In February 2010, the United States federal government cranked up the pressure on Japan to start cooperating with resolving international parental child abduction cases involving Japanese parents taking kids back to Japan and preventing them from seeing their non-Japanese parents. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell  issued a warning to Japan to revise its family law system to permit non-Japanese parents to have contact with their children.
Laws that allow only one parent to have custody of children in cases of divorce set Japan apart from most other developed countries. They also leave most fathers, including foreigners, unable to see their children until they are grown.
“This matter has raised very real concerns among senior and prominent Americans in Congress, on Capitol Hill and elsewhere,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell told reporters in Tokyo after meeting with affected American parents in Japan. He called their predicament “heartbreaking.”
Campbell’s comments are the sternest warning yet from Washington on the issue and signal that it has risen on the U.S. government’s priority list – at a time when ties are already strained by a dispute over moving a U.S. Marine base on the Japanese island of Okinawa.
“It’s been striking to me at how rapidly this issue has gained support in Congress,” he said.
While affirming the importance of Washington’s ties with Tokyo, Campbell said Japan needs to take steps to “avoid a situation where this in any way complicates the smooth running and the important nature of our overall strategic relationship.”
Although custody of children of divorce routinely goes to mothers in Japan, this bias towards disrespecting the interests of the children isn’t just simple sexism when non-Japanese parents are involved. Instead, it rears its ugly head as a form of nationalism or racism as a Japanese parent will get preferential treatment over a non-Japanese parent even to the detriment of the children.
Warning Follows Savoie Abduction Case
This warning comes in the recent wake of the highly publicized 2009 case of two American children, 9 year old Isaac and 7 year old Rebecca, who were illegally abducted and are today still being held in Japan. Their mother, Noriko Savoie, is a fugitive of US law who is violating US court orders regarding child custody.
Father Christopher Savoie and his attorney Jeremy Morley knew it was likely that Noriko Savoie would abduct the children to Japan. They tried to get a restraining order to help block it. Tennessee courts declined to keep the restraining order in place, however, as it is typical for American judges to underestimate the likelihood of international child abduction or to believe they can somehow fix it after the fact. But very often US courts cannot fix the damage done after the abduction, not even to simply reunite the abducted child with the parent whose access has been blocked. In the case of abducted children in Japan, this largely because Japan refuses to sign the Hague Convention on Parental Child Abduction that would require it to abide by family law court decisions in other nations regarding child custody and to cooperate with the return of children illegally abducted.
Attempt to Circumvent Broken Japanese “Law” Results in Arrest
Shortly after Noriko Savoie illegally abducted the children to Japan, Christopher Savoie traveled there to get the children back. He counter-abducted them from their mother on their way to school and rushed them to the US Consulate in Fukuoka, almost reaching the safety of US territory before Japanese police arrested him and tossed him in jail. After holding him in custody for several days while restricting press access to interview him on-camera or in English, the Japanese government decided not to prosecute Savoie so long as he agreed to leave the children behind.
The message from the Japanese government was clear: The children are property of their Japanese mother and if you claim otherwise, no matter what another nation’s courts have ruled, Japan will treat you as a criminal.
If Savoie had gotten the kids into the consulate, US law would have been more likely to prevail as US courts had already stripped Noriko Savoie of child custody after she violated court orders specifying shared custody by illegally moving them to Japan.
What makes this case unusual for Japanese child abductions is that Christopher Savoie is a naturalized Japanese citizen of American ancestry. But the plight of children being abducted by Japanese mothers and being blocked from contact with their fathers is hardly unique. It’s common practice in Japan, a nation in which fathers are regarded as little more than sperm donors. While Westerners in the US, Canada, and Australia have it bad in family law courts, Japan’s system is even more sexist. And when both parents aren’t Japanese, nationalism and racism take higher priorities than sexism.
