Every Child

Has Two Parents


Australian Broadcast Network

SIMON SANTOW: What happens to children when an international marriage breaks down?

Hello, I'm Simon Santow with a Radio Current Affairs documentary.

An agreement between countries drawn up in The Hague is meant to prevent kids from being bounced around the world.

Japan, though, stands out from the pack and for all the wrong reasons.

The government there is accused of being too slow to stop its citizens from taking their own children, without the approval of one parent, back to Japan.

For the first time, Sarah Dingle's investigation takes us inside the mind of an abductor in the anatomy of a kidnapping.

(Modern Japanese music)

ROBERT: You know, I wanted to do the best for my son, spend time with him, develop him. You know I was overjoyed, very, very happy.

ERIC KALMUS: When I first saw Amy, it changed my life in an instant. The moment I saw her I knew everything would be okay.

COLIN JONES: It's commonly said that no child abducted to Japan, from the United States at least, has ever been successfully recovered.

SARAH DINGLE: Every year across the globe, there's a migration - not of birds, but of children. They're abducted from countries around the world and flown back to Japan. The kidnappers are their own Japanese parents.

COLIN JONES: You find yourself in a very stressful, potentially very expensive and potentially life changing situation where you could either give up and hope for the best, or spend a significant amount of time, energy and money trying to get your child back from Japan, or at least maintain some sort of contact or relationship with your child despite the fact that they now live in Japan.

SARAH DINGLE: Law professor Colin Jones is a specialist on child abduction based at Kyoto's Doshisha University. He says Japan is the only major industrialised nation not to have joined The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction.

Member countries of the Hague Convention agree to respect each others' family courts in custody disputes. If a parent takes a child and flees overseas, they will be sent back to face the family courts in the country of origin.

COLIN JONES: It involves, I think, a tacit recognition that signatories to the Hague Convention are quote "civilised countries" that can be relied upon to make decisions that are not harmful to the child at issue.

ERIC KALMUS: A parent who has a child that has been murdered, sadly they have closure because the child is gone. But when you're the parent of a child that's been abducted, your pain never ends. You know they're out there but you just can't be with them. You know when I first lost Amy, almost every day I cried.

SARAH DINGLE: American man Eric Kalmus has been fighting that emptiness for 14 years.

(Japanese music)

ERIC KALMUS: In late 1995 through some friends I met a woman in Tokyo and we fell in love. One thing led to another, she became pregnant, we were married. We moved to her home town in Kyushu Japan and Amy was born shortly after.

It took probably a year and a half and we realised that it wasn't working. We got divorced. We drew up a document in Japanese, a joint custody document. In Japanese custody equals sole parental right.

SARAH DINGLE: Eric Kalmus didn't realise when he agreed to give his ex-wife custody, he was giving up all his own parental rights. According to professor Colin Jones, the Japanese legal system has never recognised joint parental custody because traditionally in Japanese culture the family has been a single unit.

COLIN JONES: The system still only wants there only to be one parent, one person that the rest of the world has to deal with, effectively.

ERIC KALMUS: I went to the first mediation. After that I was no longer able to renew my visa so I had to return to the United States. We had another appointment to go back for mediation, which I returned to Japan for. My ex-wife never even showed up for that.

Really, in Japan when you have sole parental right there's nothing the courts can say or do to change that.

SARAH DINGLE: For the next four years Eric Kalmus sent his daughter letters and presents from the United States. Then in late 2003, the parcels started coming back. His ex and Amy had disappeared and they never contacted him again.

ERIC KALMUS: I tried doing everything I could and I just fell into a pretty deep depression. I can't even explain the feeling of your first child and the love you feel for them and you know, I was there when she was born. Then all of a sudden one day I couldn't see her anymore.

SARAH DINGLE: Eric realised he wasn't the only one to fall foul of Japanese child abduction. Searching for information online he came across a website about three other parents in the same situation.

ERIC KALMUS: Finally I had found some other people that had the same experiences and it was really, that was life changing as well. A lot of my depression went away because all of a sudden I had support and I had people I could talk to.

