent-child relationship with his or her parent, is a human rights violation. Nonetheless, this routine provides the benefit to Japan’s family court of keeping the number of court-contested cases down, by making it widely-known that the designated forum for contention and resolution of families-in-conflict is one in which the only conceivable outcome is – borrowing a phrase from Saskia Sassen – “a savage sorting of winners and losers.”
B. EASY PREY:
EXPLOITING THE CHILD’S VULNERABILITY THROUGH PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATIONS
I turn reluctantly now to the subject of the abuse of psychological investigations of young children, to exploit children’s vulnerability to gain advantage for a client in court.
I ask that you keep in mind that although there is some training available for investigators, the court is its own governing body. There is nothing parallel to board certification required to give testimony. Anyone who passes the court’s test, can practice.
In addition to my son’s case which I have pored over, I have also reached out to the parent community, and received psych reports filed in two other cases, and additional detailed accounts written both by
(a) parents who suffered through the system of having their parental rights obliterated in Japan, and by
(b) a former Columbia University Professor of Psychiatry, an expert in family evaluation in child custody and mediation. I want to detail the reports done on my son to demonstrate the consistently identical or nearly identical prescribed, boilerplate conclusions forced on children and parents, and accepted by Japan’s family court as evidentiary.
I can’t say strongly enough how traumatizing it was to me as a parent and human being to read these mendacious accusations against me, and the spurious, counterfeit characterization of my 4-year-old, and to fathom that they were really being made. They sickened me, and leave scars. My greatest fear is that the scarring in my son is far deeper, used as a weapon to turn him against me, and against himself.
Two reports were submitted as evidence to the Japanese Family Court, both conducted in the latter half of October 2010, after Rui had been kidnapped in mid-June of the same year.
The first was labelled MEDICAL CERTIFICATE and signed by a Doctor Shimoyama on October 31st.
It states at the top, “DIAGNOSIS: BATTERED CHILD SYNDROME (ABUSED BY HIS FATHER), POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER.” The same sequence of diagnoses found in the other cases I mentioned.
The report on Rui then follows with a total of five short sentences.
‘He comes to our clinic because of the disease mentioned above. Symptoms like excessive alertness, recaptures, aversive behavior and so on appear seriously. His disgust toward his father is extremely strong, and he can’t stand someone talk about his father at all. We should not bring anything which remind him of his father for the time being. Above is my diagnosis.”
There is no evidence or reasoning here. He had been brought to a doctor, who had never seen Rui with his father, for the purpose of creating a “battered child syndrome & PTSD” report, to compound the injury to Rui, abducted for four months. This is simply a false doctor’s report, concocted for the purpose of securing the ongoing abduction of Rui by his mother and her family in Japan.
I have two other case files from other parents, in which identical diagnoses are made by other doctors: PTSD blamed on the father. In this case, with no observational material of any kind.
NOTES ON “PSYCHOLOGICAL INVESTIGATION” BY KOSHIBA, AYAKO
The second report submitted and accepted without question by the Tokyo Family Court, is labeled “Report of psychological investigation” from October 2010.
This report is two widely-spaced typewritten pages, and more interesting:
It indicates that Rui had made more than one visit to the clinic. Nonetheless the psychologist indicates little or no rapport with Rui, who she states is “discontented” when she takes him to draw a picture.
Her first command to Rui was “Please draw your house” to which he said, “I don’t know. I forgot.” Why did he say this to her? All sorts of emotions are possible. Was he upset at being questioned about his home in the United States where his family life had been?
Rather than explore this mood and failure of memory, the psychologist asked him “What about your room? Where are you living?” Rui repeated, “I don’t know. I am living in a place called a Hotel. A Hotel is not a house.” The doctor then states that she assumes that the only house Rui recognizes is house in the United States.
I assume that “house” for Rui meant his HOME, and he was expressing a plaintive feeling; and this psychologist recognized that the only home he knew was in the United States. Thus disoriented, nothing had become familiar as a home during the four months of his abduction; and his mother had not found him a home. Warm familiarity was now frighteningly absent, far away.
Next, the psychologist said, “Please draw your Mom“, to which he repeated “I don’t remember” again. “I don’t remember.” This might be seen as resistance to her request, but more likely he was experiencing traumatic emotions (PTSD) due to the abduction.
Next came what for me was a still more disturbing section.
