Japan to beef up law to enable handover of children to parents with custody when the other resists
The Cabinet on Tuesday approved a bill revising the enforcement of civil law to enable the handover of a child to a parent who is awarded custody, even if the other parent refuses to abide by a court order to transfer guardianship.
Currently, the law has no clear stipulation on such handovers, leaving court officials to rely on a clause related to asset seizure to enforce child custody orders. The current system has drawn criticism due to the fact it treats children as property.
Legislation implementing the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, an international treaty providing a framework allowing the return of a child internationally abducted by a parent, will similarly be revised.
At present, legislation requires a parent living with a child to be present when the child is handed over to the other parent, but the proposed revision will allow a transfer without both parents being there.
The convention, to which Japan acceded in 2014, sets out rules and procedures for the prompt return of children under 16 to their country of habitual residence when they are taken or retained by one parent, if requested by the other parent.
The bill to modify the Civil Execution Law also includes revisions to allow courts to obtain debtors’ financial information and bar registered crime syndicate members from acquiring foreclosed real estate properties in public auctions.
The amendments are aimed at helping authorities seize money and properties from parents who fail to meet their court-ordered child support obligations and from people who do not pay compensation to crime victims.
The revised execution law will make it easier for courts to require financial and public institutions to provide information on debtors, including data related to their savings and places of employment.
Japan maintains a system of sole custody and, in a large majority of cases, when a dispute reaches court mothers are awarded custody after divorce. It is not unusual for children in Japan to stop seeing their fathers after their parents break up.
Franklin brother, sister still missing after 9 years
By: Linda Ong Posted: Aug 23, 2018 04:00 AM CDT Updated: Aug 23, 2018 10:26 AM CDT
FRANKLIN, Tenn. (WKRN) – Nine years have passed since Rebecca and Isaac Savoie went missing from Franklin, Tennessee.
The kids, six and eight at the time, were at the center of a divorce that took them more than 6,000 miles away from Middle Tennessee to Japan.
Their father, Christopher Savoie, made world headlines, after allegedly trying to recover his children from Japan.
“Elation left for a few minutes, and now we’re back to square one,” said Amy Savoie, Christopher’s wife, in an interview in 2009.
Christopher returned home from that trip in October of 2009 empty-handed, igniting a nearly decade-long overseas battle to get his kids back from their mother, his ex-wife Noriko Esaki.
“Divorce is hard for any family, and for kids involved in it,” said Lt. Charles Warner of the Franklin Police Department.
The department has been overseeing the case from day one.
“Any parental abduction, or custodial interference case, is difficult in itself,” said Lt. Warner. “Take them outside the state of Tennessee, and it grows even more complicated. Take things outside of the U.S. and things grow even more complex.”
The last time Christopher saw his children was August 11, 2009.
That morning, Noriko picked up Isaac and Rebecca for school from Christopher’s house, in the Fieldstone Farms neighborhood in Franklin.
Two days later, Williamson County School officials notified Christopher that his kids didn’t show up to Winstead Elementary.
August 17, the Savoies report to Franklin police that Noriko abducted Isaac and Rebecca and had taken them to Japan.
“Per case report, Chris had full custody of the children,” said Lt. Warner. “She didn’t have any right to remove them from his custody or care and certainly not from the United States.”
The challenge for detectives became the kids now being an ocean apart.
“If those kids were, if they were in Fairview, or in Clarksville, in a heartbeat, we’d be all over that,” said Lt. Warner. “But the fact is, they’re not.”
From sadness and frustration, to hope and action, Christopher’s case made the case for change.
“We’re not kidding,” said New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith. “Please send these children back to the United States and we’re not going to stop until that happens.”
In 2014, Japan joined the Hague Convention, an agreement on international child abductions.
Yet, the children weren’t returned.
Noriko, to this day, is wanted by the FBI for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution and by Franklin police for custodial interference.
The offenses though aren’t recognized by a foreign government.
“It complicates things from our perspective,” said Lt. Warner. “Unless she was here, in the U.S., that warrant is basically unservable. We wish as a department there was more that we could do to help Mr. Savoie. The fact is, our hands are really tied.”
In that gray area is a sense of solace.
Regular welfare checks by federal officials, relay that Isaac and Rebecca are happy and thriving.
