As you may have read in my prior postings, International Parental Child Abduction remains an unfortunate issue, which continues today. There are certain countries, which tolerate and even allow International Parental Child Abduction as evidenced by their laws. Japan is the only “First World” nation, which can be placed in this category. Japan is not signatory to The Hague Convention on International Parental Abduction. This means that Japan allows its citizens who live abroad to return to Japan with their children regardless of foreign child custody orders in place from foreign jurisdictions.
There are many instances in the United States where, for example, an American citizen marries a Japanese citizen, they have children, but in the end divorce. They part ways and the Japanese Mother decides to return to Japan taking the children. The Hague Convention would require the Japanese Government to return the children to their home jurisdiction. Since Japan is not a member of the Hague Convention it is under no obligation to listen.
Over the past decade there has been a movement to encourage Japan to become signatory to the Hague Convention on International Parental Child Abduction. Time and time again Japan has stated that they will “consider it.” Again the Yomiuri Shinbun today stated that Japan will sign the Hague Convention – http://www.crnjapan.net/The_Japan_Childrens_Rights_Network/itn-japwsthc.html
If Japan continues on their path of “considering signing” Left Behind Parents are left with little to no recourse. I think it is fair to examine what role the United States Government has in this process. The United States and Japan are allies and have close ties. The United States Government has had military bases within the country of Japan since the end of World War II and continues to protect Japan by stationing troops within the country.
The US State Department’s Mission Statement is as follows: Create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community. Although these Left Behind Parents have not lost legal custody they have in fact lost the ability to see their children and therefore are actually denied custody. It appears that the State Department understands the problem as it does communicate with left behind American parents through quarterly round table meetings. However, the State Department has not been able to bridge the gap and continues take action. It has been unable to take any action to convince the Government of Japan that it should become a Member of the Hague Convention and enforce child custody orders issued by American Courts. Japanese Courts simply do not recognize American child custody orders and therefore refuse to enforce these court orders.
It certainly seems that the United States Government, and specifically the State Department, should be able to do more. The mission of the State Department is to protect and secure American people. The State Department’s inaction on this matter results in non-compliance with its Mission Statement. The children are American citizens (presumably born in America) and they are being deprived of their right to frequent and continuing contact with their American parent as well as compliance with an American Court child custody order. Furthermore, the American parent usually loses all child custody rights when the Japanese parent returns to Japan with the children.
So what can the State Department do? It certainly seems that given the status quo, the State Department can and should take action to do everything in its power to prevent the abductions from occurring. The State Department should have a process to screen parents on international flights who are departing with children and without the other parent. This seems like a common sense first step. Perhaps they can have the departing parents sign an agreement promising to return to the United States with the children. This seems that a signed agreement would assist the United States Government with its request to return children. There are other options which the Department of State can and should take. It is clear that the State Department needs to take a more proactive role in an attempt to reduce the number of International Parental Child Abductions. Hopefully the State Department will take steps to further abide by its Mission Statement and make the world a more secure place for American citizens in 2011.