Mulboyne, I stand corrected

In October, I wrote about the attempted abduction/rescue of the Savoie children by Chris Savoie from his wife, and explained my sympathy for Noriko, the Japanese wife who had absconded with the children from Tennessee, USA to Japan. While acknowledging and criticizing the Japanese child custody regime, I was appalled by Chris’ conduct and said very clearly that “Christopher is the wrong martyr to rally behind in this fight.” Mulboyne disagreed (right after saying that the post was too long at 200 or so comments — it currently stands at 434), and had this to say:

One of Curzon’s original points was that Savoie is “the wrong martyr for the cause”. It’s beginning to look like he might be the right one… for better or worse, his case has received significant coverage in the US and coverage in the Japanese media is now building up momentum… Even following an announcement in May 2008 by the Ministry of Justice that Japan was beginning to look at the possibility of becoming a signatory to Hague, there was no mention of any specific instance. The same when Canada, Britain, France and the US made a joint diplomatic representation on the issue in May of this year.

Christopher Savoie’s actions in Japan have been reckless and stupid but, whereas most cases have no narrative development, this one has a good deal and promises more. Even coverage of a left behind parent tails off in the US in the absence of any concrete development. Most parents are just sitting and waiting or else tied up in legal proceedings in Japan which generally go slowly and, usually, nowehere. With Savoie, we have a man in jail and something has to happen to him. He might be charged, he might be released, he might be deported. Whichever course of action the authorities take, there will be repercussions and more coverage.

Such was my disgust with Savoie that I did not want to agree with that analysis. Mulboyne later repeated this comment in more detail over beers a few weeks later (we’re a social bunch, us MF and CA bloggers).

Yet we now read that Foreign Minister Okada has set up a division inside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to study the issue:

The Foreign Ministry has set up a new division to handle international child custody issues in response to overseas criticism that Japan allows Japanese mothers to take their children away from their divorced partners.

The division, officially launched Tuesday, will study the issue, including whether to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, whose aim is to secure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed to or retained in any signatory countries, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said.

Of course, such criticism has been ongoing for years and has been well documented and criticized, yet only now, after the -awful CNN- press coverage of the Savoie fiasco is the Japanese government taking notice. My conclusion? I can’t bear to acknowledge it twice, so just read the post title again.

7 thoughts on “Mulboyne, I stand corrected”

  1. Well, to be a persnickety social scientist about this, your flawless reputation is still intact. The notion that the Savoie case motivated the DPJ is not really testable in this case, as the party leader noted that he would sign Japan up to Hague and cited foreign pressure as a motivating factor months before Savoie was detained:

    “JTH: On this topic, as you know Japan is the only G8 nation not to ratify the Hague Convention. There has been talk of doing so in 2010. Will the DPJ do so?

    YH: Yes we will and we have pushed for this but have been fought back by the LDP continually on this topic. I understand the issue and we have been briefed on the many cases involving Japanese spouses violating other nation’s court orders and brining the child to Japan. So, yes we support this effort to ratify the Hague convention.

    Daniel: I have some questions from the fathers affected, and photos of their children. Would you please look at them?

    (Mr. Hatoyama reads the questions and looks at the photos)

    YH: May I keep these?

    Daniel: Please do.

    YH: My heart goes out to the fathers, and mothers. There are cases of mothers as well. We support ratifying and enforcing the Hague Convention, and involved in this is a sweeping change to allow divorced fathers visitation of their children. That issue affects not just foreign national fathers, but Japanese fathers as well. I believe in this change.
    We have been condemned by the USA, Canada, the UK, and France over this and I firmly believe we need to change things as I mentioned. The effect will be Japan coming into this century. We need to be clear though, these changes will take time. A very strong cultural change shifting from maternal primacy over the children is needed as well. I think we have already seen the beginning of this, but a change in laws is not the sole solution.

    JTH: Does this include abiding by the court orders of other nations?

    YH: It does, as long there is reciprocal agreement to recognize Japanese court orders.

    JTH: As you know no child has been returned to a foreign parent even with a foreign jurisdiction awarding custody before the abduction, do you support efforts to change this?

    YH: Again, as long as Japanese courts are reciprocated then yes. Again, I need to be clear that changes of this nature will take time. Do I support it? Yes, but the changes to the legal and cultural structures will take time. Will there be opposition? I am sure, but things need to change not just to improve Japan’s image, but for the sake of justice. That really is all I can say.”

    You might just as easily have written:

    “Of course, such criticism has been ongoing for years and has been well documented and criticized, yet only now, after the general election is the Japanese government taking notice.”

    Yes, they read Savoie’s letter, but it may well be because he was a high profile case, not because he was the instrument of change itself.

    So rest assured, Curzon. Unless somebody comes up with a way to truly prove cause and effect, you may be wrong, but nobody will really ever know.

  2. Well, yes, but your (Curzon’s) balanced treatment of this particular case still stands on its own merits. Also, you may be overestimating the extent to which that case influenced the current government to take up the issue. I believe the initial discussions were with the French government, for example. The biggest factor may be that we now have, in Japan, a government in power that is willing to deal with difficult issues that do not always put Japan in the best light.

  3. To be honest, I expected Savoie to kick up more of a stink after his release but he dropped off the radar pretty quickly. It does seem likely that his case brought a bit of focus to the discussions already under way, not least because the embassies took the opportunity to restate their arguments publicly. However, as the other commenters have already noted, the new government may have been more inclined to break the deadlock anyway. We also won’t know for a while whether this working group has a genuine mandate or whether it has just been set up a sop.

  4. I have to assume that he’s staying quiet based on legal advice. Any public statements he makes at this point are unlikely to be helpful to whatever ongoing court cases he has regarding his children, or private negotiations with his wife’s family.

  5. Although the story is tragic, I’m glad to see it in a major paper. Getting publicity for stories involving both foreign and Japanese parents on both sides of the issues is probably the only way the government will be persuaded to sign the convention.

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