Smith Legislation Sanctions Countries that Refuse to Help Left-Behind Parents
Father Arrested in Japan Underscores Need for Reforms
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The case of an American father who has been arrested in Japan for attempting to regain access to his children, taken to Japan by his ex-wife in violation of a U.S. court order, is helping to raise awareness of the increasing problem of international parental child abduction and the heartbreak and frustration suffered by the parents left behind.
“International child abduction violates the rights of the left behind parent and the rights of the child to know both parents,” said Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), a senior Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a Congressional Representative to the United Nations. “Sadly, international child abductions are on the increase. In the last three years, reported international child abductions have increased 60 percent.”
Christopher Savoie of Tennessee was arrested earlier this week in Japan after he attempted to reclaim his two children who were taken to Japan by his ex-wife a month ago in direct violation of a U.S. court order. Savoie was taken into custody and is facing criminal charges.
Historically, parents left behind when their children are abducted to Japan have little hope and little recourse for justice because the Japanese government ignores U.S. family court rulings and will not honor the rights of American parents. Even in “extreme cases” such as when the abducting parent passes away, the Japanese government has not returned the child to the left behind parent. In fact, there is no known case of Japan ever returning an abducted Japanese-American child to the left behind parent.
“There is an opportunity here to turn a new page,” Smith said. “There is a glimmer of hope, and some encouraging signs that the new administration under the leadership of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama will approach the issue of international parental child abduction in a way that recognizes the right of the adult parent. The case of Chris Savoie sheds light on the more than 100 open cases of American parents who have been blocked from their rightful access to their children in Japan.
“I urge the Prime Minister to see this incident as a catalyst,” Smith said. He should form a task force and deal expeditiously, compassionately and judiciously to bring reconciliation and reunification to children abducted to Japan and their parents left behind.”
Smith has been working to push the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration to better address international child abductions in Japan and elsewhere around the world. In July, he introduced the “International Child Abduction Prevention Act of 2009”, H.R. 3240, at a press conference alongside left behind parents from across the country whose children have been abducted to Japan and Brazil (bill summary). One case has garnered significant attention: David Goldman the father of abducted American-born Sean Goldman, now 9, has been fighting to bring Sean home from Brazil for more than five years. There are currently over 2,800 American children being held in foreign countries against the wishes of a left behind parent.
“My legislation, HR 3240 empowers the United States to more aggressively pursue the resolution of abduction cases,” Smith said. “Our current system is not providing justice for left behind parents or for children whisked away from their mom or dad. Congress must act so that more children are not further traumatized by parental abduction.”
Key provisions of the Smith legislation include:
Requires the President to respond with a range of mutually reinforcing penalties, including sanctions against a country, when that country has shown a pattern of non-cooperation in resolving child abduction cases
Creates the position of Ambassador at Large for International Child Abduction within the State Department to advise the Secretary of State and raise the profile of the more than 2,800 children who have been abducted.
Empowers the Ambassador at Large to pursue additional legal frameworks abroad, including bilateral agreements with countries that have not yet acceded to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
Authorizes greater resources for a new office within the State Department to better assist left behind parents and expand the State Department’s ability to collect detailed information on abductions.
“Child abduction is child abuse,” Smith said. “The kidnapped child is at risk for serious emotional and psychological problems. As adults, they may struggle with identity issues, their own personal relationships and parenting.
“We can and must do better to help children abducted by a parent and to assist the parents left behind.”
Hi Blog. This has been big news all of yesterday. (I’m pretty strict about only doing one major blog post per day — otherwise I’d have floods and famines of news instead of dribs and drabs — so sorry for the delay on reporting this. And thanks to the dozens of people who sent articles. Here goes:)
Japan has now become truly infamous as a haven for international child abductions, due not only to its non-signatory status vis-a-vis the Hague Treaty on International Child Abductions, but also because its problematic koseki Family Registry system enables one parent sole custody of the kids (and no visitation rights — I know: I’m divorced, and despite Japanese citizenship, I’ve seen one of my daughters all of *once* over the past close to five years): abduction and lack of contact in Japan happens regardless of nationality, but it’s particularly disadvantageous for NJ because they don’t even have a koseki to put their children on (not to mention the difficulty of conducting an intercontinental custody battle).
This issue has been brought up numerous times internationally over the years, to a lot of handwringing (and some biased domestic media coverage) on the part of Japan. Consequently, no abducted child to Japan, according to a number of embassies and and the upcoming documentary FROM THE SHADOWS, has EVER been returned. Even though, in Mr Savoie’s case, he was awarded custody of his children by a Tennessee court, and there is an arrest warrant out for his wife in the US.
