Abducted to Japan: Hundreds of American Children Taken
Japanese mother tells ABC News how easy it was to flee with her American son.
TOKYO, Feb. 16, 2011— -- A bold-faced lie and a fake name for her child, was all it took for a Japanese mother to abduct her American son to her native country.
"It was very easy to me," she said.
The 37-year-old mother, who detailed the 2008 abduction of her child away from his American father under the condition that her name not be used, told ABC News that she knowingly lied to obtain new passports to get out of the country and that, to her knowledge, no one at the Japanese consulate made any effort to make sure she was telling the truth.
"They just, how do you say, didn't notice," she said, even laughing as she talked about outsmarting the system. "Maybe it was just kind of lucky."
The story provides a rare, inside look at a frustrating diplomatic tangle been two political allies who have spent years in discussions which have produced little action.
The woman's son, Wayne Sawyer, an energetic 4-year-old boy who now speaks virtually no English, is one of hundreds of American children taken to Japan by a parent who seeks refuge in the government's refusal to recognize U.S. child custody laws.
"You wonder, 'What's he going to think?'" Wayne's father, 47-year-old Scott Sawyer said. "He can't fight back. I'm a grown adult. I can fight back. I can go to Congress. I can do all these things, and fight for him. I'm not the victim here. He is. Every child who's been kidnapped is a victim here."
Among the circles of left-behind parents in the U.S., many of them fathers, Japan is known as a safe haven for parental abductions. Once in Japan, the parent who abducted the child is protected by their government's unwillingness to sign the Hague Convention, a treaty that provides for the return of abducted children to the other parent.
The State Department has tried for years to negotiate Japan's signature on the Hague Convention and to try and resolve some of the 321 cases that have been filed with the department during the last 17 years. But not one child has ever been returned to the U.S. from Japan through diplomatic measures.
"That lack of enforcement makes Japan more than just a haven," said Navy Cdr. Paul Toland, whose 8-year-old daughter was abducted as an infant, "it makes it a black hole from which no child has ever returned."
"People want to see action and I don't think it's going to move, if it will ever move as quickly as the left behind parents want it to," said Janice Jacobs, assistant secretary of state for consular affairs.
The State Department, she said, knows the fathers feel ignored.
"Frankly, I don't think that there's anything we can do short of returning their children that is going to be enough," she said.
"It's extremely discouraging," said Brian Prager of New York, who's 5-year-old son Rui was abducted just eight months ago "All of my memories of him are extremely fresh. I can still smell his hair and remember what it's like to kiss him on the neck and carry him to school."
According to Jacobs, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, are well aware of the hundreds of children residing in Japan while the parents left behind – who often have full custody – wait in anguish a half a world away.
"It's a perfect storm of failure at every level of government on this," said Sawyer, an American father whose child was taken.
"It should not be a diplomatic issue. We have laws that need to be enforced," he said. "My child should not be in Japan, and is in Japan as a result of criminal activity. And that's what has to be straightened out here. It's not for a diplomat to go and decide that."
In the case of Sawyer's ex-wife, she admitted to ABC News that she told the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco that she lost her Japanese passport, when in reality, she had surrendered it in accordance with a U.S. court order.
Though the mother initially declined to tell ABC News how she got the passport for her son – saying she would release the information when he was an adult – she eventually admitted to using the fake name. Documents obtained by ABC News show she requested Wayne's passport using the first name Issa, a name that Sawyer says has never been associated with the boy. She used her maiden name as his last name.
The Japanese Consulate in San Francisco told ABC News that they only issue passports to minors with the consent of both parents.
"When we issue passports to Japanese minors, we will explain to applicants that a passport will be issued when an application is submitted with consent of both parents, and that is against the United States law for a parent to take a child out of the country without consent of the other parent who has the custody of the child. We thus take strict measures in checking on the consent of both parents on the application before issuing passports."
Still Wayne's mother was able to get one for him.
This could be more than a diplomatic issue. ABC News showed Jacobs, the assistant secretary of state, a video of Sawyer's wife admitting to lying and using a fake name to get passports for herself and her son.
Asked if lying to get a passport could present a national security threat, Jacobs nodded and replied, "That could be."
"It certainly doesn't make me happy," she said.