“In many cases, we see that parent has to move on with their lives without their children and those children have to move on with their lives without that parent. Unfortunately, since 2009, that’s been the case here,” said Lt. Warner. “Our hopes are, one day, whether, through us or their own accord, they’re able to reconcile that lost time.”
News 2 tried reaching out to Christopher Savoie but have not yet heard back.
Now that Isaac and Rebecca are 15 and 17 years old, investigators say the two now have increased ability to reach out to their father, the Embassy or Consulate.
If you have any tips on this case, you’re urged to call Crime Stoppers at 615-794-4000.
You can also directly share tips with a Franklin police detective at 615-550-6815, or the Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.
Click here to read more stories from our day-long project, “Missing Kid Mysteries.”
‘My ex secretly took our child out of the country’
By Sue Mitchell BBC News
2 August 2018
A mother from Yorkshire has spent 18 months fighting for access to her daughter, who was taken abroad by her ex. Custody battles are always stressful and dealing with foreign courts and lawyers adds extra complications, expense and delays. But as more people take advantage of Europe’s freedom of movement stories like this are becoming more common.
“He didn’t tell me what he was planning,” says Tracy. “He said he was taking her for an overnight stay at his temporary accommodation in Bradford. Looking back, I remember her saying that she didn’t want to go, but I didn’t think anything was wrong. I wanted him to have this contact.
Something was wrong, though, as Tracy soon found out.
“The next morning he called me. He was clearly upset and he told me that they were back in the Czech Republic. I just went into shock. It was the worst moment of my life. I called the police and they spoke to him, but under the international treaty they said there was nothing they could do, even though he’d taken her there without me knowing anything about it.”
Tracy had met her Czech-born partner while he was working in Bradford in 2005 and had given birth to their daughter three years later. When the partner was made redundant the couple decided to move to his village in the Czech Republic where they lived with his parents. But at some point their relationship broke down.
In 2016, with Tracy’s mother’s health deteriorating, they moved back to the UK with their daughter, who was then seven. Even though they were not together as a couple, they could both love and care for her.
But when they got back to Bradford, Tracy’s ex had a disagreement with her mother, and he was asked to leave.
Her former partner, who did not want to be named, says that he had never intended the 2016 move back to the UK to be permanent – he only agreed because Tracy’s mother was ill. When he realised that he was not welcome at the family home he started considering his options.
“I was thinking what to do,” he says. “I wasn’t even allowed to be in the house for my daughter’s birthday. I walked away and I felt miserable. I was crying like a small kid. That was the breaking point when I said ‘No’. Maybe it could have been different if they had proceeded more carefully, Tracy and her mother, if they were not so heavy-handed.
“Maybe I would have stayed and found myself a flat. Maybe I would have endured it. I will be honest with you, now I have a huge aversion towards England. I see English football and I switch to another channel.”
Find out more
The story of how Tracy’s former partner took their daughter out of the UK without her mother’s agreement features in The Untold: Child of Mine.
Under the Hague Convention, which governs cases of child custody waged across international borders, a child’s base is considered to be the country in which he or she has lived longest.
In Tracy’s daughter’s case, this was the Czech Republic, where she had lived for seven years.
This made it hard for Tracy to make a legal argument for her daughter to be returned to Bradford.
“Because of the way the relationship ended I didn’t feel able to go back there,” says Tracy. “It was destroying me to be apart from her and be told that this could happen legally – it was unbelievable. I don’t think the Hague Convention should be used to punish a mother.” She feels the fact that she was her daughter’s main carer should count for more.
It took an agonising 18 months for Tracy to get holiday visiting rights approved. And when her daughter finally arrived at Leeds Bradford airport on 6 July this year it was a huge relief.
“It was a dreadful time but being with her now makes me realise how little the bond has changed. We’ve spent almost a month together and it’s been beyond anything I imagined,” she says.
“It was amazing when we saw each other again. I picked her up and twirled her round,” says Tracy.
Tracy had moved into a new home in Bradford during the 18 months she spent apart from her daughter – but as soon as the little girl stepped foot in the house she said that it smelt familiar.
“Within hours of us being reunited, we were hugging and laughing as though we had never been apart. She’s taller, with more freckles, but otherwise unchanged. She hugs me so much and we tell each other how much we love each other all the time.”
But the time is fast approaching when Tracy’s daughter must leave again, and she won’t be back before Christmas.
