Huge Issue between the U.S. and Japan
International parental child abduction is on the rise all over the world, as international marriages are rapidly increasing. For years, child abduction from the United States to Japan has been a huge issue, not only on individual and societal levels, but also on a diplomatic level between the two countries. Although child abduction from the U.S. to Japan can occur between parents of the same nationality, the majority of parents who experience it are binational, where one spouse is American and the other Japanese. This problem is not as prevalent with couples involving a spouse from another Asian country (e.g., Korea or China). It may have something to do with the fact that Koreans, Chinese, and other Asian immigrants usually obtain U.S. citizenship and consider the U.S. their new home, whereas many of the Japanese residents in the U.S. choose not to obtain U.S. citizenship and maintain close ties with their home country.
Hague Abduction Convention Workshops
In April 2014, the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (“Hague Abduction Convention” or “treaty”) went into effect in Japan, raising hope that it will provide some solutions and deterrence to the problem. The Hague Abduction Convention requires a prompt return of the abducted child to the child’s habitual residence country except for some situations.
The APADRC’s Divorce Mediation Program, along with the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles, the Little Tokyo Service Center, and the Centenary United Methodist Church, has been instrumental in educating the Japanese community in Southern California about the impact the Hague Abduction Convention will have on them. We held two workshops; in Los Angeles in April and San Diego in November. For both workshops, we invited Mikiko Otani, a renowned international family lawyer based in Tokyo, as a lecturer. She served as an adviser to the Foreign Ministry of Japan in implementing the Hague Abduction Convention. She explained the purpose of the treaty, how it was implemented in Japan, and what implication it would have for Japanese parents in the United States.
Although the Hague Abduction Convention may bring legal solutions to, and have deterrence effects on, child abduction, the problem would not be resolved without addressing fundamental reasons why people abduct their children to their home countries. According to Professor Geoffrey Greif of the University of Maryland, parents abduct their children to their home countries when they do not fit in with society, have significant support in their home countries, do not agree with the court’s custody decision, want revenge against their spouses, are subjected to domestic violence, have difficulty finding work (financial issues), or have psychological problems.
To address these issues in both workshops, we invited community organizations which provide culturally and linguistically sensitive services in the areas of family, divorce, domestic violence and mental health. They kindly provided information as to how they could assist those who are faced with family problems, yet are excluded from access to local services due to cultural and language barriers. The participating organizations other than the Little Tokyo Service Center and the APADRC were: Center for the Asian Pacific Family, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Korean American Family Services, Union of Pan Asian Communities, Azuna-kai, and Japanese Family Support Center. The workshops also included a presentation on how parental alienation affects children by Midori Dekura, MFT, and a presentation on police procedure on domestic violence by retired LAPD officer Ron Hasegawa.
Both workshops were well-received and garnered positive reactions by attendees. Many of them thanked us at the conclusion of the workshops and told us that they would let others know about the workshops and the participating organizations.
—– Toshie Ozaki
Abduction Prevention Mediation
The divorce mediation the APADRC conducts for binational couples often entails child abduction prevention, in which the couples discuss and agree on logistical steps they can take to prevent child abduction. In addition, divorce mediation can be effective in prevention if it is done in a way to provide couples with the opportunity to work together to address their concerns about their post-divorce lives, thereby easing their stress and emotional pain incidental to divorce.
APADRC in Japan in 2014
Hague Events in Tokyo
In September, mediation training was conducted in Tokyo for mediators registered to handle Hague Abduction Convention cases. Melissa Kucinski, the American Bar Association’s international family law committee chair, and Mikiko Otani, international family lawyer based in Tokyo, conducted the training, while the APADRC’s Divorce Mediation Program Director Toshie Ozaki discussed cross-cultural family mediation. Toshie was also invited to the Hague Abduction Convention expert meeting at the United States Embassy in Tokyo. The meeting was attended by representatives from the Department of State Office of Children’s Issues and from the Foreign Ministry of Japan, as well as judges, international family law attorneys, and mediators from both the U.S. and Japan. California’s Deputy Attorney General Elaine Tumonis was also present. The meeting started with Ambassador Caroline Kennedy congratulating Japan for implementing the treaty, followed by discussions on the Convention procedure, domestic violence issues, military divorce issues, benefits of mediation, and more.
ADR Symposium in Okinawa
Toshie was invited to the ADR Symposium in Okinawa. Approximately 100 lawyer-mediators and law professors attended the Symposium. Toshie gave a presentation on the APADRC and its programs, as well as the roles of the community mediation centers in California.