Dozens of American children are abducted to Japan every year—not by strangers, but by parents after messy divorces. As Nathalie-Kyoko Stucky and Jake Adelstein report, divorce laws protective of Japanese nationals encourage such illegal abductions.
Japan has a child-kidnapping problem. It’s not strangers snatching the kids on the playground or at the bus stop; the problem is that when a Japanese national divorces a foreigner overseas, he or she can abduct their children and bring them back to Japan, and the law ensures that the parent left behind has no rights to see the children or take them back home. The U.S. State Department reports that there have been over 100 such kidnappings since 1994, but according to a source, the number is closer to 400. Within Japan itself, divorce often means that one parent may have little or no access to the child. Japan’s inability to deal with child abduction partly stems from archaic family law in Japan that does not recognize joint custody. It’s a winner-take-all system. The law makes it almost impossible for the other parent to even meet the child, if the Japanese partner objects.
Mika Chiba, at a meeting on the Hague Convention held at the Japanese Diet on March 12, showing pictures of her abducted son. (Nathalie Stucky)
“Once the child is on Japanese soil, if the foreign parent tries to take them back to their home country, we have to treat him or her as a kidnapper—unless the Japanese courts have clearly given them custody,” a police officer from Tokyo told us. “Most of the time, we imagine the Japanese parent is shielding the child from domestic abuse or a poor living environment. Maybe sometimes the foreign parent is actually trying to rescue his or her child from an abusive Japanese household, but we can’t make that judgment. The non-Japanese trying to take back their child is the criminal in most cases. The law is the law.”
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