SARAH DINGLE: It was also the start of a second career for Eric. Soon he was running the website, helping other parents from international marriages where the children had been abducted to Japan.


ERIC KALMUS: It made everything easier. When I started helping other people understand it and work through it, I became a lot stronger. The website I run now gets 3,500 unique visitors per month - unique visitors. Giving those people the ability made my loss of Amy have more sense.

SARAH DINGLE: Now he even takes occasional paid work as a consultant in international custody disputes. His website has become the first port of call for distraught parents of half-Japanese children whose offspring have disappeared.

And a few months ago, Eric Kalmus came across the most extraordinary case of his career.

ERIC KALMUS: I mean no matter what, this whole thing really was a bit of a gift to all the left behind parents out there that have been fighting this for years.

(Sound of typing)

SARAH DINGLE: In June 2012 Eric Kalmus received a distress email from a young man called Robert in the UK.

ERIC KALMUS: When I first talked to Robert he was at a loss. He was pretty much in shock, he had no idea what was going on, if he would ever see his child again.

SARAH DINGLE: Robert was relieved to find Eric.

ROBERT: He seemed quite passionate about the situation. He'd also had obviously previous personal experiences so he could relate to it.

(Rock music)

SARAH DINGLE: In London's spring of 2010 Robert had met a Japanese woman, Masako.

ROBERT: I replied to an advert on the internet for skill exchange and basically she wanted to learn how to play guitar and I wanted to learn how to speak, read and write Japanese.

(Rock music)

So I replied to her advert and I met her in a coffee shop in central London.

(Sounds from within a coffee shop)

It was so quick, it was lightning fast. It was like three weeks. We started dating and then after that we moved in together after about two months. So we got married after a year as well and then my son was born in November 2011.

After the baby was born she put more and more demands on me. I don't know if she had post natal depression, I couldn't really tell. She never really expressed her emotions openly or properly so it was very difficult.

My favourite saying was "Calm down please, calm down" because I couldn't get her to calm down. She just wanted to go back to Japan, she wanted to go and visit her family. Her visa had taken over a year, the application, so she felt trapped in this country.

SARAH DINGLE: The situation deteriorated and in mid-June when their child was only six months old, Masako asked Robert to stay at his parents' house for a week.

ROBERT: I left. Then on the Saturday morning I went back, Saturday the 23rd of June. I went inside and nobody was there. I couldn't see anyone, I couldn't see anything.

I know a luggage case had gone, their passports had gone. But I still never thought they've travelled out of the country. It just seemed impossible to comprehend something like that.

SARAH DINGLE: But the worst was yet to come. Not only had she left, Masako had also been in touch with the police.

ROBERT: So I went outside then, and then the police arrested me for domestic violence and child abuse. So I went into the van. They took me down to the station, they interviewed me.

They assumed me as a person of good character. I have no previous convictions. I'm, you know, I've never been in trouble with the police before, not for anything violent. For them I was just a normal person. They said "We get this a lot".

SARAH DINGLE: But for Robert it was anything but normal. It was a nightmare.

ROBERT: My child and my wife have gone and now I've just been arrested and the charges are child abuse as well. And the grounds for the child abuse were that I'd put a bottle in my son's mouth with force, which sounds slightly ludicrous.

The police called me the next day and they were like "Oh sorry, we've just found out your wife has just gone to Japan," and then the woman that interviewed me said "Oh, it looks like your situation's just become a lot worse".

SARAH DINGLE: The ABC has seen emails between the London Metropolitan Police and Masako. Masako asks whether Robert can force her to return their child to the UK now that Robert has a record of domestic violence based on her allegations. She also asks if she can get a UK divorce from Japan, as she does not intend to return to the United Kingdom.

The police say Robert was cautioned and released without charge, and that the investigation is closed.

ROBERT: After she'd left I didn't really sleep much for three days, probably had two hours sleep in three days.

SARAH DINGLE: For the next month Robert struggled to come to terms with being a left behind parent. He found Eric Kalmus' website and began to email him.

