One of CARI’s Managing Directors speaking on issues relating to Japan and The Hague Convention.
Japan Kyodo News:
11 December 2015
(c) 2015 Kyodo News
LONDON, Dec. 11 — A security expert who specializes in the safe recovery of youngsters involved in cross-border custody disputes is “skeptical” whether Japan will ever shrug off its reputation as the “black hole of international parental child abduction.”
Adam Whittington heads a team of former special forces and police personnel who are dispatched around the world to recover children who have been wrongly removed from their home country by one of their parents.
In 16 years, his company has returned approximately 150 children from at least 50 different countries, including Japan.
His firm receives many calls from parents desperate to get their kids back — despite the fact that a global agreement is in place which should facilitate the process.
The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, which Japan signed up to in 2013 and formally joined in April 2014, is supposed to ensure children are promptly returned to their country of “habitual residence” if taken to another country by one of their parents.
The cases typically involve couples in an international relationship which fails and one parent takes the child back to his or her native country.
But, Whittington, 39, who heads Child Abduction Recovery International, says the convention has many deficiencies and abducted children are failing to be returned all over the world due to lax enforcement by local authorities.
His company gets many requests for assistance, particularly from Western fathers seeking to retrieve their children from Asia, including Japan.
CARI will only agree to act for a client if it is clear the overseas court has ruled in their favor and ordered that the child be returned under the convention to his or her country of habitual residence.
A team will be dispatched to the country in question to try and locate the abducting parent and child.
Then, a surveillance operation will be carried out in order to find a “safe and fast opportunity” for the other parent to take the child with the team’s assistance, said Whittington.
In the past, he has worked for the British police and Australian army, and in 2000 he assisted the family of British woman Lucie Blackman who went missing in Japan. Her body was later found mutilated and a Japanese man is currently serving time in prison for the crime.
Prior to Japan joining the convention, Whittington says the country was known as the “black hole of child abduction” because Japanese courts would invariably side with the Japanese national — usually a mother — and order that the child should remain in Japan.
While there have been returns of children under the convention from Japan, Whittington remains skeptical.
Speaking from his home in Sweden, he told Kyodo News, “We hope Japan sees the light and comes out of the Dark Ages because it has had a bad reputation when it comes to international child abduction. There have been some returns, which is great, and I hope they stick to it.
“It’s down to the individual judges and many of them are not experienced in international child abduction.”
But even if the left-behind parent is granted a return by a judicial or administrative authority it can often “mean nothing” as the abducting parent will find ways of getting around the system, says Whittington.
“Many of the fathers know they are going to have a massive battle on their hands. The convention needs to be rewritten for 2015. The percentage of return rates, from our experience, is about 3 percent, which is shocking,” he said.
“Many of the abducting parents go on the run once a decision has been made the child should be returned. Their lawyers tell them to go and hide for 12 months — sometimes in another country — because after that period it is easier to persuade a judge that this (new) country is the child’s habitual residence.”
Whittington says about 50 percent of his cases involve tracking down parents who have deliberately “disappeared” following a Hague ruling against them.
One of his current cases involves tracking down a Japanese mother who has “deliberately disappeared” and he notes there are several Japanese websites which tell mothers how to exploit the convention in this way.
Whittington said deliberately disappearing “is happening everywhere. Enforcing (the Hague convention) is by far the biggest problem and this is why we are so busy.
“The right of return (under Hague) is just a piece of paper and the (left-behind) parent can’t just take it to the police and get it sorted and this is why we get involved.”
So far, Whittington has not been called upon to enforce a Hague order in Japan, but in 2013 he assisted an Italian man in retrieving his 4-year-old son from his Japanese mother after being granted full custody in Japanese courts.
About 95 percent of his work is enforcing Hague orders, although occasionally Whittington will act in a non-Hague country — and without legal backing — if he is convinced there is a moral case in removing the child due to a threat of abuse, for example.
Some people may think that removing a child in this way from one of its parents is disruptive and harmful. However, Whittington defends his actions.
He said, “I do it because there is no one else to help these children and they are in the middle of a battle between two parents.
“Often, these children are not leading normal lives. These kids don’t go to school or to the doctors because they are on the run. They live like fugitives. They don’t go and play on the streets, because they know the police are trying to find them.”