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Left Behind by Japan

Clive France | Japan

Japan is the only G8 member not to have signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, a multilateral treaty “that provides an expeditious method to return a child internationally abducted from one member nation to another.”

Japan’s failure to do so has placed it at the centre of a row over custody of children from failed international marriages and highlighted the issue of parental abduction. Japan has been described as a “black hole” for children abducted from overseas by their Japanese parents.

However, ratification of the treaty is in many ways a smokescreen. While Japan may compromise on the international stage, at home its law on child custody remains rigid, anachronistic and, some would say, cruel.

Under Japan’s sole custody system, only one parent maintains shinken (parental rights) following divorce, while the other is stripped of any and all rights with respect to his or her children. This has created a post-breakup environment in which one parent, typically the father, is often denied all access to his or her children.

I have been documenting the plight of Japan's so-called Left-Behind Parents, of which there are believed to be over 2 million, since 2011. A recent exhibition of these images at Tokyo's Foreign Correspondents Club, Japan drew wide media interest in a problem that is generally overlooked in Japan, where it is seen as something that only happens in international marriages or to “other people.” On the contrary, it is an issue that affects families throughout the country, as well as overseas.

Left Behind by Japan
The other victims of parental abduction and Japanese child custody laws


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