Left Behind Parents

Left Behind Parents protest

Father’s Day is a holiday that celebrates the bond between child and parent. For most of us, that bond is considered to be sacrosanct, and even if a mother and father separate, no one expects one of them to give up their rights and responsibilities to their child. That’s not the case in every country, though. Here in Japan, as a matter of fact, a divorce results in one parent retaining all rights to the children. The noncustodial parent is left with little or no recourse under the law to see their kids. It is a sad situation, not only because many Japanese parents are unwillingly separated from their kids, but also because it is making Japan a haven for international abductions.

This Father’s Day, I joined a protest held by the Japan branch of the group Left Behind Parents. The informal theme of the rally was “Fatherless Day,” as many of the participants were fathers who have been prevented from seeing their children by the outdated and unfair custody laws. We marched for about an hour through the busy streets of Shibuya, one of the most popular shopping districts in Tokyo, and despite our relatively small group, we garnered a lot of attention from both media and passersby. As we marched, we shared the Left Behind Parents’ main complaints.

Domestically, they would like to see laws for divorce and child custody laws changed. Legally, joint custody does not exist here. In the event of a divorce, custody goes to one parent who then has complete control over the child. They do not have to allow for visitation. They do not have to consult with the other parent when making decisions, large or small. They do not even have to inform the other parent if they take the child and move away. There is nothing a noncustodial parent can do to insure access to their child.

The practice of giving all rights to one parent is particularly problematic because the system is strongly biased against fathers and non-Japanese. Custody almost always goes to the mother or to the Japanese parent in the case of international marriages, regardless of his or her financial situation or ability to care for a child.

In one case, the court granted custody of a little girl to the Japanese mother in spite of the fact that she had already abandoned one child with severe disabilities and was not working. The father, meanwhile, was caring for the abandoned child, owned his own business and was willing to relocate to the U.S. to obtain better medical care. The court also allowed the mother to move her daughter to a remote island, making it even harder for the father to see his daughter.

On an international level, the Left Behind Parents would like to see Japan become a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Because Japan is not currently a signatory, Japanese parents living abroad can simply return to Japan with their children if a custody ruling goes against them. The Japanese government is under no obligation to and will not return the child to their previous country of residence. Once in Japan, the jurisdiction of the case will fall to the Japanese courts regardless of whether there is an arrest warrant for the Japanese parent issued by another country or even by Interpol. And in thousands of such contested cases, the custody has never been awarded to the non-Japanese parent.

It’s always hard to define success when it comes to protest marches. Certainly Japan’s legal system and international commitments are not going to suddenly change just because of one small group of people holding signs and chanting slogans, but at the same time, if we made a few more people aware of the situation, if we have garnered a few more supporters, then then we’ve made progress. Eventually it will be enough to force real change. So in honor of Father’s Day, think about the cruel situation these parents find themselves in and take a moment to share your support.


6 responses to “Left Behind Parents

  1. It worth to pay visit by reading this article. I think that every children need
    the tenderness by both of their parents even after divorce. It is affecting
    their future and mind set. On my point of view , I believe that the law should
    be revised and should allow to see the child by the separated parent who can not get the custody with the consent of the child. I see that the victims are
    childrens not the parents. I believe that parents have to think about their
    children first before divorce. Childrens are very pity without having both parents with them when the parents are alive. My comment and this article may be slightly different.
    Thank you very much for this article.

    • jessicaocheltree

      Thanks for the visit, Phone. I totally agree with you that children are better off with the love of both their parents. They are not tools or bargaining chips to be used in a divorce! When you talk to these parents and hear how much it hurts them to be away from their children, you know that they love their kids so much. Hopefully they will be together again soon.

  2. Thank you for this article highlighting an issue that is very close to my heart.
    I lost my children Sean Morgan and Renee Morgan 3 years ago when my wife took them to Tokyo. I have not been able to spend any time with them since.
    I just cant understand how one parent can decide it is the best interest of their children to be denied the love of another parent.
    I firmly believe any parent that does this pays the price when the children become older and figure things out for themselves.

    • jessicaocheltree

      Hi, David. Thanks for your comment, and I’m sorry to hear about your kids. Unfortunately, it’s all too common a story. There’s been some noise in the Japanese govt recently about finally becoming a signatory to the Hague Convention, though it may be nothing but noise. We’re all hoping to see it happen so parents like you have some recourse.

  3. Wow, wonderful weblog format! How long have you ever
    been running a blog for? you made blogging look easy.
    The total glance of your website is fantastic, as well as the content material!

    • Hi, Arnoldo, and thanks for your visit. I’m not sure I can take much credit for the format, it’s just a WordPress template. 🙂 I’ve been blogging for a couple of years, I guess, though I am not great about keeping it up. One post every couple of months seems to be par for the course.

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