The Olympics of

3 million Japanese children grow up without a willing and able parent due to Japan’s ridiculous child custody laws

Tell the International Olympics Committee, its sponsors, and your government leaders they must stand up for the rights of Japanese children.

An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 Japanese children lose access to a parent every year because of parental abduction and alienation. Since 1991, that is a total of 3 million children who have lost access to a parent or 20% of children in Japan. Though international parental abduction of Japanese children born to a Japanese and foreign parent is most shown in the media, the reality is that the vast majority of these 3 million children are born to two Japanese parents.

Ultimately, it is the children who suffer the most from Japan’s single custody laws. The socio-economic and psychological effects this has on these children are significant and often follow them for the rest of their lives.

Japan's single custody law violates the fundamental human rights of Japanese children and is contrary to the best interests of a child.

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Image credit: Shutterstock

Single Custody Law

There is no such thing as joint custody in Japan unless parents agree to it on their own. So, for nearly all divorces, one parent gains full custody and the other parent can only see the children with the custodial parent’s agreement.

The other parent – which is the father 80% of the time – has no legal right to contact or visit the child. It is not uncommon for the other parent to never see his or her child again. The custodial parent has full control of custody decisions and can agree to co-parenting but is not required to by any means. This makes it very easy for the custodial parent to completely erase the other parent out of the child’s life. And the courts will do absolutely nothing.

In fact, only 31% of children living with their single mothers are in contact with their fathers and 48% living with single fathers are in contact with their mothers. And that is just ‘in contact,' and not measuring the frequency of contact.

Japanese Family courts – wrongly so – assume that it is in the child’s best interest to remain in their current environment or home. It does not at all consider the importance of a child seeing both his or her parents. Because fathers often leave the house after a divorce and mothers remain in the family home, mothers are almost always granted full custody.

Even more alarming is that when the parent with whom the child lives remarries, the new spouse can adopt that child without even notifying or getting approval from the child’s biological parent.


Child trafficking in Japan

3 mil

Children or Nearly 20% of children denied access to a parent


child poverty rate for single-parent households


children died by suicide in 2020 (Suicide leading cause of death among children)


minors victims of child abuse (Another appalling record set in 2020)

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Masahiro Yoshida was away working when his ex-wife left suddenly with their 2-year-old daughter in 2008. Following this, his ex-wife made three claims of domestic violence against him. The courts carried out no investigation into the veracity of these claims, even though his daughter was living nearby in Yokohama. He lost parental custody (shinken) two years later, having not seen his daughter for all that time. After a period of reconciliation, he was again denied access to his daughter. When he tried to take her out of nursery school, he was arrested and held for 23 days on charges of kidnapping. He has met his daughter only a few times during the past four and a half years. Addendum: Yoshida-san is currently be held in Matsuyama prison awaiting trial for attempting to abduct his daughter. Credit:

Children grow up in poverty

There is a strong connection between Japan’s single custody law and child poverty. 56% of children living in single-parent households live under the poverty line in Japan. This is the highest rate among all OECD countries. These children are living on an income of around $900 per month in a country with one of the highest costs of living in the world. What does it mean for a child to live in poverty? It means children not being able to eat enough, not being able to go to the doctor when needed, perhaps being forced to work to provide for the family, not being able to access good schools or academic support and in the long-term children not being able to escape poverty.

How is it that the world’s third-largest economy and one of the largest donor countries allows its own children to grow up in such appalling conditions?

Academic achievement

The effects of growing up without a parent go beyond the house with Japanese children paying the price at school and ultimately for their entire lives. Academic studies have shown that children of single mothers perform significantly worse at school than those living with married mothers.

This is not surprising as single mothers earn less and thus are less able to afford high-quality schools and so-called cram schools than married mothers. And in a country where the non-custodial parent has zero right to his or her children, it is hard to convince that parent to pay child support. This ultimately means the child falls behind at school.

How will this inequality in education affect these Japanese children as they grow up and enter the workforce?


Similarly to academic performance, the overall well-being and health of children of single-parent households are worse. This was confirmed by single mothers who participated in an academic study and were asked to report the health of their children.

