TOKYO (AP) — An Australian journalist based in Japan says he is a victim of Japanese child custody laws that allow only one parent access to children of broken marriages, a day after he was convicted of trespassing at the apartment building of his estranged wife’s parents to try to find his children.
Scott McIntyre was arrested in November, a month after he entered the apartment building. He says he was attempting to make sure his two children, aged eight and 11, were safe after a typhoon hit the country. He was detained for 44 days until last week, when he was released on bail.
The Tokyo District Court on Wednesday sentenced McIntyre, a former sports journalist for Australia’s SBS network, to six months in prison. The sentence was suspended for three years, meaning that he will not have to serve time if his conduct is good during that period.
He told reporters on Thursday that his children had been “abducted” by his wife without any explanation. He did not discuss why his wife disappeared with the children. During the trial, prosecutors said he used violence against his daughter, which he denied.
“I don’t know if my children are alive, I don’t know if they’re dead,” he said.
In a country where women are still expected to be responsible for child rearing, custodial rights usually go to mothers. Fathers who are divorced or separated have difficulty getting access to their children.
Japan’s custody laws “encourage the abduction of children,” McIntyre said. He said his wife has sought a divorce, but he is resisting because he does not want to lose access to his children.
“And this is all because Japan refuses to … implement a system of joint custody. It’s a basic and fundamental human right,” he said. “We’re just asking for rights of children to be protected as they are in most other civilized nations.”
McIntyre’s case is shedding light on Japan’s judicial system, which has already drawn international criticism over the monthslong detention of former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn in what critics have called “hostage justice.” Ghosn, who was charged with not fully reporting his income and recently escaped from house arrest and fled to Lebanon, has bitterly criticized his treatment by Japanese prosecutors.
In recent years, a growing number of foreign fathers have sought the right to see children taken by their Japanese mothers in broken international marriages. But McIntyre said foreigners are only a small part of the custody problem in Japan, and that Japanese citizens, who are the biggest victims, ultimately have to seek changes to the current system.
AP journalist Haruka Nuga contributed to this report.
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