“I know that my daughter is heartbroken at the thought of us being separated,” says Tracy. “I have held her as she has cried and screamed about what’s happened and the pain she must suffer when we part.”
The father says it has not been an easy situation for any of them.
“Look, it was a hard time – I didn’t abduct my daughter, I just took her back home,” he says.
But he also believes that his daughter wasn’t badly affected.
“She is coping the best of all,” he says. “I communicate with her teacher and she does not see any difference. Her health is strong.”
The long separation from her mother will have had some effect on the child, says Anne Marie Hutchinson, a UK-based expert on The Hague Convention.
“The longer a situation goes on where a child is estranged or isolated from its other parent, the more difficult it will be to re-establish the relationship between the parent and the child. So delay in this situation is going to damage the child,” she says.
She adds that removing a child without the other parent’s knowledge is “always reprehensible and damaging” whatever the rights and wrongs of the legal position.
Tracy also says her daughter suffered in the immediate aftermath of the separation.
“I now know that her little body shook with fear the night her father took her without my knowledge or consent,” says Tracy. “I know that he promised her she would see her beloved dog before he put her in a taxi to the airport. She was so sad when she realised that he’d lied and that I wasn’t coming back to the Czech Republic.
“She said the second evening we were reunited: ‘If my dad wants to be fair, why do I have to live in the Czech Republic?’ She really likes England. I suppose all I can do is keep instilling in her how much I love her and that she will always have a home here.”
The complex court proceedings that Tracy had to undergo were made much more arduous by language barriers and other differences between the two legal systems.
A spokeswoman for the courts in the Czech Republic explained some of the problems that arose.
“It is a case with a foreign element. So, the verdict is issued. Then the court has a 30-day period to issue it in writing. And since it concerns a mother who lives abroad and does not speak Czech it was necessary that an interpreter translates the verdict to English,” she said.
“The verdict was sent to an interpreter and the court began to try to deliver it in early January 2018. But delivering mail to England is a little problematic because the English postal service does not send back return receipts. We face a problem with English postal service because these return receipts do not come back.”
As the long wait continued, Tracy involved her local MP, Philip Davies. He contacted the Foreign Office, which assists in around 500 new child custody and international parental child abduction cases a year. Because jurisdiction in this case fell to the Czech Republic, officials provided Tracy with information on local lawyers but she could not afford to hire one.
Anne Marie Hutchinson says that in a case like Tracy’s, where the cost of legal representation is prohibitive, an already complicated system can appear particularly daunting.
“The problem is that there is no, as it were, Hague Court, that can make countries comply with not only the law but the procedure, and make them get on with cases quickly and ensure fairness is done.”
She says she is dealing with more and more cases involving a parent from Central or Eastern Europe and that Brexit is imposing an additional layer of uncertainty when relationships break down.
“I have had judges decide that a child is best left in an Eastern European country rather than being returned to the UK because they fear that under Brexit a parent there will not get visitation access. It is rare at the moment, but it is happening,” says Hutchinson.
Although she’s a qualified teacher, Tracy has been feeling too stressed to return to the classroom, and has been working as a cleaner instead.
But being together with her daughter this summer has made her ready to take on more responsibility. In September she will run poetry workshops and start supply teaching again.
“I feel more capable now her visiting looks more likely and I’m determined to finance the flights for her. Being with her has given me strength,” she says.
For now, Tracy is making the most of the time they have together.
“She is enjoying her time in England and has loved meeting my friends and seeing one special friend that she bonded with last time she was here. She describes this girl as her ‘best child friend’ and me as her ‘best grown-up friend’.
“We have gone shopping together, watched TV together, walked on stepping stones, bought shoes and a new duvet cover, just ordinary things so many parents might take for granted. Her favourite place was an ice-cream parlour in a barn. Those moments of being a child again are precious because she’s had to grow up far too fast.
“She still plays with dolls, yet she sometimes talks with an insight beyond her years,” says Tracy.
“She will not let go of my hand wherever we go. How will my little girl feel when she is forced to let go of it again?”
School children take shelter at schoolyard in Ikeda, Osaka, following an earthquake Monday, June 18, 2018. A strong earthquake has shaken the city of Osaka in western Japan. There are reports of scattered damage including broken glass and concrete. (Takaki Yajima/Kyodo News via AP)
Walter Benda has only seen his two daughters once in the past 23 years. His wife disappeared from their home in Chiba, east of Tokyo, in July 1995 after he had gone to work one morning, utterly unprepared for the disappearance of his family.
