Presenter:ALEXY, Allison Megan (Assistant Professor, University of Virginia / WIAPS Exchange Researcher)
Presentation Theme:Abduction, Child Custody, and International Law in Contemporary Japan
In this presentation, I describe my ongoing research about abduction and child custody disputes in Japan. Funded by an Abe Fellowship and supported by WIAPS, I am ethnographically examining how citizenship and kinship intersect in government policy and family lives. In recent decades, transnational child custody disputes have become an increasingly pressing policy issue in Japan and the United States, and now involve hundreds of children in each country. These conflicts occur when guardians of different nationalities, often divorcing parents, disagree about how to determine custody of their children, who typically hold multiple citizenships. Some parents relocate to a national jurisdiction they expect will support their legal demands; others violate court orders and take children to a country unlikely to aid extradition. Including such “venue shopping” and abduction, these complex conflicts place new demands on policy makers, diplomats, lawyers, and family members to negotiate settlements between radically different legal systems and cultural norms. Despite economic similarities and postwar discourse of shared values, the Japanese and American governments have responded to transnational child custody disputes with divergent strategies. These government responses vary concerning support of international legal agreements, claims about the best interests of children, and mechanisms for resolution. Responses from other actors involved – parents, lawyers, and the general public – suggest similarly broad cultural differences. This project hypothesizes that such differences stem from the disparate cultural, political, and legal links between citizenship and kinship in each nation. The research design, based on multi-sited ethnographic methods, investigates the ways in which family membership and national membership intersect at moments when both are at stake in particularly contentious transnational family conflicts. Because of increasing numbers of cases involving Japanese and American citizens, and concurrent domestic and international pressure put on both nations to mediate transnational conflicts, the issues at stake in these conflicts make new demands on policy makers.