TOKYO (AP) – The United States urged Japan on Friday to resolve a growing number of child custody disputes between citizens of the two countries, and renewed its demand that Tokyo join an international convention on child abductions.
Custody battles between parents of broken international marriages have become a growing problem in recent years, as Japanese mothers bring children home and refuse to let foreign ex-husbands visit.
Japan’s law allows only one divorced parent to be a custodian – almost always the mother – leaving many fathers without access to their children until they are grown.
The problem was brought to international attention in September when American Christopher Savoie was arrested in southern Japan after trying to snatch his 9-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter from his ex-wife. She violated a U.S. court custody decision by taking the children from Franklin, Tennessee, to Japan a month earlier.
Japanese prosecutors decided not to press abduction charges against Savoie in November, allowing him to return to Tennessee. The children remain with their mother in Japan.
More than 75 American parents and their children are affected, among dozens more from other countries, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.
U.S. officials held their first meeting Friday with a Japanese Foreign Ministry working group established in December to try and resolve the issue.
U.S. officials urged Japan to sign the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, which seeks to ensure that custody decisions are made by courts in the country where children are born, and rights of access of both parents are protected.
Japan has argued that signing the convention may not protect Japanese women and their children from abusive foreign husbands.