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Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010

LIFELINES

Left-behind parents receive short shrift from embassies


By ANGELA JEFFS and KEN JOSEPH JR.

Two recent inquiries have come in from Canadian fathers who have suddenly lost contact with their children.

"Every day I take my daughter to school and pick her up and take her home," writes B.Y. "I went to pick up my daughter and she was not there. Her mother has disappeared."

In another case, D.W. recounts, "I came home and my children did not return home. I received a telephone call from my wife and she informed me that she was divorcing me and I would receive the papers shortly. What can I do?"

Of all days, the most recent abduction happened on Christmas Eve.

If — God forbid — you should find yourself in this tragic situation, the first thing you need to do is immediately file a missing persons report at your local police station. This is very important, as it will establish the facts that will help you immensely as you move forward.

Second, go to the Family Court and discuss your case. Find out what your spouse is saying and what the Family Court is willing to do. However, having dealt with a number of these cases at The Japan Helpline, we have been shocked to find a bizarre quirk of Japanese law: Even if you have a court order granting you custody, the Family Court and police will not enforce it.

The third step, if you are a foreign citizen, is to visit your embassy and ask them to call both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Family Court to inquire about your case. The embassies will insist that they cannot do this, but a simple call of inquiry could dramatically raise the probability of your getting to see your children.

At the Helpline, we have been helping B.Y. and D.W. with these cases, but have come across a very frustrating problem: the refusal of embassies to help.

In both cases, the Canadian Embassy has refused to make any calls of inquiry on their citizens' behalf, citing "protocol." While we understand the concept of protocol, there is no reason a simple call of inquiry cannot be made without the embassy advocating on the parent's behalf.

The main problem, as we see it at the Japan Helpline, is this refusal of embassies to help their citizens. In particular, when the court does not hear from anyone, the chances of a positive outcome can be much slimmer.

If any readers have found themselves in this unfortunate situation and have good advice to pass on, please get in contact.

One excellent resource offering support to left-behind parents is the Children's Rights Council Japan, which can be found at crcjapan.com. (K.J.)

Angela Jeffs is a freelance writer and writing guide (www.thewriterwithin.net/). Ken Joseph directs the Japan Helpline at www.jhelp.com and (0570) 000-911. Send queries, problems and posers to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp


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