So Mr Savoie did something I consider very brave. He came to Japan and tried to retrieve his children. He put them in his car and did a runner for the Fukuoka US Consulate. However, according to online and word-of-mouth sources familiar with this case, the American Consulate would not open the gate for him. One left-behind father commented to a mailing list thusly:
It does not surprise me one bit. I met with the U.S. Embassy in Okinawa shortly after my daughter was abducted and I found her there [in Okinawa]. They told me flat out that is what they would do if I tried to bring her [to the Consulate], in spite of the U.S. Warrants for her mother’s arrest and the U.S. Court papers showing that I had full unconditional custody of my daughter.
I’ve known for quite some time that the USG is quite unhelpful towards its citizens, but this is getting ridiculous. Especially since the children are also US citizens.
Mr Savoie was then arrested by Japanese police and charged with kidnapping — a charge that may incarcerate him for up to five years, and his outcome at this writing remains uncertain.
But it’s about time somebody took a stand like this, if you ask me, since no other channels are working (witness what happened in the very similar Murray Wood Case), and nothing short of this is probably going to draw the attention this situation needs. Bravo Mr Savoie!
CNN has been the leader on reporting this case, and anchor Campbell Brown did an excellent report at 10:40 AM JST (I watched it intercontinentally over skype with a friend), with CNN’s legal counsel commenting agape at how Japan’s courts ignore overseas rulings and allow one family to capture the kids after divorce. They also had an interview with Paul Toland, a commander in the US Navy, who similarly lost his child 6 years ago — and when his ex-wife died two years ago, the Japanese courts awarded custody to his Japanese mother-in-law! Very, very sobering.
Local TV in Nashville, Tennessee did a much better job, reporting surprising negligence on the part of the local judge who granted Noriko the right to leave the country in the first place with the kids, despite advance evidence in writing that Noriko was threatening to abduct them (the judge declined to comment for the report). Text and TV here: http://www.newschannel5.com/global/story.asp?s=11171461
TOKYO, Japan (CNN September 29, 2009) — Had this parental abduction drama played out in the United States, Christopher Savoie might be considered a hero — snatching his two little children back from an ex-wife who defied the law and ran off with them.
A Tennessee court awarded Christopher Savoie custody of his son, Isaac, and daughter, Rebecca.
But this story unfolds 7,000 miles away in the Japanese city of Fukuoka, where the U.S. legal system holds no sway.
And here, Savoie sits in jail, charged with the abduction of minors. And his Japanese ex-wife — a fugitive in the United States for taking his children from Tennessee — is considered the victim.
“Japan is an important partner and friend of the U.S., but on this issue, our points of view differ,” the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said Tuesday. “Our two nations approach divorce and child-rearing differently. Parental child abduction is not considered a crime in Japan.”
The story begins in Franklin, Tennessee, with the divorce of Savoie from his first wife, Noriko, a Japanese native.
The ex-wife had agreed to live in Franklin to be close to the children, taking them to Japan for summer vacations.
But in August — on the first day of classes for 8-year-old Isaac and 6-year-old Rebecca — the school called to say they hadn’t arrived.
Worried, Savoie called his ex-wife’s father in Japan, who told him not to worry.
“I said, ‘What do you mean — don’t worry? They weren’t at school.’ ‘Oh, don’t worry, they are here,’ ” Savoie recounted the conversation to CNN affiliate WTVF earlier this month. “I said, ‘They are what, they are what, they are in Japan?’ ”
After the abduction, a court in Williamson County, Tennessee, granted Savoie full custody of the children. And Franklin police issued an arrest warrant for his ex-wife, the television station reported.
But there was a major hitch: Japan is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on international child abduction.
The international agreement standardizes laws, but only among participating countries.
So while Japanese civil law stresses that courts resolve custody issues based on the best interest of the children without regard to the parent’s nationality, foreign parents have had little success in regaining custody.
Japanese family law follows a tradition of sole custody divorces. When a couple splits, one parent typically makes a complete and lifelong break from the children.
The International Association for Parent-Child Reunion, formed in Japan this year, claims to know of more than 100 cases of children abducted by noncustodial Japanese parents.
And the U.S. State Department says it is not aware of a single case in which a child taken from the United States to Japan has been ordered returned by Japanese courts — even when the left-behind parent has a U.S. custody decree.