Without transition, the psychologist claims that Rui then asked the psychologist to tell him the names of his fingers. (“What’s this finger?“) She explained (for dramatic effect), that she told him the names of the fingers in order: the forefinger, middle finger, the ring finger, etc. When she reached his thumb, she used a Japanese expression which she explained meant “the father finger.” It appears to me that the finger naming might well have been initiated by the psychologist in order to elicit a response to an indirect reference to Rui’s father.
“Rui’s cheerful face turned gloomy and said, “I don’t do that anymore. Let’s play something else” and stopped drawing. This clearly shows his fear towards his father.”
This prescribed conclusion –”fear of his father“- is sutured into this scene. “I don’t do that anymore” seems to mean, “I don’t have him any more” and that what he was in fear of, was the permanent loss of his Daddy.
That Rui became “gloomy” when his father was mentioned and asked not to continue drawing does NOT constitute evidence of “fear toward his father.” Rather, the gloom, a sign of an internal struggle with sorrow or anxiety, more likely demonstrates that thinking about his father made him sad, because he was afraid that his mother had used her power to remove him to somewhere his father could not be with him.
He was right.
The most revealing episode in the report comes in the section, BEHAVIOR CHECK THROUGH PLAY.
The psychologist reports trying to engage Rui in a series of games, including a card game with story characters on the cards. In a manner trying to lead his thoughts, the examiner explained that “the King” card in the game was “a frightening person – a big man with a sword.” But, Rui responded that he was NOT frightened by imagining this powerful male character. Here the doctor inadvertently gives us direct evidence against the theory that Rui was harboring fear of his father.
The report’s conclusion continues in the same vein, stating that Rui did “not want to remember” his home in the U.S. without exploring the probability that this recollection stirred anxiety and was painful. The psychologist repeated the observation that Rui turned “gloomy” when asked about the father, but she is never able to observe that he is scared.
The report concludes that “fear of his father stays (continues) seriously” – despite the fact that Rui had just said that he was NOT AFRAID of the male father figure on the card.
At the end of the report, the psychologist then directly contradicts her finding that Rui fears his father, by saying that this [fear that she believes she has found] “does not interfere in his everyday life.”
This is an astonishing admission: Rui is said to be terribly afraid of his father with whom he has lived since birth, yet this fear, according to the clinician, does NOT appear nor interfere in his everyday life. She could find no symptoms nor maladjustment to report. Only sorrow.
The report appears to have been concocted with the intention of finding a prearranged conclusion for which there is only contrary evidence. There is ample evidence though, if we want to see it, that Rui was being manipulated and labeled with the aim of gaining an advantage to be realized against him and his father in family court. This is a confirmed strategy, used repeatedly and remarked upon in academic research on contentious divorces involving children. (Gardner)
U.S. SOCIAL WORKER’S REPORT ON RUI’S MOTHER
The final portion I should mention from the case file was submitted by a New York City based LCSW – a social worker from Forest Hills. It states that for a year prior to the abduction, Rui’s mother had sought counseling with her. She states that Rui’s mother was afraid that she was suffering from a deepening depression that was negatively affecting her parenting of our child. She discussed with the social worker that she felt insecure, increasingly hopeless, and she was becoming frightened about the potential effect of this on our son. The report observes Rui’s mother’s extensive symptoms during the year: she was exhausted by guilt, experienced lack of appetite, palsied emotions, and frozen facial expressions.
But the social worker does not mention me, Rui’s father, in any negative light. For me, this is how an adequately vetted professional with integrity files a report. She never met me, so, unlike the Japanese investigators, she doesn’t submit any commentary about me, because she can’t know what is a product of Rui’s mother’s perception, a product of depressive symptoms, dynamics of the marriage, and so on.
Rui’s mother was indeed suffering – from untreated depression – when she took the Japanese State up on its offer, and abducted my son. Her early family history was fertile ground for this development. There were two generations of divorce and abduction in her maternal and paternal lines; a substantial family precedent. The first six years of her childhood were a string of extraordinarily traumatizing stories: her father’s departure; abandonment by her mother; a period of separation from her beloved older sister; a year spent given up for adoption to an aunt; a lengthy period of horrific child abuse by a maniacal nanny; and a heroic ending in which the damaged child was blissfully reunited with her sister and mother. Achieving this dream transformed mother and sister into nearly supernatural beings, impenetrably fused with her in a beatified family unit in which each could do no wrong, and brook no criticism. Few were worthy to enter this holy sanctuary. It was a tragedy with an uplifting ending that moved me. They triumphed together.