Then suddenly, his story became unlike any other international child abduction Eric Kalmus had seen before.

ROBERT: One day I came home and I hadn't logged onto Skype on my PC for, it must've been a year.

(Sound of Skype connecting)

But then when I switched it on, I noticed a lot of Japanese names in the contacts column and I was like "What the hell? This isn't my Skype," and I just thought "Wow, this is my wife's Skype!"

SARAH DINGLE: Robert now had a window onto where his wife was and whether his child was safe.

ROBERT: I could see her chatting to people. I saw previous conversations that she'd had with people. The one obviously that sticks out is the one between her and her friend that resides in London also. Alex and Kiyomi, we went to their wedding reception.

Masako knew Kiyomi and I never knew Alex. But I was introduced to him briefly and he seemed like a nice chap, you know, and then the Skype logs themselves were referring to this couple Alex and Kiyomi.

SARAH DINGLE: As new mothers, Kiyomi and Masako began to bond on Skype chat.

(Extract from Skype chat)

KIYOMI: He was born on the 28th of July.

MASAKO: Oh, congratulations!

(End of extract)

ROBERT: After a while it just seemed to decline into sort of something a little bit more sinister. Kiyomi was asking my wife for her advice. Basically she said "Oh, I hear that you've been recently divorced".

(Extract from Skype chat)

KIYOMI: Masako, what happened with the issues around your divorce? I was actually also thinking about going back to Japan, and if you have any useful information I'd like your advice. You might wonder why I want a divorce just two weeks after giving birth, but I was thinking about divorcing him many times during pregnancy.

(Sound of typing)

MASAKO: Right now in Japan there is this Hague Convention. It hasn't been ratified so if you come back now you will be protected by Japanese law.

(End of extract)

ROBERT: And then it snowballs really into something like "I've heard you've been divorced and you've kidnapped your son. Could you show me the ropes, please?"

(Extract from Skype chat)

MASAKO: I thought I would be brought back unless I proved domestic violence, so I went to the UK police and everything, but even if I returned without doing that, I would have been protected by Japanese law. You can just sign the divorce papers when you get back. I wrote it myself by pretending that he signed it.

KIYOMI: But even if I came home now, once Japan acceded to the Hague Convention next April, won't I be arrested by UK as a kidnapper?

MASAKO: No you won't be. It won't be applied to the abductions before the ratification.

(End of extract)

ROBERT: It was all pretty calculated, all of it. I was obviously stunned and again, I found it very difficult to sleep and I was distressed, and I felt like I had a lot of emotional baggage and a burden, someone else's burden as well.

(Extract from Skype chat)

MASAKO: If you want to divorce him in Japan, you have to go through mediation or the court, and if there is a hearing, he will need to attend.

(End of extract)

SARAH DINGLE: Masako says quite calmly that she faked your signature on divorce papers in Japan. How does that make you feel?

ROBERT: It didn't surprise me. She'd also emailed me, mentioning it, saying "Oh if I want to be entitled to benefits in Japan, I need to divorce you from here. But don't worry, I'll just sign it for you. Everybody does it," you know, more or less along those terms. So I just thought, "Well whatever. I obviously can't say no, so do what you like".

SARAH DINGLE: How do you feel about the fact that Masako was advising others on how to abduct their children?

ROBERT: Heartbroken and devastated, appalled, angry.

ERIC KALMUS: We always tell people how it happened. We say "Well she forged my divorce papers and took the child," and people tend to not believe that. A lot of times in the West we believe that the rest of the world is like we are and Japan is not.

(Extract from Skype chat)

KIYOMI: So now if I lie to my husband and took my son home it will be fine?

MASAKO: The point is whether Kiyomi can get home to Japan safely.

(End of extract)

SARAH DINGLE: From Japan, Masako then sends Kiyomi an internet link. It's a two-page information sheet from the website of the Japanese embassy in the UK. Written entirely in Japanese, it contains Japanese government advice for parental abductors and those considering abduction.

