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House calls for U.S.-Japan SOFA change on parental child abduction

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The U.S. House of Representatives passed a “sense of Congress” resolution Wednesday calling for changing the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement to assist American servicemembers whose children have been kidnapped by Japanese family members.

H.Res. 1326, sponsored by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., also condemns Japan for its stance on parental abduction, which is not a crime in the country and where the family courts typically do not recognize U.S. court orders. The system essentially allows Japanese nationals to spirit away their Japanese-American children to or within the country.

House resolutions do not carry any legislative weight, and do not require Senate approval or a signature from the president. The Senate did not take up any similar statements before its pre-election recess, which began Thursday.

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There are currently 95 cases involving 136 children who have been abducted to Japan, according to Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who co-sponsored the resolution. Among them are 17 children of military servicemembers, Defense Department records indicate.

“Japan is safe harbor for child abductors,” Smith said in a news release Wednesday. “This has to be resolved.”

The resolution could help American parents prevent their children from being abducted from the United States to Japan in the first place, said Patricia Apy, a New Jersey international family law attorney and Defense Department legal consultant.

“You could use the resolution to go to a (U.S.) judge and get special protections,” Apy said, such as forbidding contested children from traveling to Japan if the court suspects a parent is disguising plans to abscond with the children.

Smith said the resolution also could help pave the way for passage of the International Child Abduction Prevention Act, which he plans to introduce for a second time in the coming months. That act would impose economic sanctions against countries such as Japan that do not cooperate with the United States in resolving international child abduction issues.

The problem of parental child abduction to Japan is not exclusively American. The international community for years has petitioned Japan to become a signatory of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The tradition of sole-custody divorces in Japan is at the heart of its reluctance to sign the agreement, experts have said.

reedc@pstripes.osd.mil

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