Video grab borrowed from ABC News.com
International child abduction is a controversial subject in Japan and it is problematic that Japan, as opposed to most other developed countries, has not signed the Hague Convention governing international child abduction... yet. There have been many heart-wrenching stories about foreign fathers not being able to even meet their children after divorcing their Japanese wives. Once the children are in Japan, foreign fathers have absolutely no rights to joint custody or even visitation.
ABC News in the United States has done a report on this subject and it is available at the links below.
Video and text: http://abcnews.go.com/International/american-children-abducted-japan-desperate-fathers-contact-children/story?id=12919762
Longer video version: http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/americans-japan-12927754
This is a big problem, and it is increasing as so-called international marriages increase (blame globalization?). In Japan alone it is said that one out of every twenty marriages is international. And one out of every eighteen divorces is international. But this isn't a Japan only sort of problem (as ABC News reports in another story linked to the Japan report) and nothing really so new. My own uncle married a woman from Switzerland in the 1980s and they had a kid. They got divorced and his ex-wife claimed to be taking the baby back to Switzerland for a vacation. Of course they never returned to America. Switzerland had not yet signed the international convention. So I know very well the anguish that such fathers face. And this post is not meant to belittle their suffering or the problem at all.
But this post will be critical of the way ABC News covered their report and the way in which they present Japan. One must also wonder why Japan is being singled out, as most Asian countries have not signed the international convention. Nor has Russia or most African countries. One might ask why so many American men are marrying Japanese women and taking them back to America.
For more information on the Hague Convention, see the link below.
Link to Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction:http://www.hcch.net/index_en.php?act=conventions.text&cid=24
"So what is it about Japan?" ABC News asks. It answers the question with problematic language and facts which are not so accurate. Phrases like Japanese women are taking American children "thousands of miles way" and "half a world away." Japanese women have "fled to Japan" with American children. American children have been "Spirited off to Japan" (a reference to the popular Miyazaki anime). It seems that they forgot that the wives are Japanese and going home. Where else would they take their children? And aren't the children (at least half-)Japanese as well?
The report also states that mothers have stronger parental rights than fathers in Japan because of "law based on centuries of tradition." This is not accurate. Centuries of tradition would suggest that children are property of the patriarchal head of household. Divorce and single parent households in Japan are relatively recent. It is true these days that mothers usually get custody of their children after divorce, but not all of the time.
The reporting style gets pretty ridiculous at times. Why should the FBI have jurisdiction in a foreign country? Why is the reporter going after Japanese mothers and relatives and engaging them in English?
And why not throw in some post-911 paranoia when in the business of othering? How is this issue a "national security threat?"
Should all of Japan and Japanese culture be blamed for this problem because the government has not signed the international convention and because 321 Japanese wives have kidnapped their kids and brought them to Japan?
Is the visual anthropologist losing sight of the big picture by focusing on such details of misrepresentation?
Can't such a serious problem be reported upon in a more accurate and less orientalist fashion?
I believe the Japanese government will eventually sign the convention as indicated by the two recent news stories below.
Link to "Japan conducts online survey on parental child abductions" (Japan Today, 5/26/10): http://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/japan-conducts-online-survey-on-parental-child-abductions
Link to "Gov't sets up cabinet-level council on Hague child abduction convention" (Japan Today, 1/22/11): http://www.japantoday.com/category/politics/view/japan-sets-up-cabinet-level-council-on-hague-child-abduction-convention
Will signing the convention solve all the problems? Most likely not. The problem stems from marriage difficulties between people rather than being an international conspiracy. But hopefully signing the convention will be a step in the right direction to assist those involved in international relationships... For the fathers, for the mothers, and most especially for the children.
In the meantime, let's hope that ABC News can improve on their coverage of international problems.
(Thanks to JH for bringing the report to my attention.)