Saddled with such statistics and the possibility of never seeing his kids again, Savoie took matters into his own hands.
He flew to Fukuoka. And as his ex-wife walked the two children to school Monday morning, Savoie drove alongside them.
He grabbed them, forced them into his car, and drove off, said police in Fukuoka.
He headed for the U.S. consulate in Fukuoka to try to obtain passports for Isaac and Rebecca.
But Japanese police, alerted by Savoie’s ex-wife, were waiting.
Consulate spokeswoman Tracy Taylor said she heard a scuffle outside the doors of the consulate. She ran up and saw a little girl and a man, whom police were trying to talk to.
Eventually, police took Savoie away, charging him with the abduction of minors — a crime that upon conviction carries a prison sentence of up to five years.
The consulate met with Savoie on Monday and Tuesday, Taylor said. It has provided him with a list of local lawyers and said it will continue to assist.
Meanwhile, the international diplomacy continues. During the first official talks between the United States and Japan’s new government, the issue of parental abductions was raised.
But it is anybody’s guess what happens next to Savoie, who sits in a jail cell.
Father, kids in custody case Japanese citizens, officials say
TOKYO, Japan (CNN September 30, 2009) — The case of a Tennessee man jailed in Japan for trying to snatch back his children from his estranged wife is not as clear-cut as it’s been made out to be, authorities here said Wednesday.
The father, Christopher Savoie, apparently became a naturalized Japanese citizen four years ago, listing a permanent address in Tokyo, they said.
And while he and Noriko Savoie, a Japanese native, divorced in Tennessee, the two never annulled their marriage in Japan, Japanese officials said.
Also, the two children at the center of the case hold Japanese passports, they said.
“His chances of getting his children back home to the States, I think, are pretty slim right now,” Jeremy Morley, Savoie’s lawyer in the United States, told CNN’s “AC 360” on Tuesday night. Watch how dad landed in Japanese jail »
“We’re getting this in the hands of Interpol. We’re putting the pressure,” he added. “We want diplomatic pressure. We want the United States government to act strongly.”
Savoie was arrested Monday when he snatched his two children — 8-year-old Isaac and 6-year-old Rebecca — as Noriko Savoie was walking them to school in Fukuoka, about 680 miles (1,100 kilometers) southwest of the capital, Tokyo.
He headed for the U.S. consulate in that city to try to obtain passports for them, authorities said. But Japanese police, alerted by Noriko Savoie, arrested him.
Japanese authorities said Wednesday that Savoie was eating well and was staying in a jail cell by himself.
He will be held for 10 days while prosecutors sort out the details of the case. Watch a discussion of U.S.-Japan custody cases »
“I know he had to go to the hospital for blood pressure issues,” said Amy Savoie, whom Savoie married after divorcing Noriko Savoie in Tennessee in January. “The gentleman from the consulate was able to contact me this morning, and he confirmed that Christopher had gone to the hospital. The first night he needed medication for his high blood pressure.”
After their Tennessee divorce, Noriko Savoie agreed to live in Franklin, Tennessee, to be close to the children, taking them to Japan for summer vacations.
In March, Savoie requested a restraining order to prevent his wife from taking the children to Japan, fearing she would not return.
“I was on a speaker phone telephone call once when she proclaimed to him, ‘You have no idea what I’m capable of,” said Amy Savoie. “So, yes, he had the idea.”
Noriko Savoie could not be reached by CNN for comment.
On the day that the two children were to begin school in August, Savoie learned Noriko Savoie had fled with them to Japan.
After that, Savoie filed for and was granted full custody of the children by a Tennessee court. And Franklin police issued an arrest warrant for Noriko Savoie.
But Japan is not a party to a 1980 Hague Convention on international child abduction.
Foreign parents have had little luck in regaining custody, the U.S. State Department said.
“She has committed a felony, the mother,” Morley said. “It’s a very serious felony. She would go to jail for serious time if she were here.
“But Japan has a different legal system and a different set of customs and ideas about custody. And their idea is that somebody who is Japanese and the mother should be entitled to have the kids and have the kids alone. The fact that they were living here is kind of irrelevant, and the fact that there’s a court order here is irrelevant.”
So, Savoie flew to Fukuoka to try to get back his children — and landed himself in jail.
“These kids are the ones that are suffering,” Morley said. “These kids are without their father, and their father needs to be a part of their life. It’s not fair that he’s been taken away from them.”