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Change necessary if Noda really wants to put ‘children first’

Dear Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda,

Recently, I was reading an article on your blog titled “Children First.” I was especially impressed by your following four quotes:

• “We must stand by the principle of ‘children first’ and strengthen our support for the child-raising generation both nationally and regionally in order to enhance social security more fully during the first half of people’s lives.”

• “Interactions between fathers and children are the starting point of education.”

• “I consider it important for us to promote the principle of ‘children first.’ “

• “A society of ‘children first’ is a society that nurtures smiling faces in everyone.”

It is great that you feel fathers are important to a child’s development. I think most people would agree with you, including child development experts. I assume you believe all children have equal rights and that all children deserve to be put first.

Like you, I believe in “children first,” but I am not so sure the family courts feel the same way. Family court judges often make rulings that separate one parent from a child’s life.

The Supreme Court of Japan made a DVD in 2006 called “What Couples with Children Must Consider When They Separate.” The message within this DVD is very good: “Kids need both parents to be happy.” But the family courts do not show this DVD to divorcing parents. They even hide the existence of this DVD and often refuse to let divorcing parents watch it. Moreover, judges make rulings that go against the message within the DVD.

I feel the courts and the outdated sole custody system are detrimental to children. The courts and their policies go directly against the idea of “children first.”

Over 150,000 children every year lose contact with one parent due to divorce. Millions of children are growing up without the influence of one of their parents.

Noncustodial parents and children alike are suffering. When you remove one parent from a child’s life you also remove that parent’s extended family. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins are all suffering because of the sole custody system.

I have also read about many abuse cases in the papers. In some of these cases the mother’s boyfriend appears to be abusing these children.

If Japan had a joint custody system that allowed both parents and their families to raise and look after the children, these types of abuse cases would be greatly reduced. If you have more family members looking after children and caring for them they will be happier and the chances of abuse taking place will be greatly reduced.

If you truly believe in “children first” then it is time to put your words into action:

• Direct the Ministry of Justice to increase the visitation time for noncustodial parents.

• Make sure the courts enforce their rulings.

• Penalize parents that refuse access to the noncustodial parent.

• And mostly importantly, quickly pass a joint custody law.

I helped start an organization called Children First (www.childrenfirst.jp) with other concerned parents who are unable to see their children. We also believe interactions with fathers and children are the starting point of education.

We feel the family courts need to change their policies, but we can’t do this alone. We need your help to reunite children and noncustodial parents.

Millions of parents and children are counting on you to put your words into actions. Time is of the essence. Children grow up quickly. Parents are missing out on milestones that they will never get back.

On behalf of Children First and all the parents who are unable to see their children, let’s make Japan a better place for children.

KEVIN BROWN
Nagoya

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