CHANG-RAN KIM / Reuters
Vincent Fichot hasn’t eaten for almost two weeks.
The 39-year-old Frenchman is camping in front of one of the Olympic stadiums in Tokyo – not far from the opening ceremony on Friday – and is on hunger strike to protest what he believes is the legal kidnapping of his children in Japan.
His dramatic action in the Tokyo summer with temperatures of 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) aims to draw attention to the plight of parents like him who are denied custody or even the right to visit.
French President Emmanuel Macron, the only G7 leader to visit Japan for the Games, will address the issue of Japanese custody at his meeting with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Saturday, as he did with Suga’s predecessor Shinzo Abe, a French, in 2019 Officials who did said.
Unlike many other countries, Japan does not allow double custody of children and in some cases one parent takes the children in and blocks contact with the other. The topic most often attracts attention from overseas husbands divorcing Japanese women.
“Child abduction is not criminalized, and I would even say that it is legitimate and encouraged by the Japanese authorities for their refusal to take action,” Fichot told Reuters.
Fichot, who has been at the campsite since July 10, is demanding compensation for his children for alleged violations of their rights, or apart from that, French sanctions against Japan.
If that doesn’t work, he said soberly, he was ready to continue his hunger strike until he died: “I would go to the end.”
Fichot has launched an online petition asking for support “for the return of his wrongly abducted children,” which had received more than 24,000 signatures by Friday evening.
Calls to Japan’s Justice Department to comment on the law went unanswered on Friday, a national holiday. In 2019, Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa said, “As a rule of thumb, we believe it is important in the children’s interest that both the father and mother can be involved in looking after the children after the divorce.”
When asked about Fichot’s case last week, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said he was unable to comment on individual cases, while domestic issues “should be resolved between the parties involved in accordance with domestic law”.
The European Parliament – lobbying by Fichot and a number of EU citizens who have been denied access to their children by Japanese mothers – has urged Japan to comply with international rules on child protection and allow joint parental control.
The European Parliament urged Japan to comply with international child protection rules and allow joint parental control after a number of EU citizens were refused access to their children by Japanese mothers.
Reuters couldn’t reach Fichot’s ex-wife, who doesn’t know where she is herself.
In fact, he hasn’t heard from his kids since the day he came home from work as a trader at Nomura Securities in August 2018 to find the three gone.
Fichot called his lawyer but was told only that the children had been “kidnapped” and that he would probably never see them again. He has since filed an unsuccessful appeal.
Although Macron raised the issue with Japan, Fichot said, “Two years later, nothing worked.”
Fichot met Macron and pleaded for help in 2019, hoping to meet him again on that visit. A Macron adviser came to him on Friday and said the president had promised to speak to Suga about the matter, but no more, Fichot said.
The French government official said it was unclear whether Macron would meet Fichot, but no such meeting is on the public schedule of the president’s 36-hour hiatus.
Fichot said his strike has found support from people in a similar situation and that around 100 people come to speak to him every day.
“Parents who have been the victims of child abduction … are now staying with me to sleep with me because they are worried about my health,” he said.
However, he said police tried to evict him from the grounds and expressed concern about his safety at the start of the Games.
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