Britain to press Japan on foreign fathers’ rights to access children
Friday 16th October, 11:56 AM JST
London is to put fresh pressure on Tokyo to improve the rights of its nationals seeking access to their children living in Japan with estranged partners.
Britain is trying to assist its citizens who are either seeking the return of their kids to the United Kingdom, or are denied access to their children by the Japanese civil courts.
The Foreign Office in London believes Japanese courts presiding in custody cases could be breaching obligations under the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In Japan, courts will generally side with the Japanese parent and order the children remain in their care in Japan.
Critics argue that, due to cultural reasons, Japanese courts will always grant custody to the mother in separation battles, and the idea of joint custody—more common in Europe—is an anathema. Even if a court grants limited visiting rights for the father, they are not enforceable.
Shane Clarke, a father trying to gain access to his two daughters in Japan, recently received an e-mail from Helen Paige, a child abduction caseworker at the Foreign Office.
In the Oct 12 message, she states, ‘‘We will ask the British ambassador in Japan to raise with the Japanese government the obligations of states to develop and undertake all actions and policies in the best interests of the child, referring in particular to article 10.2.’’
This article asserts that a ‘‘child whose parents reside in different countries shall have the right to maintain on a regular basis … personal relations and direct contacts with both parents.’’
Paige said the British government is willing to raise cases with Tokyo and cite the convention if an individual has gone through the legal process and remains dissatisfied.
Clarke said he is happy that Britain has ‘‘acknowledged’’ the convention and that ‘‘it applies to these situations.’’
While it is claimed that Japanese society accepts that mothers must be given priority in custody battles, many foreigners who married Japanese women find the position intolerable.
And the growing number of mixed marriages, and subsequent separations and divorces, has meant the issue is being put on the international agenda.
Despite Britain’s attempts to force Japan to honor its convention obligations, officials readily admit there is no method of ‘‘international enforcement’’ if it is judged that a Japanese court has failed to heed the convention’s strictures. Clarke disputes this point, claiming the International Court of Justice could provide this role.
However, the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which Britain has been pressing Japan to adopt, does provide an enforcement mechanism.
This convention requires that if a child has been taken by one parent to another country following an estrangement, the child must be returned to the country where he or she is ‘‘habitually resident.’’
It also seeks to standardize laws and ensure custody decisions can be made by appropriate courts and protect the access rights of both parents.
Many Japanese women have returned to their home country realizing that it offers a safe haven from any court orders arising in other countries.
Clarke’s Japanese wife returned to Japan with their two daughters after a four-year marriage in Britain. The British courts have ordered that the children should be returned to Britain where they are ‘‘habitually resident’’ but this is not recognized in Japan, according to Clarke.
Britain, along with the United States, is pressing Japan to sign The Hague convention. In correspondence with Clarke, Britain’s Ambassador David Warren has said he is ‘‘concerned’’ about the number of ‘‘abductions’’ and is hoping to hold meetings with the new government on the issue.
Japan is currently investigating whether to sign The Hague convention. There are fears it could make it harder for Japanese women to flee abusive relationships in one country and return with their children to Japan. The government denies Japanese courts are ‘‘institutionally racist’’ against foreign fathers.
This issue has been thrust into the spotlight recently with the arrest of Christopher Savoie, a 38-year-old American, who was released Thursday in Fukuoka after he snatched his children from his Japanese ex-wife as they walked to school.
His wife took their two children to Japan in August from their home in Tennessee. In his wife’s absence, the U.S. courts gave Christopher Savoie full custody and issued an arrest warrant for his wife. Before his wife left, Savoie had tried to obtain court orders which prevented her from leaving the country.