She kept photographs of the first days of her reunification with her family mounted on wooden backing on a shelf in an honored place wherever she lived. When it became obvious to her that her sisters would not or could not have children, she began an internal transformation that made it her business to deliver the family a son.
III. FINAL THOUGHTS ON CONTEXT, AND THE RESPONSE OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT
I want to bring my talk to a close by mentioning some additional points that bring the story more up to date.
A. THE U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: ACTIVE AGAINST SANCTIONS, WINKING AT JAPAN
1. Town Hall Meetings at the Department of State, and Abduction Hearings in Congress
I attended two “Town Hall” meetings with parents in 2011 and 2012, hosted by Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs under Hillary Clinton, Kurt Campbell, a Washington think-tank veteran. Mr. Campbell’s agenda was to push for the Department to bring a greater American policy focus to East Asia, where the previous generation of U.S. administrations had of necessity given the lion’s share of their attention to the Middle East and Europe. I also attended concurrent hearings on child abduction in Congress held by Congressman Chris Smith’s Human Rights Subcommittee.
Praise for Congressman Smith on this issue can’t be too high. He and the stream of panelists he has invited to those Congressional sessions have championed us and our kids, publicly excoriated the State Department repeatedly for its obstruction, and sponsored bills for years which finally resulted in HR 3212, the International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act (ICAPRA), in 2014, making sanctions to defend children against non-compliant states such as Japan an affirmative possibility. The State Department used every opportunity to send its highest officials to oppose the passage of this bill in Congress. The top diplomat in the Office of Children’s Issues, Ambassador-at-Large Susan Jacobs, attempted to discourage by preemption the passage of any such law by working behind the scenes, and stating for cameras and Congressmen that regardless of what was legislated, “we’re not going to sanction Japan.“
Mr. Campbell, a knowledgeable East Asia specialist, also told the hearing room so that the Japanese could hear, that his and the U.S.’ unwavering support for Japan meant that bringing our children home was not considered in any way something negotiable. Restoration of our parental rights was, he said for all Japanese, American and global officials to know and feel, “a non-starter.”
Thanks to Congressman Smith’s International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2014 (ICAPRA), the State Department is now required to report annually on the degree of non-compliance with the Treaty and International Law on child abduction in all countries. If the report were reliably-done, it could potentially prove to be a highly useful tool for family court judges and divorce/custody lawyers who wish to assure the safety of the children whose families they see in court.
So, What did the State Department submit to Congress in the 2015 report about Japan?
How many of the thousands of unresolved abduction cases are included in the report?
Zero. A string of zeros.
The Japanese government sent a delegation to Washington prior to the issuance of the report (in March, 2015), requesting that Japan’s non-compliance be overlooked as they claimed to be working so hard, and it had been only 35 years that Japan had to study the Hague Convention, and consider how it might be implemented. In love with the ease and convenience of child abduction, they found adjustment to be slow.
To the surprise of no parents, the State Department chose to abandon its obligation to provide assistance to children and parents, set aside loyalty to a minimal definition of truth, and fraudulently reported a string of zeros, on Japan’s behalf. Corruption on demand.
B. PARTIALLY SOVEREIGN JAPAN
There is one additional issue of missed opportunity of unrealized significance with respect to the politics of state-sponsored child abduction that needs to be made:
The 70-year domination of Japanese political life by the United States has, in myriad ways, provided the bulwark built into the structures of power, of resistance to social evolution of the Japanese state. It is a yoke that has prevented the Japanese people from activating the most basic forms of social organization to pursue popular sovereignty. The Japanese developmentalist state that was, and the neoliberal state that is, today, are each a product of a privileged class of elite dominance that gives the appearance of impenetrability and permanence, but which has also had to actively and aggressively police the Japanese people in order to obstruct reform. Merely one among many such institutional consequences, family law policies so little resemble the lived reality of Japanese family life that they have made the very idea of having families with children less tenable, and therefore less attractive to the Japanese people. The result has been a demographic disaster.
