TOKYO — Resolving parental child abduction cases in Japan not only requires more attention from Japan and the U.S., but also is an issue the Pentagon must address.
Rep. Chris Smith, in Tokyo this week to lobby support for a treaty to end parental abductions, called for the U.S. military to step up efforts to help troops, since current and former servicemembers often face impossible challenges in trying to get access to their children in Japan.
From 2007 to 2009, the number of troops who sought help from the U.S. State Department to get visitation rights with their half-American children outside the U.S. rose from eight to 34 in 14 countries, according to a 2010 DOD report on international child abduction.
Many cases go unreported because left-behind parents often realize early on that there is little that can be done to help them, said attorney Patricia Apy, who traveled to Tokyo with Smith to raise awareness about Japanese abduction cases.
In 2010, Smith passed legislation that created a partnership between the Pentagon and State Department to help better inform servicemembers on child abduction issues.
The diplomatic-military effort is still in its early stages and so far has only included training for military staff judge advocates, Pentagon spokeswoman Maj. Monica Matoush said in an e-mail Thursday to Stars and Stripes.
But active-duty and former servicemembers whose children have been abducted to Japan contend the military could quickly and cheaply begin addressing the problem.
“With all the briefings you get in the military, they could include some information about the abduction problems,” said Michael Elias, who served in the Marine Corps and claims his estranged Japanese wife abducted his two young children to Japan from New Jersey in 2008.
“You go overseas they give you information about everything, even how not to catch an STD overseas,” he said. “But this topic goes unmentioned?”
Still, it was Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway who provided the first ray of hope for Elias in 2009.
“I wrote like 200 letters to (Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton and had called everyone from the (local) police to the FBI,” said Elias, who then e-mailed Conway.
Conway, who has since retired, quickly responded and hooked Elias up with Apy, his current attorney, who has worked as a legal adviser to the Pentagon and the Clinton administration.
“That was the best thing that could have happened,” said Elias. “I’ll never forget what he (Conway) wrote: ‘Never let it be said that Marines don’t help Marines out.’”
Like many young servicemembers who fall in love and marry while stationed overseas, Elias never thought of the consequences associated with international marriage.
But that’s all the more reason the military should at least brief troops about the risks, he said.
“I never imagined (my wife) could or would do this,” said the 26-year-old sheriff’s deputy from his Rutherford, N.J., home this week. His parents Nancy and Miguel Elias accompanied Smith to Japan, a trip Michael Elias said he skipped for fear of being served with a Japanese court order.
Nancy and Miguel Elias said a U.S. Embassy official in Tokyo made contactwith their daughter-in-law while they were in Japan, but that she refused to allow them to visit their grandchildren.
Stars and Stripes was unsuccessful in contacting Elias’ ex-wife.