The case of an Australian father jailed in Tokyo after he went to his estranged in-laws’ apartment block to search for his children he hadn’t seen in months has exposed a crisis faced by parents in Japan.
Sydney freelance journalist Scott McIntyre, 46, was freed on bail last Friday after enduring six weeks in prison on trespass charges. On Wednesday he was given a six-month sentence, suspended for three years.
“To be honest, it’s just incredible that he was ever (detained) in the first place, for walking through a door,” McIntyre’s mother Laurie McIntyre told the ABC outside the court.
“In Australia that’d be a minor misdemeanour, slap on the wrist, 100 dollar fine go away. Over here, it’s months in jail before even get a chance to (explain yourself) … it’s a crazy system.”
McIntyre was arrested on November 28 while trying to track down his two young children, who were taken by their Japanese mother last year following a breakdown in the couple’s marriage.
“The children, who are Australian citizens, were taken out of their home and their school, and moved to a secret location,” a Change.org petition set up by McIntyre’s friends explains. “Scott has not heard from them again — only from his Japanese wife’s lawyers. He was not even allowed to speak with his son to wish him a happy birthday.
“Scott is a dedicated father. In recent years he has been a stay-at-home dad. He dotes on his children and loves them dearly.”
McIntyre moved with his family to Japan in 2015 after he was sacked from SBS for a controversial tweet about Anzac Day. He sued for unfair dismissal and the parties reached an out-of-court settlement in 2016.
Addressing reporters after his sentencing hearing, McIntyre said while his court matter was over, he was no closer to being reunited with his daughter and son, now aged 11 and nine respectively.
“I haven’t seen my children now for almost 250 days,” he said.
“They were taken in May last year without my permission, without my consent and it’s my opinion they are continuing to suffer from parental alienation.”
McIntyre is not the only Australian with children missing in Japan.
Child recovery specialist Colin Chapman told The Sydney Morning Herald the country has become known as a “black hole”, with up to 20 taken from Australia to Japan without consent every year.
Lawyers and legal experts say Japan effectively condones the act regardless of whether domestic violence is involved, and parents who are deprived of contact with their children face the threat of arrest if they try to retrieve or see them.
Though Japan is a signatory to The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, it is notorious for noncompliance, failing to recognise joint custody orders or enforce visitation rights.
Between 2017 and 2018, The Hague Convention received 143 applications for help relating to children snatched from Australia and taken to another country, up from the previous year’s figure of 139.
The statistics, available on the Australian Attorney-General’s website, do not break down the number of those children in Japan but show almost half are missing in countries outside New Zealand, the UK and the US.
While these cases are generally dealt with by the A-G, McIntyre’s case falls outside its parameters.
A spokesperson the Attorney-General’s Department today told news.com.au that because McIntyre’s case took place in Japan rather than Australia, “it’s not a case that we would deal with but rather a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)”.
DFAT confirmed it had made contact with McIntyre, who is expected to remain in Japan indefinitely as he battles for access to his children.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is providing consular assistance to an Australian man in Japan,” a spokesperson said in an email.
“Owing to our privacy obligations we will not provide further comment.”
McIntyre, who emerged from his sentencing hearing wearing a T-shirt printed with the words “Stop parental child abduction”, is lobbying the Japanese government to honour its obligation to The Hague Convention.
“I want police to apply this law,” he said.
“In addition, Japan has international treaties and obligations to ensure parents and children are not removed from each other. I want Japan and the Japanese Government to uphold the treaties they’ve signed.”
McIntyre said while it was difficult enough for foreigners in his position, the situation was worse for Japanese mothers and fathers, who were forced to suffer in silence with no legal recourse.
He said an estimated 100,000 children had been taken without consent and denied access to a parent in Japan.
“Most of those cases do not involve a foreign parent like myself; most of those involve Japanese parents who don’t have a voice,” he said.
“What future is there for Japan if children are being taken and removed from their parents without their consent? The family court routinely refuses to investigate these forced removals.
“In my case, I went to the police and asked for their help in investigating this issue, which is covered by Japanese law and international obligations and they did nothing to support me or my children.
“And I stand here as a representative of a huge collective of parents from France, Germany, Italy, America, Canada, South America and Asian nations.
“But most importantly I stand here as a representative of all the Japanese mothers and fathers who’ve had their children removed from them. All we want is a system of joint custody in Japan, that Japan joins the civilised and modern world in implementing a system of joint custody because this is an issue that has been affecting Japanese, men and women (and) does not discriminate on gender and race.”
McIntyre was arrested on November 28 for entering the common area of the building where his wife’s parents live in late October in a bid to find his children, according to Reuters.
He testified that he had made numerous requests to the police and his wife’s lawyers — the two are going through a divorce mediation — to let him know whether the children are safe, but that those were ignored.
The day of the illegal entry, he had been worried about his children in the aftermath of a
typhoon that ripped through the region, he said.
Why McIntyre’s wife left him taking their daughter and son, now aged 11 and 7, was unclear. Prosecutors said in court she had claimed physical violence by McIntyre towards their daughter, which he denied, and material presented by the prosecution was dismissed as irrelevant to the trespassing charge.
It was also not clear why he was arrested more than a month after the illegal entry, or why he had been detained for so long. An earlier request for bail was denied on grounds that he could destroy evidence or flee the country
Friends who visited McIntyre at west Tokyo’s Takaido detention centre — where he languished between November 28 and January 10 — described the woeful conditions.
”He is allowed one shower every five days, friend Catherine Henderson told The Herald in December.
“His cell is lit for 24 hours a day and he cannot wash his clothes. He gets one 20 minute visit a day. We take stuff for him like clothes and books, but they are often refused. There is no privacy, even for the toilet.”