A US man has sued Japan Airlines, claiming it wrongfully helped his Japanese ex-wife leave the United States with their son, despite court orders that the child remain in California.
Scott Sawyer alleges the airline and a US travel agency agency knowingly assisted his ex-wife, Japanese national Kyoko Sawyer, take their son Wayne to Japan in December 2008 when the boy was two years old.
"There is a long list of red flags that existed in this case that should have caused the airline and travel agency to do something," lawyer Mark Meuser said on Saturday.
The companies were "deliberately turning blind eyes to the known parental kidnapping problem endemic to Japan and the warning signals surrounding this case," Meuser added in a statement.
Japan is the only major industrial country that has not signed the 1980 Hague Convention, which requires the return of wrongfully held children to their countries of usual residence.
When international marriages break up, Japanese courts rarely grant custody to a foreign parent, particularly fathers.
Activists say thousands of foreigners, mostly men, have been barred at some point from seeing their children once the youngsters have been taken to Japan by the estranged partners. Sawyer has not seen his son since his ex-wife took him to Japan more than two years ago.
The lawsuit was filed this week in Los Angeles Superior Court, which in 2008 approved the divorce and granted shared custody of Wayne, who is now four years old.
Sawyer's ex-wife had been ordered to turn in her passport and to not travel with the boy outside five counties in and around Los Angeles, Meuser said.
But she left San Francisco on a flight to Japan after having obtained a Japanese passport for her son just days prior, Meuser said.
Meuser said there is no law requiring the airline and travel agency to check custody issues on travel from the United States to Japan, but said they should be held responsible nonetheless.
"They should have flagged everybody," he said. "Wayne has red hair. He's clearly bi-racial and he's going to a country known to have problems with parental kidnapping. They had all the warning signs."
Sawyer's lawyers said airlines and travel agencies should require parents traveling alone with a minor child to Japan to obtain legal approval from the non-traveling parent authorising the child's trip.
US State Department figures, cited by the lawyers, show that 230 cases of parental abductions involving 321 children have been opened since 1994.
Japan said in September that it was seriously considering signing the international treaty to stop child abductions, although officials said it may take time as the nation would need to change domestic laws.