In 2009, a year before my son was stolen and hidden in Japan, a political stalemate of historic proportions appeared at last to be broken. Yukio Hatoyama of the Democratic Party of Japan was elected Prime Minister by the Japanese people to open a discussion about the unsettling and politically constrictive presence of 50,000 United States Military personnel in 87 locations in Japan; to discuss undertaking new independent, beneficial economic partnerships betweem Japan and its East Asian neighbors; and to reopen the settlement of the enormously costly relocations and locally-hated massive construction plans for additional US military bases, pending in Okinawa.
Hatoyama appointed legislator Keiko Chiba as Minister of Justice. For her term of office, Justice Minister Chiba proposed to begin a longed-for, overdue reform of Japan’s judicial system – a year before my son’s abduction.
She supported relief from numerous restrictions against rights.
She supported multiple citizenship, amendment of the Japanese Nationality Act, introduction of a dual-surname system – that is, the right of women to maintain their surname after marriage, and voting rights for non-citizens (a commendable aim in the age of globalization and capital mobility).
Most importantly for us, she and some among her party’s lawmakers were authentic feminists who favored the introduction at last of Joint Custody.
For this reform agenda, she was called an “idiot” by the U.S.’ current favorite and most loyal subject, the right wing, war-atrocity denying, civil liberties-undermining Prime Minister of Japan today, Shinzo Abe.
Washington sprang into action after Hatoyama’s election, using every conceivable strategy from diplomatic snubs and extraordinary insults, to putting public and private pressures on members of the government, to drawing in friends of U.S. positions, to relaying displeasure and shaming of the Prime Minister via the press; until finally, Mister Hatoyama was forced to capitulate, and was hounded from office by the United States in 2010, 9 months after his election. (See: McCormack, Obama Vs Okinawa, 2010).
We might have had Joint Custody.
We might have had the evolution of a social regime respectful of human rights.
We might even have prevented or returned abducted children.
I might not have lost Rui’s childhood. He might not have lost his loving father.
A great deal of grief could have been avoided, for so many.
Critique is necessary, not only of the written law, but of real practice.
It was law of course that made human enslavement legal; it was law that sanctioned imperial conquest and division of the world by the European powers through the 18th and 19th centuries. I conclude my thoughts today about my son’s abduction with the remembrance that it was not harmonious co-existence, but the violent dissolution and failures of political unions, on which these abusive regimes relied, that conferred the strength to bring about Abolition, and the End of Empire. Some hope, but I am skeptical, that it will not take a similar level of disruption of the order of things for the abolition of Japanese child abduction to take place.
I. Phantom Child Syndrome
A. Song of the Crow
B. State-Sponsored Child Abduction
C. Phantom Children, Phantom Fathers
II. Weaponized Psychology in the Courtoom
A. A Savage Sorting of Winners and Losers
B. Inducement to Abduction
C. A Human Rights Violation
D. Easy Prey – Exploiting the Child’s Vulnerability Through Psych Evaluations
III. Final Words
A. The U.S. State Department in Congress: Active Against Sanctions, Signaling Japan
B. Partially Sovereign Japan
There are so many texts that have gone into thinking about this issue. Surprisingly few have been written that address it directly. For today at least, I think the following have been among the most helpful and provoking.
1 Anne Allison, Precarious Japan. Duke University Press, 2013
2 Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism Harcourt, Brace, 1951.
3 Maria Aristodemou, Law, Psychoanalysis, Society; Routledge, 2014.
4 Patrick Beillevaire, “The Family: Instrument and Model of the Japanese Nation”, from A History of the Family, Volume II: The Impact of Modernity, Burguiere, Klapisch-Zuber, Segalen, & Zonabend, editors; pp. 242-267
5 Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. Zone Books, 2015.
6 Wendy Brown, Walled States, Waning Sovereignty. Zone Books, 2010.
7 David Chapman, and Karl Jakob Krogness, editors; Japan’s Household Registration System and Citizenship, Routledge, 2014
8 Norma Field, In the Realm of A Dying Emperor. Pantheon, 1991.
9 Goldstein, Solnit, Goldstein & Freud, The Best Interests of the Child: The Least Detrimental Alternative; Free Press, 1996.
10 Peter Gown, The Global Gamble, Verso, 1999.
11 Peter Gowan, “U.S. Hegemony Today” in Pox Americana: Exposing the American Empire. John Bellamy Foster & Robert W. McChesney, eds. Monthly Review Press, 2004.