(Extract from statement on Japanese embassy website)

VOICE 1: I would like to take my child back to Japan. At some stage, if I were to return to the original state of residence, is there a risk that I would be arrested?

VOICE 2: The act of taking a child overseas without the other parent's consent may be an offence in some countries and you can be arrested in countries such as the USA, the UK, France and Australia.

(End of extract)

SARAH DINGLE: In May 2011, the Japanese government said for the first time it would sign The Hague Convention on International Child Abductions. Since then, however, no progress has been made. The information sheet also addresses the question of what joining The Hague Convention would mean for parental child abductors.

(Extract from statement on Japanese embassy website)

VOICE 1: Does The Hague Convention apply to the abductions that took place before it comes into effect?

VOICE 2: The procedure to return the child according to the convention does not apply to the abduction that took place before it comes into effect in Japan.

(End of extract)

SARAH DINGLE: Professor Colin Jones believes this information is proof there is movement behind the scenes towards signing The Hague Convention.

COLIN JONES: I don't consider it to be providing advice to parental child abductors. I'm a little surprised that it's up.

I think that the government has an interest now in socialising the Hague Convention and that's I think what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is doing. I think the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wants the country to sign The Hague as soon as possible because they're the people who listen to all the demarches and other complaints from their counterparts in other countries and from parents themselves.

(Extract from statement on Japanese embassy website)

VOICE 1: If you take a child back to Japan without the other parent's consent and an application for his or her return is lodged, do you always have to return the child?

VOICE 2: Under The Hague Convention, the general rule is to return the child to the original state of residence. However, there are some instances, such as the cases below, where the court will decide that the child does not have to be returned.

(End of extract)

SARAH DINGLE: The ABC has found this same information sheet hosted on the websites of Japanese embassies around the world.

The ABC sought an interview for this documentary with the Japanese government via its embassy in Australia for weeks without success.

COLIN JONES: Effectively the bureaucracy has, I think, gotten to the point where they want this issue to go away.

SARAH DINGLE: As August wore on, Robert and Eric were increasingly concerned that Kiyomi was about to become another abductor.

ROBERT: She was actually planning in a very detailed manner how to kidnap her own child.

SARAH DINGLE: They hadn't contacted either Alex or Kiyomi but decided to send the Skype logs to the UK police.

ERIC KALMUS: I decided after calling the police that it was probably smart to give them a few days at least, maybe a week, to see if they did anything about it.

I recall one of the final Skype logs that we received was from Masako talking to Kiyomi, and she actually got to the point where she started helping Kiyomi plan it.

She basically said, "Your mother's going to be going back sometime mid-September early October. That's probably the best time for you to take the child," and Kiyomi, she agreed.

(Extract from Skype chat)

KIYOMI: Are there passport inspections at departure?

MASAKO: The important departure checks are just about luggage. So the UK is fine for people to leave. They are much stricter for entry. It doesn't matter 'cause you are not actually coming back but you have to pretend like you are.

(End of extract)

ROBERT: It was hard to get people to deal with it because a crime technically hadn't been committed until the child's actually abducted, which is kind of ludicrous but that's the way it works apparently.

ERIC KALMUS: So Robert and I kept watching every day and then one day he contacted me and said, "Eric I think we have a problem. I think that Kiyomi has blocked Masako. Her name is not even there". That raised some red flags.

SARAH DINGLE: Eric and Robert decided they couldn't wait for the police. They had to tell Alex.

(Sound of a Skype call connecting)

ROBERT: We decided on Skype calling him together, a conference call. We conference called to his work number because we knew if we called him at work he can't sort of lose his rag with his wife, you know.

SARAH DINGLE: Alex worked in Italian restaurant.

(Sounds from in a restaurant)

ERIC KALMUS: So we called through. Alex answered the phone in the restaurant and Robert said, "Hi Alex, this is Robert, do you remember me?" And initially I think Alex thought he was one of his customers and he said, "Sure sure - would you like a table?" (laughs)

And then Robert followed up saying, "Hey, well I know you are probably pretty shocked that I'm calling you but the reason I'm calling you is because we have some information. I want to let you know that I'm on the phone with somebody named Eric".

