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Friday, June 15, 2012

Scottish author recounts his kids' abduction to Japan


By WILLIAM HOLLINGWORTH
Kyodo

LONDON — A Scottish author has published a book about cross-border parental child abductions that weaves his personal tale of abandonment by a Japanese wife and the loss of his children into the tale.

News photo
Victim's viewpoint: Douglas Galbraith, who in a new book on international parental child abduction recounts how his Japanese wife seized their two children and fled Scotland, works at his home in Edinburgh last month. KYODO

In "My son, My son," Douglas Galbraith describes his efforts to cope after his two sons, Makoto and Satomi, were taken from Scotland to Japan in 2003 by his wife, Tomoko, following strains in their relationship. The boys were aged 4 and 6 at the time and he has not been able to see them since.

After divorce proceedings were later initiated in Japan, Galbraith, 46, was allowed to phone his sons once a fortnight while the case was ongoing. But he found the conversations strained, as the children gradually lost their English-language skills. All contact with them ceased 3½ years ago.

His book highlights the powerlessness of abandoned spouses fighting for the return of their abducted children, and the ways in which Japanese courts are allegedly biased against foreign fathers, according to Galbraith, a full-time author whose previous works include "A Winter in China" and "The Rising Sun."

Galbraith also expresses skepticism over any positive outcome from Japan signing the Hague convention on international parental child abductions, which in effect requires countries to return children immediately to their country of habitual residence.

A number of Japanese women living overseas have fled from their husbands and taken their children home with them, prompting Western governments to urge Tokyo to become a party to the treaty.

Galbraith said that while the story is intended as a comprehensive study of the way children are treated by adults, he also hopes his own sons — now teenagers being raised in Osaka — will read it.

"It's like a message in a bottle: an attempt to re-establish communication and leave something behind," he said in a recent interview. "I hope this can repair some of the damage. I don't know what they have been told about me."

Galbraith recounts arriving home in Fife, Scotland, one night and finding his wife and children gone. He said the relationship had been "under strain" and that he feared his wife might seize the children and return to Japan as she had become "obsessed" with maintaining the children's Japanese heritage.

He acknowledges there are a lot of positive aspects to child rearing in Japan, but says he wanted to raise his children in Britain because he feels it has a more cosmopolitan culture.

The author describes how his wife meticulously planned the abduction and, although Galbraith was holding onto the children's passports fearing a possible flight attempt, she obtained new ones from the Japanese Consulate in Edinburgh.

In retrospect, Galbraith believes he should have started divorce proceedings in Scotland and sought full custody at a much earlier stage, as well as a ban to prevent his wife from leaving Britain with their children.

But once they returned to Japan, he realized the culture of the country's legal system ensured custody would automatically be granted to his wife and decided to try and "keep things together" as best he could.

In the book, he argues that even though custody laws require courts to remain "neutral" on the issue of male parenting, the legal system is biased in favor of mothers.

"I would have been swimming against the tide," Galbraith said. But "excluding fathers causes immense suffering not only for the abandoned parent, but for the children" too.

After discovering that there had been no previous cases of children being returned to their foreign parents in Japan, he mulled hiring a private security firm to bring the children back to Scotland at one point.

He also recounts setting up a fake email account and posed as a businesswoman interested in publishing some of his wife's work to get her home address. The plan worked and he was able to start sending letters and presents to his sons, although he has never received a reply.

Galbraith describes how the return of abducted children have been blocked because Japanese parents — usually wives — can claim their offspring will suffer physical abuse or psychological harm if they are returned to their home country, despite the Hague convention.

And the longer abducted children remain in their new country of residence, the smaller the chance of the courts sending them home, Galbraith says.

The author believes conservative legislators in Japan are reluctant to ratify the Hague convention because they believe abducted children have a better upbringing in Japan.

If the accord is ratified, "the key moment is the first actual return of a parentally abducted child from Japan. Quite frankly, I'll be surprised if it happens," Galbraith said.

He argues Japanese family court judges must be instructed to refrain from determining the best place for a child to be raised based on their personal opinion, and should only concern themselves with whether a child has been abducted from its place of habitual residence.

"There's a cultural attack on the child when it is abducted. It takes them away from their polyglot inheritance . . . and makes it smaller, and they are more controllable for the abducting parent," he said.



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