The stress of being a single mother leads to significantly lower levels of happiness, self-rated health, and emotional well-being among single mothers. This, in turn, impacts parenting and can result in children having a lower level of well-being. These single mothers must work endlessly to provide for their children and given the intensity of Japan’s work culture, they must spend most of the day outside the house at work. This means these children are left home, alone, in darkness. Without both parents and without both parents' love.

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Kozue Sugano (49) divorced her Bangladeshi husband in June 2004 and gained sole custody of their son, who was 2 years 6 months old at the time. She allowed her ex-husband full access to the child. In April 2007, sole custody of the child was passed to the father. In September that year, her ex-husband took their son to Bangladesh without her knowledge or consent. He returned to Tokyo alone the following month, leaving the child with his family in Dhaka. In 2008, Sugano-san petitioned the Bangladeshi Embassy in Tokyo, which persuaded her husband to allow her phone contact with their child. In February 2011, she visited Dhaka to meet her son for the first time in three and a half years. He has forgotten much of his Japanese and it is unclear whether he will be able to return to Tokyo. Credit:
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Akio Yokota (37) had no contact with his son for six months after his wife left him in November 2010. She accused him of domestic violence, a claim he rejects entirely. During the six-month separation from his son, he suffered from depression, paranoia and suicidal tendencies. Currently, he is allowed to see his son, who will be 2 years old soon, for one hour per month, an arrangement that brings him little comfort. Addendum: Yokota-san took his own life on Sept 12, some four months after these photos were taken. Credit:
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Tadatsugu Kondo (45) has not met his three children since the end of March 2011, when his wife took his two daughters (7 and 8) and 5-year-old son. He is currently fighting in court to win custody of them. Although his wife sees no problem in his relationship with his children, whom he dotes on, she refuses him access and is seeking a divorce. Credit:

Child abuse

2020 witnessed another appalling record set in Japan - the highest number of children subjected to abuse. And these are only reported figures. 2,172 children were abused in 2020 alone and the number of children referred to child welfare centers jumped 21% percent from 2019. This is just another indication of how the Japanese government fails to protect its most vulnerable citizens - its own children.

The perpetrators of this abuse are almost always parents - either biological parents, step-parents, or adoptive parents. The country’s single custody law is partly to blame for this as when children are granted the right to two parents in their lives, there is accountability and checks for both parents. This would make it much harder for children to be abused. But when one parent has sole custody of a child, that child has limited people to reach out for help.

Loss of entire family

Losing a parent is like losing half of one’s entire identity. These children lose a set of grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins and for no good reason. When the child is eventually - if he or she is - reunited with the left-behind parent, it is not a given that their relationship will be normal. It can take years to re-establish bonds and sometimes they are just never re-established, even when the child has become an adult, leaving the child forever without a second parent.

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Mental health

Suicide is the leading cause of death among children in Japan and in 2020 school-age suicide hit a record high with nearly 500 children taking their own lives. Family issues and being reprimanded by parents are the most common known reasons for child suicide indicating the potentially fatal effect single custody has on children’s lives.

Left behind parents also suffer greatly from depression and even suicide after their children are kidnapped. Akio Yokota sadly took his own life after his wife was granted sole custody of their young son after a divorce. The mere one hour per month he was allowed to see his son was not enough and caused him to suffer from depression.

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Masako Suzuki Akeo (53) has joint custody of her 16-year-old son in Canada, where he was born. After divorcing her Japanese husband, she had joint custody in Japan as well. However, Tokyo Family Court changed this status, awarding sole custody to her ex-husband. Her son was abducted by his father from Canada to Japan at the age of 11. He then went missing. She has managed to meet him only twice in the past 8 years. After she visited him at his school in October 2009, he disappeared. Having been denied visitation rights by Tokyo High Court, she is appealing to the Supreme Court. She established Left Behind Parents Japan in June 2009 and actively supports LBPs around the world. Credit:

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 ⑴ 各国の親権の内容及び父母の離婚後の親権行使又は監護の態様
  ア 父母の離婚後も共同で親権を行使することを許容する制度の有無
  イ アの制度が採用されている場合に,父母が共同して行使する親権の内容
  ウ 父母の離婚後の子の養育について,父母の意見が対立する場合の対応
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  イ 公的機関による面会交流又は子の養育費の支払についての支援の有 無・ 内容
  ウ 父母の離婚後に子を監護する親が転居をする場合の制限の有無・内容
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 ⑸ 嫡出でない子の親権の在り方