Japan: Sexist and Racist Bastion Of Child Abuse
Growing volumes of psychological research show that children who grow up knowing both of their parents and being able to spend significant time with each are more likely to be psychologically healthy. Children have an innate need to know both of their parents. But Japan abuses children by making it difficult to impossible for them to have contact with both parents, even when both parents are Japanese citizens living in the country.
Japanese fathers are just starting to get fed up with being treated unfairly by their government and how custody is almost always given solely to mothers. The Japanese equivalent to the Western father’s rights movement that supports shared parenting doesn’t yet have a foothold in the Japanese societal conscience.
But foreigners who have married a Japanese national have often seen how shared custody can work. Often the nations in which these children are born back the idea of children and parents having rights to see each other. Many of these parents have their own personal experiences with parental alienation in which they were kept from their own fathers by their mothers and told lies to make them hate the target parent. They wanted to avoid this ever happening to their children because they knew how damaging it was.
Thousands of Japanese Child Abduction Cases With No Remedies
Japan is now risking a rift in its international relations with the United States and other countries including Canada and Australia. It is excusing its role in child abuse and violation of civil and human rights based upon lies over domestic violence statistics that don’t support the position at all. Citizens and residents of these countries are raising ire over Japan’s involvement in parental abduction and parental alienation.
In recent years, thousands of parents including Christopher Savoie, Steve Christie, Scott Sawyer, Murray Wood, and Kevin Brown have had their children abducted by Japanese mothers who use Japan’s antiquated family law system to block the children from seeing their non-Japanese parents.
Japan is the only nation amongst the industrialized economic powers known as the “Group of Seven” that has refused to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on International Parental Child Abduction. However, it is far from the only powerful country to have signed on to these rules to deal with international child abductions by parents. In this regard, Japan is in the company of nations that routinely violate civil and human rights such as China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Cuba. If you’re looking for a map and list that show which nations have signed the Hague Convention and which have not, click on over to the US Department of State’s web page Where Was Your Child Abducted? 
What is the Japanese government’s excuse for protecting parental child abductors and keeping the children in harm’s way? They falsely claim that signing the Hague Convention would leave Japanese women with little protection from their abusive foreign husbands. Reality, however, is that Japanese women are about as abusive as men as shown in the Murray Straus study supported by the University of New Hampshire and the US National Institute of Mental Health published in 2007. Dominance and Symmetry in Partner Violence  included 13,601 male and female university students from 32 nations including Japan. The study showed that in violent couples in Japan, both engaged in assaults on each other (mutual violence) in 80.7% of violent relationships, only females assaulted males (female-only violence) in 11.5%, and only males assaulted females (male-only violence) in 7.6%. This compares to the statistics for the US showing 69.6% mutual violence, 20.6% female only violence, and 9.7% male only violence. Even in Japan, females are more likely to be violent than males, thus exposing the Japanese excuse for supporting parental child abduction as being inaccurate. (See page 24 of that study for these figures.)
Christopher Savoie’s attorney Jeremy Morley has more than 100 clients whose children have been abducted to Japan. To date, of the thousands of American children abducted by the Japanese, no children have ever been returned. On of the few cases in which a child returned to a parent was that of Chris Gulbraa who single-handedly managed to escape Japan when he was 16 years old to return to his father. The Children’s Right Council of Japan estimates that each year there are more than 2000 new cases of Japanese parental child abduction involving kids from all over the world.
Canadian-Japanese Abduction Case: Taka and Mana Wood
Americans aren’t the only people angry over Japan’s racist, sexist, and abusive policies regarding child abduction. On November 27, 2004, Taka and Mana were abducted by their mother from Canada and taken to Japan. Their father, Murray Wood, hasn’t seen them in four years. Canadian courts repeatedly ordered joint custody, but mother Aiko violated the first four court orders. The fifth order awarded Murray Wood sole custody because of Aiko’s refusal to cooperate with the children spending time with both parents. Yet the children are still in Japan.
The Wood case is covered in the upcoming documentary film From the Shadows  about the problem of parental child abduction in Japan.
Trailer for From the Shadows