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An American father wants his children back. Japan says no.
TOKYO, Japan — Under normal circumstances it would be impossible to summon any sympathy for a man who snatches two young children as they walk to school with their mother.
But what if the “abductor” is the children’s father, and the mother, his former wife, herself the subject of an arrest warrant?
When Christopher Savoie, an American, went to these extraordinary lengths to regain custody of his children from his Japanese ex-wife last month, he not only landed himself in a police cell for more than two weeks, he also placed the spotlight firmly on Japan’s complicity in international parental child abduction — turning it from a minor irritant into a potential source of genuine tension between Washington and Tokyo.
Savoie was arrested after attempting to take his children, aged 9 and 6, to the U.S. consulate general in Fukuoka, southwestern Japan, in September.
The 38-year-old from Tennessee, and his former wife, Noriko, lived in Japan for several years before moving to the U.S. in 2008. When they divorced in the U.S. in January this year, Noriko was granted primary custody of the children.
Despite giving assurances that she would remain with the children in the U.S., in August she took them to Japan, without Savoie’s knowledge and in defiance of a court order. The U.S. authorities awarded Savoie full custody in Noriko’s absence and issued a warrant for her arrest on suspicion of “custodial interference.”
Yet Savoie has no legal right to see his children for as long as they remain in Japan, which refuses to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on International Child Abduction.
The treaty, with 81 signatories including every other member of the G7, states that a “child whose parents reside in different countries shall have the right to maintain on a regular basis … personal relations and direct contacts with both parents.”
Savoie’s is one of about 80 cases of international parental child abduction involving U.S. citizens, while France and Britain are dealing with 35 each.
The unofficial number is much higher, particularly when failed marriages between Japanese and people from other Asian countries are included. The Assembly for French Overseas Nationals for Japan estimates that 10,000 children with dual citizenship in Japan are prevented from seeing their foreign parent after separation or divorce.