12 Peter Gowan, A Calculus of Power Verso, 2010.
13 Harry Harootunian, “Memory, Mourning and National Morality: Yasukuni Shrine and the Reunion of State and Religion” in Nation and Religion, van der Veer & Lehman, eds., 1999.
14 Harry Harootunian, “”An Etiquette of Anti-Americanism”: Being Japanese in the American Imperium in Anti-Americanism, Andrew Ross and Kirstin Ross, eds. New York University Press, 2004.
15 David Harvey The New Imperialism Oxford, 2003
16 Koyama Shizuko, Ryosai Kenbo: The Educational Ideal of ‘Good Wife, Wise Mother’ in Modern Japan. Brill, 2013.
17 Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Columbia University Press, 1982.
18 Gavan McCormack, “Chauvinist Nationalism in Japan’s Schizophrenic State”, in Socialist Register 2016:The Politics of the Right, Panitch and Albo, ed
19 Gavan McCormack, “Obama Vs Okinawa”, New Left Review, 64, July-August 2010.
20 Gavan McCormack, Client State: Japan in the American Embrace, Verso, 2007
21 China Mieville, Between Equal Rights; A Marxist Theory of International Law; Brill, 2005 (Haymarket, 2006)
22 Richard Ronald and Allison Alexy, editors Home and Family in Japan: Continuity and Transformation, Routledge, 2011
23 Saskia Sassen, Globalization and Its Discontents. The New Press, 1998.
24 Saskia Sassen, Territory, Authority, Rights Princeton, 2006
25 Saskia Sassen, Expulsions. Belknap Harvard, 2014
26 Tanase Takao, “Post-divorce child visitations and parental rights”, from Community and the Law: A Critical Reassessment of American Liberalism and Japanese Modernity, Edward Elgar, 2010. Pp. 63-91
27 Chizuko Ueno, Nationalism and Gender, Trans Pacific Press, Melbourne, 2004.
28 Chizuko Ueno, The Modern Family in Japan: Its Rise and Fall; Trans Pacific Press, Melbourne, 2009.
29 Tomiko Yoda & Harry Harootunian, eds., Japan After Japan: Social and Cultural Life from the Recessionary 1990’s to the Present, Duke University Press, 2006
30 Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Childism. Yale, 2012.
Steps in the reasoning of the statistical estimate.
1) The average number of divorces per year had been 250,000. Sometimes more, sometimes less. (In the last four years it has dipped to about 230,000, and in 2014 at 222,107 divorces.)
Divorce is a vital statistic counted by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare in Japan.
2) The average number of children per divorce has been slightly more than 1.
a) This means the number of divorces is roughly equal to the number of children of divorce in Japan.
b) The chart in slide 9 shows the total number of children of divorce over a number of years and the ratio of the number of children to the number of divorces.
This demonstrates 2 a).
3) Two surveys have reported the percentage of parents not seeing their children after divorce:
a) NHK Close Up Gendai reported on September 8, 2010 that 58% of parents were not seeing their children after divorce.
(NHK Close Up Gendai is popular television news programming in Japan. It runs for 30 minutes Mon – Thurs at 7:30 pm after the 7:00 pm NHK news broadcast. Therefore, Close Up Gendai commands a certain respect in Japan as a public source of information.)
b) An NPO called Wink found that 63% of parents were not visiting their children after divorce.
c) Rounding it down to about 60% of children.
The equation from the above points becomes 250,000 children of divorce per year multiplied by 60% and then multiplied by 20 years.
250,000 x .60 x 20 = 3,000,000 children
This gives an estimated 3 million children in Japan who have lost the relationship with one of their parents after divorce. It is roughly 15% of minor children in Japan. About a million children per year reach the age of majority of 20 years old, (with a national holiday that celebrates this every year). The multiplier of 20 years covers all the minor children in Japan, where 20 is the age of majority.
3 million divided by 20 million gives 15%.
This information on the numbers was provided for me by John Gomez, founder of Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion.
Special thanks to those parents who shared their files and stories with me. Your help and our mutual collaborations widen the scope, substantiate the claims we make, and increase the potency of the issues we raise with the criminality of Japanese parental abduction. None of this happened only to just one, but to all of us. The more the stories of our children’s abductions are combined, the more obvious the patterns of fact and false claims of abductors and their lawyers stand out.
Thanks are also due to the conference organizer, Linda Gunsberg, and the participants, who opened their hearts to let the public see.
(A conference flyer with abstracts and names of participants is posted here.)