Social Issues

Custody by kidnapping: the story of parental abductions in Japan

By Maria Roldan

Tokyo, Aug 26 (EFE).- One in six Japanese newborns will lose contact with one of their parents due to one-parent custody in Japan, where family abductions have given birth to a lucrative business with the collusion of the system.

“No one wanted to take up my case,” Rafael Garcia (name changed), a Spanish father residing in the country for more than a decade, told EFE.

Garcia is currently going through a stormy divorce and remains in the country “kidnapped by Japanese law” to see his only son.

Temporary custody of the child is in the hands of his wife, who had the child when the case arrived at the family court after negotiations failed at the compulsory reconciliation stage, which he describes as “a scam”.

His lawyers, conscious of the situation, encouraged Garcia to get hold of the child before the trial began or, once underway, to “lower the bar and sign the divorce,” according to his testimony, which has parallels with a number of cases that have recurred for decades.

Parental abductions in Japan are encouraged by the system, which prevents parental access to abducted children, leading to many calling the country “the black hole of child kidnapping,” according to E.G., an affected American father.

The courts favor the captor parent or relative – there have been cases of grandparents also being involved – by virtue of the “continuity principle” of Japanese jurisprudence.

Japanese law seeks to not remove the child from his or her current environment, regardless of whether he or she has been previously abducted or sentences have been issued in other countries.

“The first abduction is not penalized, it is rewarded with custody,” it is “custody by abduction,” said John Gomez, the American founder of the Japanese nonprofit Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion, which has been supporting parents in this situation for 14 years.

Failure to comply with the child visitation schedule does not result in a penalty and access to the offspring depends on the goodwill of the custodial parent.

An example of this is the case of E.G., who – after trying for several years and giving in to divorce and blackmail – has finally been able to see his daughter over teleconference once again.

Rafael, on the other hand, feels “privileged” because he meets his son on weekends, but the situation can change without prior warning and without any repercussions for the other side.

Attempts to take the child away or approach him without permission would now carry jail time, like the one imposed in 2020 on the Australian Scott McIntyre.

Although the cases of international couples are more likely to grab headlines, these custody disputes account for less than five percent of the total cases.

Parental abductions have crated a lucrative business in Japan, where it is a taboo subject but so common that there are books on it, while lawyers unabashedly promise to ensure that the other parent will not see the child again, in exchange for commissions.

The network is fed by services as necessary as shelters for victims of abuse, which support unproven complaints that many have parents denounced as false.

There is no official data on parental abductions in Japan, but for years a calculation method devised by Gomez has been used as a reference.

The method takes into account national statistics on divorces, children involved in custody adjudication processes, and surveys of non-profit organizations, which estimate that between 60 and 65 percent of divorced non-custodial parents do not meet their children.

On an average about 150,000 children lose contact with a parent every year, amounting to one in six births in the last year in Japan or 3 million people in the last two decades.

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