Japan Times: Japan to beef up law to enable handover of children to parents with custody when the other resists

NATIONAL

Japan to beef up law to enable handover of children to parents with custody when the other resists

KYODO

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.

Source:  “Japan to beef up law to enable handover of children to parents with custody when the other resists”, The Japan Times, 19 February 2019 

WKRN News: Franklin brother, sister still missing after 9 years

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

http://www.WKRN.com
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.”

Source:  “Franklin brother, sister still missing after 9 years”, WKRN News, 23 August 2018

South China Morning Post article

IS JAPAN A HAVEN FOR PARENTS WHO KIDNAP THEIR OWN CHILDREN?

Foreign parents who had children stolen by a spouse say nothing has changed because court orders to reunite families are not enforced

 

BY JULIAN RYALL

 / UPDATED ON 

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. 

Source:  “Is Japan a haven for parents who kidnap their own children?”, South China Morning Post, 15 July 2018

Nagoya High Court orders mom to return son to dad in U.S.

Nagoya High Court orders mom to return son to dad in U.S., despite boy’s claim ‘he wants to stay in Japan’

KYODO

The Nagoya High Court ordered a woman on Tuesday to return her son to his father in the United States, saying her failure to comply with an international convention on child abductions is illegal.

The court ruled in favor of the father in a dispute between parents, who are both Japanese, over the custody of their U.S.-born son, who was brought to Japan by his mother without the father’s consent in 2016.

Presiding Judge Hisashi Toda of the high court said that although the son “claims he wants to stay in Japan, he has been living in the country being largely dependent on his mother, who wields unjust psychological influence on him.”

The mother had been ordered by the Tokyo Family Court to return the son to the United States based on the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

But she ignored the order, prompting the father to file a habeas corpus appeal with the high court’s Kanazawa branch.

The high court branch rejected his claim last November, saying, “Custody transfer would go against the son’s will.”

However, the Supreme Court in March overturned the ruling, saying it sees “clear illegality” in the mother’s failure to comply with the order, and sent the case back to the high court.

The Hague treaty sets out rules and procedures for the prompt return to the country of habitual residence of children under 16 taken or retained by one parent as a result of failed marriages, if requested by the other parent. Japan joined the convention in 2014.

Source:  “Nagoya High Court orders mom to return son to dad in US, despite boy’s claim ‘he wants to stay in Japan'”, The Japan Times, 18 July 2018

Justice Ministry panel looks to enforce custody transfers in absence of uncooperative parents

Justice Ministry panel looks to enforce custody transfers in absence of uncooperative parents

KYODO, JIJI

A government panel is considering making it easier for children to be handed over to parents who have secured custody even if the former spouse defies a court order to let them go, sources close to the matter said Tuesday.

The Justice Ministry advisory panel plans to allow the hand-over of children to parents who have won custody, even in the absence of the parent defying the court order, the sources said.

In September the panel said that, in principle, removal of children by court officials would be possible only if the parent currently living with the children is present at the time.

But the panel is now proposing that only the presence of the parent who won custody is required.

The panel reviewed an earlier report after critics said the parent who had lost custody may intentionally hide to prevent the hand-over of children, and that the absence of such parents has prevented transfer of custody in the past.

Japanese legislation implementing the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is expected to be revised as it currently requires the parent living with the children to be at the scene when children are handed over to the parent with legal custody.

“I hope to see an effective (legal revision) that will also give maximum consideration to the mental and physical well-being of children,” Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa told a news conference Tuesday.

The convention, to which Japan acceded in 2014, set out rules and procedures to allow for the prompt return of children under 16 taken or retained by one parent to the country of habitual residence, if requested by the other parent.

There is currently no stipulation in Japan’s legal system regarding parents who do not abide by court orders to hand over children to their former spouse. Such disputes have been handled based on regulations regarding the seizure of assets.

According to the proposal in the interim report, divorced parents who defy a court order and refuse to let their children go would be fined until they yield, in order to encourage them to voluntarily abide by the court decision. After compiling a fresh outline that includes the latest review the panel is set to submit its proposal to the Justice Ministry, possibly in autumn.

Last month, the U.S. State Department listed Japan as one of the countries showing a pattern of noncompliance with the Hague treaty in its annual report on the issue.

It said that Japan has made “measurable progress” since 2014, but pointed out the lack of “effective means” to enforce court return orders.

Source:  “Justice Ministry panel looks to enforce custody transfer in absence of unco-operative parents”, The Japan Times, 26 June 2018 (see also Brian Prager’s comment below the article)