Child trafficking in Japan in numbers

3,000,000 +

Nearly 20% of children denied access to a parent

56%

Child poverty rate for single-parent households

499+

children died by suicide in 2020

2,172

minors victims of child abuse

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Every hour a child is abducted by a parent in Japan due to Japan’s ridiculous and corrupt child custody laws.

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An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 Japanese children lose access to a parent every year. Since 1991, that is a total of 3,000,000 children who have lost access to a parent, or 20% of all 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 3,000,000 children are born to two Japanese parents.

These children are victims of Japan’s corrupt family system where parents are advised on how to kidnap their children, lawyers make a lot of money off of single custody, and judges believe that children will not be affected at all if one of their parents suddenly disappears from the child’s life. Lawyers who are taking money away from parents who have been deprived of their children are naturally strong opponents of any reform to Japan’s single custody law because it would mean less money in their pockets.

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. It is unacceptable that the Japanese legal and judicial community financially benefits from the suffering of innocent children.

“Even though you cannot see your children, you can be a ‘cool’ father if you work much harder to send more child support to pull your children out of poverty. If you will send money, your children will rely on you when they grow up. Try to make a relationship with your children which last for a lifetime.

Advice from a prominent so-called human rights lawyer to a father whose child was abducted.

Right side is 海瑠 Kairu (12 years old) and left side is 紫晶 Shiaru (7 years old), Separated since 2020/2/13. Submitted to FMP through Twitter.

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, which can be minimal.

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.

The issue goes well beyond custody. Under Japan's legal system, the non-custodial parent also loses all parental rights. That means that parent cannot access the child's medical or school records and has no right to make any such decisions or even dispute their child being adopted by a step-parent or other family member! This is even true for couples who remain married but are separated.

This system is fueled by corruption as legal professionals financially benefit from larger child support payments that happen under single custody. With lawyers receiving as much as 30% of child support payments until the child is 20 years old, it is no surprise that lawyers encourage parents to abduct their children, resulting in sole custody and larger child support payments that lawyers can benefit from.

Ayano was just 3 months old and still breastfeeding and her brother Towa two years old when they lost all contact with their mothers. You can read more about their story here and listen to her podcast.

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?

There is a parent who attempted to commit suicide just because the court does not accept his request. He has a delusion that the court takes sides with his wife’s team. It is really annoying for us that he feels desperate and jumps out a window of the court building. Don’t do it inside the courthouse, for it is troublesome to clean up. Oh, please do it wherever you want as long as you do it out of the court area… hahahaha

Unnamed judge in response to a suicide attempt of left behind parent​.

The first thing you have to do to fight against your husband to get the child’s custody is to take your child when leaving home.

Lawyer's advice to Japanese mothers in a local magazine. ​

These three young children have been forced to grow up without their loving mothers because of Japan’s custody laws.

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?

Well-being and health

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.

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.

Parent-child visitation is not important.

Ruling of the Tokyo High Court who overruled the so-called friendly parent rule.

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There is common consensus among lawyers in divorce cases involving a custody conflict: The first step is to secure the child with the client.

The Research Institute of the Japan Federation of Bar Association​.

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.

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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