Two adult daughters contacted Lifelines hoping to get help with issues related to their fathers. One is looking for information pertaining to a legal case over her late father’s health while he served in the U.S. armed forces in Okinawa.
First, however, is M.Z., the daughter of a foreign mother and Japanese father. She was taken from Japan as a young child and has not seen her father in 25 years, but she would now like to reestablish contact with him.
Japan formally joined the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction in 2014, which states that children under 16 should be returned to their country of “habitual residence” if taken across international borders by one parent. According to the Foreign Ministry, this move has helped reduce abductions to Japan, and has aided in the successful return of children both to and from Japan. However, the treaty is not retroactive, so it has no bearing on cases that occurred before it came into effect.
M.Z. writes: “My father instructed me to contact him but I was scared and confused, so I didn’t. Now I’m looking for my family in Japan so they can know my children. I have language limitations because I don’t speak or read Japanese. Are there any organizations that help children to contact their Japanese families?” M.Z. adds that she had tried contacting various groups on her own but had met with little support.
I contacted John Gomez at Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion (Kizuna CPR), a Japan-based NPO group that advocates for left-behind parents and their children.
“We are working to enable children in Japan to have loving relationships with both of their parents,” says Gomez. “To achieve this, we support changes in public policy, raise public awareness and help individual cases.”
Sadly, losing contact with a parent is all too common for children of divorce in Japan.
“Within Japan, the research that we have done indicates that since 1992 there have been an estimated 3 million children who have lost access to one of their parents after divorce,” says Gomez. “This is about 1 in 6 children. This figure was derived by looking at divorce statistics and surveys from the Ministry of Health Labor and Welfare, showing what percentage of parents do not visit their children after divorce in Japan. Japanese government officials acknowledge this number when they cite about 150,000 children per year losing access to one of their parents after divorce.”
Gomez adds that in international cases of abduction from the U.S. to Japan alone, more than 400 children have been reported abducted between 1994 and 2015 and almost none of these U.S. children have ever been returned by a Japanese court order.
Gomez encourages M.Z. and others like her to reach out, as many parents have also been seeking their children over the years. He notes that social media and the internet are useful tools for enabling such reunions, and that he has personally witnessed some.
“Never lose hope, never give up,” he advises. “With effort and perseverance, amazing results can occur. As the social mind-set in Japan changes, more reunions will happen. It is a human right for children to have a relationship with both of their parents and among the most important things for any person to experience in their life. This is an important part of what makes us human. Recovering this relationship makes us whole again.”
In a follow-up email to Lifelines, M.Z. echoes this sentiment, explaining that she has developed a new perspective on her situation over time and after becoming a parent herself.
“I didn’t speak about what happened for 20 years,” she writes. “One day browsing on the internet, I found an article about children’s rights in Japan. Until this time I had always thought I grew up in a violent environment, but I have discovered it was so much more complex than that. I’m talking as a daughter, as a mother and as a part of a multicultural family.”
Lifelines wishes M.Z. success in her search for her father. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.kizuna-cpr.org for more information about Kizuna CPR. If anyone has any tips or personal experience in a case like M.Z.’s, please share your story.