It was a typical love story for Kyoko Yamaguchi. The couple met in Europe, fell in love, married and later had a son.
But the happy life she had envisioned soon turned sour. First there were the fights and the yelling, and then the cheating and violence. After nearly 10 years of trying desperately to hold on to her marriage, Yamaguchi, not her real name, left her husband.
But that wasn’t enough. Physically and mentally worn out from her husband’s abusive and stalkerlike behavior, she finally decided to take her son and move back to Japan without her husband’s consent.
In Japan, most people would say she is just a mother trying to do what she thought best for her child. But under the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, to which Japan is not a member, Yamaguchi’s action is considered international parental kidnapping.
“I don’t know what I would have done if Japan had signed the Hague Convention,” Yamaguchi said, her voice shaking and tears running down her cheeks. “I hate to even think about it, but I probably would have tried to commit suicide with my child.”
Her husband had a bad temper, she said, and countless times he would yell at her and their son, punching the wall and slamming doors.
One time, after an hour of being yelled at and called horrible names with her son close by, Yamaguchi could no longer tolerate his “abnormal screaming.” For the first time she hit back, slapping him. In return, he punched her in the face and she landed 3 meters across the room, she said.
“There was all sorts of physical violence and that time (when he punched me), I lost consciousness,” she added. “When I came to, my son was at my side, terrified for me. All I could do then was to tell him that Mommy was all right.”
Yamaguchi said that even after she separated from her husband, she had no intention of returning to Japan. She wanted to raise her son in Europe. (For privacy, she asked that the country not be revealed.)
“I realize that I bear responsibility too — after all, I married him,” Yamaguchi said. “I was prepared for some punishment, almost like a form of atonement, and that was why I endured his stalkerlike actions after our separation. But when his actions harmed my son, I couldn’t forgive him.”
She said her husband stalled the process for a legal separation. The longer she had to wait, the more her and her son’s mental states deteriorated.
When a court handed down a temporary alimony settlement, Yamaguchi said the amount was “unbelievably” small, not nearly enough to raise a child. “I realized that my son and I could starve to death if we stayed,” Yamaguchi said. “And that was when I seriously began to consider moving back to Japan.”
So, she planned her “escape” and made her way back to Japan last year to live with her parents. She said her son has adapted well to Japan.
“In my husband’s eyes, I am a criminal,” she said. “But for me, my answer is my son. Seeing him today, I truly think I made the right decision.”
Sachiyo Kawasaki, who also asked that her real name not be used, said she recently brought her children from the U.S. because her husband’s abuse started to affect them.
“We don’t want to be criminals,” she said. “If there was another way to resolve the situation, we would have done that. But coming back to Japan was the only way to protect the children.”
Kawasaki met her husband in the 1990s and was married for more than a decade. Throughout this time, she said, he subjected her to endless verbal abuse and was sometimes physically violent as well. “But you see, mothers tend to tolerate abuse against themselves,” Kawasaki said.
But like other cases, the abuse affected the children. Her husband, who repeatedly threatened to take them away from her, was “domineering” to the point where the kids grew mentally unstable, she said.
“It got worse when we separated because there was no one nearby to stop him — he was able to do whatever he pleased and the children fell victim to his actions,” Kawasaki said.
She said the children begged her to do something so they wouldn’t have to see their father during visitations.
Mothers like Kawasaki and Yamaguchi are aware of Article 13 in the Hague Convention, which stipulates that children don’t have to be returned to their country of origin if the “return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.”
But Japanese legal experts say the article has only been applied in extreme cases.
Kawasaki said the reason she is against Japan joining the Hague Convention is because it completely ignores the children’s wishes. “It is just too cruel to ignore the children’s pleas and force them to return,” she said.