FAMILIES PULLED APART DUE TO FAILURE OF LEGAL SYSTEM
A young man killed himself when he was in his thirties. It was just a little over a year after his wife left home with their three children.
The eldest son, who was an elementary school student at the time, put a letter in his father’s casket. In his childish handwriting he questioned:
”I love you, Daddy, but why did you die?”
Not able to believe his father’s death, he wrote: “It must be a mistake, right—suicide?”
He added again with all his heart, “I love, Daddy.”
He screamed, “I want to see my Dad. Come back to life!”
And finally, he begged, “Come back, even as a ghost, come back!”
One father, a Mr. A, who read this letter, opened up about his own experience:
”I was suddenly robbed of my little daughter one day. When I got home, my house was empty. My wife had taken our daughter away. After a long trial, it was found that I had not committed any domestic violence, as alleged by my wife, but she was still given sole custody. I wasn’t able to see my daughter for more than 10 years. I thought of killing myself. Then I read this letter from this elementary school boy. I couldn’t stop crying. And I thought if I die, I’ll make my daughter sad like this. I couldn’t think of taking my own life anymore. ”
From the subsequent actions of the children of the family mentioned above, it seems that the man who killed himself really was a “good dad”. A little over three months after his ex-wife took the children, the man got the two older boys back. The youngest toddler remained with the mother. The two older boys were delighted to be with their dad.
But six months later, the court ruled that the eldest son and the second son should be sent back to their mother. The ex-wife and social workers came to their school to carry out the ruling of the court, but the younger child turned away as soon as he saw his mother at the front gate and escaped through the back gate and ran home. The older child then also found out his mother was at the school and also ran home. The two of them locked themselves in their room and built a barricade to prevent the adults from taking them.
False Charges of Domestic Violence
This episode shows just how much the boys didn’t want to leave their father. The children would most want to live with both parents. If that didn’t work, that is, if the parents had to break up, the boys clearly showed their preference to live with their father. However, in Japan the courts award custody to only one parent. In this case, too, the mother was given custody and the father was separated from his children.
Other countries have legal systems in place that involve both parents in raising their children after divorce. Children are treasures that should be protected, guided, and raised by their parents in a loving environment from the time they are born. It is expected that both parents will be responsible for the care of their children. That is why almost all developed countries have a joint custody system. Japan, with its single custody system, is extremely exceptional; in other words, it is abnormal.
In the above case, the ex-wife and the court drove the poor man to his death. The court ordered the two children to be returned to the ex-wife and did not allow the man to see his youngest child. When that decision was made, the man killed himself.
Parents’ sorrowful complaints of children being taken away and pleas for help are endless. The abduction of children is usually subject to criminal punishment overseas. Why do such tragedies continue in Japan?
One of the keys to solving this problem is dealing with domestic violence. Many cases arise when a wife takes her children and leaves home while her husband is away. Domestic violence is given as the number one reason for the wife leaving with the children. However, many men have no memory of such incidents. There are in fact many cases where the charge of domestic violence is false—just as Mr. A mentioned above. That is why it is necessary to confirm whether the alleged domestic violence actually took place.
In general in the US and Europe, this is where the police swiftly and thoroughly cooperate. If there is a report of domestic violence, the police will first get involved. A police officer inspects the situation at the scene, and if domestic violence is suspected, the husband will immediately be expelled from the house. This means neither the wife nor the children need to leave.
Police will begin a fact-finding investigation shortly thereafter. It will take about two weeks to consolidate the evidence, including findings on any bruises, cuts, or other injuries. The report will also include the testimony of neighbors. If domestic violence is confirmed, the husband will be banned from seeing his wife and family for a considerable period of time and will be charged with a crime.
By temporarily removing a person suspected of being a domestic violence perpetrator from the house and immediately investigating the situation, domestic violence can either be confirmed or, conversely, disproved. False allegations of domestic violence will not be allowed to stand.
Why can’t we do the same in Japan? Akira Ueno, a lawyer specializing in domestic violence, explained why Japan has not been able to adopt the policy common in many other developed countries—getting the help of the police in these cases.
”Domestic violence law is under the jurisdiction of the Cabinet Office, while family law is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice. The Cabinet Office is not thinking at all of changing the law to get the police involved in determining whether there has been domestic violence in these cases. On the other hand, the Ministry of Justice is only thinking about protecting the fleeing wife for some reason and increasing the budget to spend on that. ”
Vertically divided government is one of the causes of these abnormal situations in Japan. What is happening here is clear from the discussions of the Family Law Subcommittee, which was set up under the Legislative Council (an advisory body to the minister of justice).
The Legislative Council will soon finalize an interim draft. This is a crucial moment for this legislation, but politicians who should be closely scrutinizing the draft are being distracted by the July Upper House election. Is it still possible to make the needed changes to this draft legislation?
The biggest problem with the interim draft is that it goes against international norms and perpetuates the extraordinary state of sole custody. Behind the scenes, the discussions at the Legislative Council are likely being strongly influenced by human rights people such as Chieko Akaishi, the chairman of the NPO “Single Mothers Forum.”
I believe lawmakers Tomomi Inada, Masako Mori, and their allies bear a heavy responsibility to prevent the Legislative Council from getting out of hand and advancing a mistaken agenda any further. After all, they have brought into the center of policy making the likes of Yoko Kamikawa (former justice minister) and Chieko Akashi, who promised to listen to a wide range of opinions but have utterly failed to deliver the goods.
We need to first make an effort to break down the walls of the vertically divided government that has promoted the mistaken direction of the Legislative Council. In order to permanently do away with sole custody, we must also hurry to legally secure the cooperation of the police for investigating and confirming cases of domestic violence. We must not allow Japanese families to be broken up due to a political negligence that has stood in the way of properly revising the law.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 1,003 in the June 16, 2022 issue of The Weekly Shincho)