And I said, "I'm sorry to be the one to come to you with this but we've intercepted some transmissions from your wife Kiyomi to Masako, Robert's ex-wife, in Japan and she's contemplating taking your child to Japan fairly soon".

And he was pretty shocked and he was like, "What? What are you talking about?"

SARAH DINGLE: It was now all up to Alex. He moved swiftly.

ERIC KALMUS: The next day he went down to court and he tried to file paperwork. The courts basically, to the best of my recollection, told him it would take at least three to four months to get anything into the system that could help him stop her.

So knowing that he didn't have three or four months, after leaving the courthouse he called Robert and he said, "You know what, I've got to tell her, I've got to talk to her. I'm going to go home now and I'm going to confront her".

ROBERT: He asked his wife's mother to leave the house and go back to Japan and then he refused his wife permission ever to leave the UK with his son. I mean, he was pretty firm about it.

SARAH DINGLE: And incredibly, that seems to have been enough. Alex, Kiyomi and their baby are all still in London.

ERIC KALMUS: It's a really hard situation to know how to deal with. Is the best thing to do to watch his wife now like a hawk or is it to let her live her life and have trust that she's not going to?

SARAH DINGLE: Is this case a success story?

ERIC KALMUS: Currently, the thing is the case isn't over. When (name bleeped) is 21-years-old, it'll be over.

ROBERT: I just think with that level of untrust in a relationship, distrust, that it will unravel. Relationships aren't built on rocky foundations.

SARAH DINGLE: At the same time as the Skype logs were unfolding, Eric Kalmus was under enormous personal strain. After 14 years without seeing her, his daughter Amy had finally turned up - living not in Japan, but in Florida.

ERIC KALMUS: In January of this year, it just felt like I needed to search Amy again. A Twitter account came up. I was able to see the first picture of my daughter in a very long time. I knew immediately when I saw her that it was Amy. Even though the last time I had seen her she was two years old, it was absolutely Amy.

My ex-wife had remarried an American man in Japan, had Amy adopted and changed her last name to his last name.

SARAH DINGLE: Not only was Amy living in the United States, Eric Kalmus could see which high school she attended and which church. He sent her two messages and flew to Florida.

ERIC KALMUS: Butterflies in my stomach. It was just an amazing rush of oh my god. Something I had been hoping for and waiting for years finally happened.

(Japanese music)

It was kind of surreal. I was probably semi in shock even sitting across the table from Amy. It brought back up all this pain that I hadn't dealt with in years, right back up to the top.

(teary) I think I tried to not think about it and I think I tried to be strong and I think I tried to put it aside. It doesn't hurt as often but it's the same.

SARAH DINGLE: Ultimately, it wasn't enough. A week later, at a hearing in the judge's chambers, Eric Kalmus finally had a legal decision.

ERIC KALMUS: Amy came in. The judge sat her down and said, "Would you be opposed to seeing your father?" And she said, "Well, if he were to be a part of my life it would be too uncomfortable because I haven't seen him and I don't know him and he's basically a stranger to me".

SARAH DINGLE: The ABC has concealed the identities of most people in this documentary.

(Japanese music)

We've verified the allegations in this story where possible with authorities but have not contacted the abductors or would-be abductors involved in case it ends any hope these fathers have of seeing their children ever again.

SARAH DINGLE: Eric Kalmus says it's time to let go.

ERIC KALMUS: I'm in a very good spot. I have a wonderful family. I need to give them the amount of energy that I was giving Amy. I'm still here, she's still in my heart, I still love her. Any day that she picks up the phone and calls me, I'll gladly go meet her wherever she is.

But yeah, I think I've allowed it to not be in my hands any more.

I'm better now. It doesn't hurt like it used to. It doesn't hurt like it used to.

(Japanese music)

SIMON SANTOW: Sarah Dingle with that report. You've been listening to a Radio Current Affairs documentary.


Documentary Special: Anatomy of a Kidnapping:

Stream: http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2012/s3656198.htm    Download Mp3


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