Every Child

Has Two Parents


Japan moves to halt international child abductions  Australian Broadcasting Corp

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MARK COLVIN: Settling terms of custody in a divorce is never easy, but it's much harder if the children involved have been abducted overseas by one parent. If they've been taken to a country which is not a signatory to the 1980 Hague Convention, it can be near impossible.

It recognises, the convention that is, recognises cross-border custody rights and Japan is the only major industrial nation which has not signed up to it.

Today the Japanese government announced that after years of lobbying by parents' groups overseas it would sign the Hague Convention.

Sarah Dingle reports.

SARAH DINGLE: Matthew Wyman is a Gold Coast father of two boys: 10-year-old Jake, and six-year-old Alex. They were born in Japan, but came to live in Australia when the youngest was just one year old. However, Mr Wyman hasn't seen his sons for months.

MATTHEW WYMAN: Around Christmas 2008 my wife told me that she was going to go for a holiday. Within, maybe, two weeks of being there I got the phone call to say 'sorry I'm not coming back'.

SARAH DINGLE: For Mr Wyman, this was the start of a nightmare. He quickly discovered that any court orders made in Australia held no weight in Japan. He went to Japan several times to try to sort out custody issues, including mediation, but met with little success and a lot of resistance.

MATTHEW WYMAN: Japanese legal system always, always, awards the children to the Japanese parents. My wife now is demanding custody, and she'll eventually get it. But what means is, if she dies, my sons will be awarded to her mother.

Also, in Japan they don't have birth certificates they have a birth registry called the koseki. My name will be erased from the koseki, meaning that technically and legally I am no longer their father, I do not exist.

SARAH DINGLE: Mr Wyman says that in Japan, when it comes to custody, possession is the law.

MATTHEW WYMAN: Basically if the parent has the child, possesses the child, they dictate whether we can see our children or not.

ERIC KALMUS: I had no idea at all that there would ever be a chance that I would lose the right to see my daughters.

SARAH DINGLE: Eric Kalmus is the cofounder of the Children's Rights Network website. Mr Kalmus last saw his daughter Amy in 1998, when she was two years old, and his relationship with her Japanese mother had broken down.

ERIC KALMUS: Basically we made up an agreement. In Japanese there's no word for custody, it's actually sole-parental rights. And I signed it assuming it was custody and my ex-wife told me one day I would never see her again.

SARAH DINGLE: The Hague Convention expedites international custody disputes.

Mr Kalmus says the last time any child was legally taken out of Japan was in 1953, when a member of the Australian cult the Family abducted a child and sought refuge in Japan. He says there's been no success for foreign parents with the Japanese legal system, and the only way to get children out is illegally; to somehow re-abduct them.

ERIC KALMUS: So if I told you, hey you go to this airport, you do this and that, you know, we could lose that opportunity after I said that. I think I'm not going to give you the full rundown but, you know, it's different depending on the case.

SARAH DINGLE: Mr Kalmus says he doesn't agree with such action in his case, because he doesn't want to destroy his now-teenage daughter's life. He says there are more than 300 parents in similar situations to himself in the United States alone. He welcomes Japan's commitment to sign the Hague Convention, but doesn't place much faith in any resulting change.

ERIC KALMUS: Japan has a history of signing things and not abiding by them.

SARAH DINGLE: It's not just foreign parents who are affected.

Donna Hesse is a Californian grandmother.

DONNA HESSE: My daughter married a Japanese man and the Japanese father became abusive and my daughter had a divorce, which the court of law in Hawaii gave her custody of her son. Then within a year the father had abducted my grandson back to his homeland of Japan.

SARAH DINGLE: Donna Hesse and her daughter have tried to recover the child to no avail. Ms Hesse now worries not only that her grandson is being mentally abused by his father, but also that when he was abducted, the father took her grandchild to live in Fukushima. She welcomes Japan's signing of the Hague Convention but says this has to accompany action.

DONNA HESSE: So at this time we're looking forward to the possibility of Japan holding up to their word.

SARAH DINGLE: Donna Hesse is taking a petition to Congress this weekend, signed by the families of abducted children, and say she's making another trip to Japan in September, to try once again to see her grandson.

MARK COLVIN: Sarah Dingle.


The information on this website concerns a matter of public interest, and is provided for educational and informational purposes only in order to raise public awareness of issues concerning left-behind parents. Unless otherwise indicated, the writers and translators of this website are not lawyers nor professional translators, so be sure to confirm anything important with your own lawyer.

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