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父母の離婚後の子の養育に関する海外法制調査結果の概要令和2年4月 法務省民事局

本調査は,法務省において,離婚後の親権制度や子の養育の在り方について,外務省に依頼してG20を含む海外24か国の法制度や運用状況の基本的調査を行ったものである。 本調査では,各国の政府関係者等からの聞き取りや文献調査を基に,各国の離婚後の親権や子の養育の在り方に関する,主として制度面についての取りまとめを行った。もっとも,各国の法制度は様々であり,その法制度によっては直接回答することが困難な事項もあることから,本調査においては各調査事項について網羅的な回答を得られたものではない。  本調査は,法務省がこれまでに行った海外法制調査より対象国や調査事項を広げて行ったものであり,父母の離婚後の子の養育の在り方を検討するに当たって有用な情報を提供するものである。 1-1 離婚後の親権行使の態様[1]   印及びトルコでは単独親権のみが認められているが,その他の多くの国では単独親権だけでなく共同親権も認められている。 共同親権を認めている国の中では,①裁判所の判断等がない限り原則として共同親権とする国(伊,豪,独,フィリピン,仏等),②父母の協議により単独親権とすることもできるとする国(加ブリティッシュコロンビア州,スペイン等),③共同で親権を行使することはまれであるとされる国(インドネシア)の例がある。 なお,英及び南アフリカでは,父母のいずれもが,それぞれの親権を単独で行使することができる。 1-2 離婚後に父母が共同して行使する親権の内容 親権を共同行使する事項の具体的内容が明らかになったものの中には,① 内容に限定のない国(スイス,フィリピン,米ワシントンDC),②子にとって著しく重要な事柄等と抽象的に定める国(独),③共同行使する内容を具体的に定める国(伊[教育,健康,子の居所の選択],メキシコ[財産管理権])の例がある。 1-3 離婚後の共同親権の行使について父母が対立する場合の対応 離婚後の共同親権の行使について父母が対立した場合の解決策が明らかになったものの中には,最終的に裁判所が判断するとする国が多い(英,独,ブラジル,米ワシントンDC等)が,それに加えて,当事者があらかじめ紛争解決方法を決めておくこともできるとする国(韓国)や,行政機関が助言・警告等をする国(タイ)もある。 また,裁判所の判断に当たり,外部の専門家や関係機関の関与が認められている国も見られる(伊,スウェーデン,豪等)。 2 協議離婚制度の有無[2]   子の有無にかかわらず協議離婚が認められていない国が多い(アルゼンチン,英,豪,スイス,独等)。   これに対し,サウジアラビア,タイ,中国等では協議離婚が認められており,ブラジル及び露では未成年の子がいない場合に限り協議離婚が認められている。 3 父母が離婚時に取決めをする法的義務の有無・内容 ⑴ 面会交流の取決め[3][4]    取決めをすることが法的義務とはされていない国が多い(アルゼンチン,英,タイ,独,仏,米ニューヨーク州,露等)。    これに対し,韓,豪,蘭等では,法的義務とされている。    なお,法的義務とされていない場合でも,離婚のために裁判手続を経る過程で,離婚を認める条件や共同親権に関わる内容として,面会交流に関する取決めがされている例があることがうかがわれる(アルゼンチン,タイ等)。 ⑵ 養育費の取決め 3    取決めをすることが法的義務とはされていない国が多い(英,加ケベック州,スペイン,独,仏,ブラジル,米ニューヨーク州等)。    これに対し,韓,豪,蘭等では,法的義務とされている。    なお,法的義務とされていない場合でも,離婚のために裁判手続を経る過程で,離婚を認める条件や共同親権に関わる内容として,養育費に関する取決めがされている例があることがうかがわれる(加ケベック州,ブラジル等)。 4 公的機関による面会交流についての支援の有無・内容[5]   支援制度がある国がほとんどである。具体的な支援の内容としては,父母の教育,カウンセリング,面会交流が適切に行われるよう監督する機関の設置等が挙げられる。   これに対し,タイ,フィリピン等ではこのような支援制度がない。 5 離婚後に子を監護する親が転居をする場合の制限の有無・内容[6]   …

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