Children "kidnapped" in Japan: European parents urge Brussels to act
Denouncing Japan's failure to respect the fundamental rights of children, French lawyers have just mobilized the European Parliament's Committee on Legal Affairs to demand the suspension of the Strategic Partnership Agreement signed in 2018 between the Union and the Japanese government.
English translation (Google Translate)
By Yann Rousseau
Posted on Oct 25, 2020 at 2:35 PM
Tommaso Perina has not seen his 7-year-old boy and 5-year-old daughter since August 20, 2017. That day, this Italian expatriate in Japan had snatched a 90-minute visitation right in a room watched by an official near the Sendai court. He was not allowed to take pictures with them, give them a snack or hand them over the old DVDs of their favorite cartoons. “My wife had banned it,” he recalls.
Japanese law ignores shared custody
Having "abducted" the children in December 2016, she was trying at the time to force a divorce in order to legally obtain their sole custody as provided for in Japanese law. The civil code does not recognize shared custody and the country's courts automatically and exclusively attribute children to the parent who “holds” them at the time of separation.
Aware of this trap of divorce, Tommaso Perina fought to keep the right to see his children regularly. And several court decisions have since granted him two hours of monthly visits. "But my wife systematically refuses them and the authorities tell me that they can do nothing about it", he rages.
Thousands of parents affected
Worn out by this fight led by thousands of other Japanese parents or “abandoned” foreigners in Japan, Tommaso Perina has just joined forces with a French father, Vincent Fichot, to try to mobilize the European Union, whose children are always nationals.
Their law firm Zimeray & Finelle seized, on October 20, the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament to request the suspension of the Strategic Partnership agreement signed in 2018 between Brussels and Tokyo. The councils explain that this text, which frames cooperation between the Union and Japan, provides that the two parties undertake to respect human rights and that of children to have access to both parents.
“The European Union has the duty to protect its children, insists Jessica Finelle. And it has already urged Japan on several occasions to respect its international commitments, but the Japanese authorities persist in considering that their domestic legal framework is irreproachable. "
The lawyers' appeal should be studied in the coming weeks by parliamentarians from the Legal Affairs Committee, who will vote to transmit it, or not, to the President of the European Parliament, the Italian David Sassoli. He will then decide, alone, to initiate an appeal before the Court of Justice of the Union against the other European institutions to suspend the agreement with Japan.
Initiative in the European Parliament
"I am optimistic that the Legal Affairs Committee will support this approach," explains MEP Geoffroy Didier, who is a member of this committee. He recalled that the European Parliament had already been made aware of this thorny issue. Last July, 686 of 695 MEPs voted in favor of a very tough resolution condemning parental child abductions in Japan.
“These are European values that are being undermined,” insists the French elected representative, who hopes to maintain constant political pressure on Tokyo in order to push the authorities to reform their law.
The stake of the Olympics
“The country is going to be in the spotlight around the world with the Olympics. This is an opportunity to talk about the subjects that pose a problem, ”points out the parliamentarian. “This is not a declaration of war but an invitation to act,” confirms Jessica Finelle.
For the moment, Tokyo refuses to open this file which does not mobilize its public opinion. The new Minister of Justice, Yoko Kamikawa, is deemed to be more sensitive than her predecessors to the idea of a debate and elected officials from the majority conservative party, the LDP, are beginning to discuss, in the absence of real shared custody, the idea of a “shared education” where the “abandoned” parent could sometimes be consulted by the “kidnapper” parent.
Last Friday, Tommaso Perina was back in court in Sendai to ask to see his children. The judge presented him with an inspection note from the court investigators explaining that they were very happy without him. “Your little girl even forgot about you. "
Yann Rousseau (Correspondent in Tokyo)