After learning that his wife had disappeared with their children, he received no help from Japanese authorities to find his daughters, despite the US government issuing an international arrest warrant against his wife for kidnapping.
The one time he saw his daughters since was a fleeting glance after a private detective had tracked them down.
There was a glimmer of hope in April 2014 after Tokyo agreed to sign the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abductions – after years of pressure from foreign governments trying to solve hundreds of similar abductions by Japanese nationals – but now Benda says he is no closer to finding his children.
Foreign parents who had children stolen by a spouse say nothing has changed because court orders to reunite abducted children are not enforced in Japan. Even though the law is on their side, the parents emphasise, they are still unable to be reunited with their children.
“Since the Hague treaty was introduced, we have not seen a very significant improvement in children who have been abducted by a Japanese parent being reunited with their other parent,” Benda told This Week in Asia. “The only positive improvement that I have noted is that there seems to be a decline in the overall number of international abductions to Japan, so implementation of the convention does seem to have had something of a deterrent effect on the frequency of international child abductions to Japan.”
In 2017, there were nine abductions involving 13 children from the United States, of which five cases were resolved. But a quick look at the website of the US-based Children’s Rights Council – of which Benda is a founding member – shows more than a dozen outstanding cases, some of which go back more than a decade.
Benda’s assessment is echoed by the US state department’s annual report on international child abduction. Released in May, it identifies the main problem in Japan being “cases where taking parents refused to comply with court return orders, there were no effective means to enforce the order, resulting in a pattern of non-compliance.”
Legislators approve the Hague Convention after unanimous vote in Tokyo. Photo: AFP
The report concludes that Japan is one of the worst countries in the world for complying with the Hague agreement, a finding that Benda says is “definitely justified”.
“I do not believe there is a sincere commitment on the part of the Japanese government to strongly intervene in these cases,” he said. “And I am particularly concerned that there has been virtually no progress made in providing access, let alone reunification, for parents who merely want access to their children through the Hague process, or through other official means.”
Japanese law makes it difficult for children who have been taken by a parent to be reunited with the other parent. It requires police and court officials to visit the home of the abducting parent, the child must willingly leave the taking parent and the child must not be at risk of psychological harm. The drawbacks to these conditions are clear – particularly if a child has been effectively brainwashed to choose the abducting parent.
There are also long delays in the Japanese legal system that make enforcement more difficult, Benda points out, adding that the state department report makes clear, “unless the taking parent voluntarily complied with a return order under the Convention, judicial decisions in Convention cases in Japan were not enforced”.
Justice minister Yoko Kamikawa says Japan will overhaul its law regarding the Hague Convention on child abduction. Photo: AFP
Yoko Kamikawa, the justice minister, said late last month that the ministry would begin to overhaul laws that implement the Hague Convention, including allowing for the return of a child when the parent who abducted the child is not present – although Benda says he still has deep reservations over whether authorities tasked with intervening in such cases will side with a foreign parent.
Brian Thomas, who was the joint founder of the Japan branch of Children’s Rights Council and last saw his son, Hajime, in April 1993, agreed that greater enforcement of the law was needed.
“It is encouraging that Japanese courts are now siding with foreign parents who have had their children abducted, although that breakthrough is completely negated by the courts failing to insist on the abducting parent abiding by these rulings,” he said.
Thomas said abducting parents often hid behind the law’s requirement that a child must be shielded from psychological or physical harm.
Japan’s courts have been accused of preventing foreign parents from seeing their children. Photo: AFP
“They are aware that is a loophole in the law. The courts and these abducting parents are treating the children like chattel rather than living, breathing people who deserve to be loved by both parents, no matter what,” he said.
Benda said he advocated a carrot-and-stick approach to existing cases, with outstanding international arrest warrants rescinded after the abducting parent has agreed to honour international access orders. For parents who still refuse to comply, then they need to understand from the Japanese authorities that they face extradition orders to face kidnapping charges overseas.
“If the Japanese government shows it is serious about enforcing these international orders, I believe it will send a powerful message to resolve current cases as well as prevent future cases,” Benda said. ■