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More countries join fight against Japan in child abduction cases

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — International pressure continues to mount on Japan to address the problem of parental child abduction within its borders.

During a meeting Friday with Japan’s Minister of Justice in Tokyo, officials from the European Union as well as representatives from Belgium, Colombia, Germany and Hungary joined the call for Japan to sign the 1981 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The act essentially prevents parents from absconding with their children to or within the 82 signatory countries.

The group — which included representatives from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand and Spain — also asked Japan to implement measures allowing parents visitation rights to their children in the meantime.

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Japan has been criticized for its family court system, which typically awards custody to one parent with no official visitation rights afforded the other parent. Japanese courts also do not recognize foreign custody orders, which some Japanese defy to bring their children back to their home country after splitting from foreign partners in different countries.

There are currently 95 cases involving 136 children who have been abducted to Japan. Among them are 17 children of military servicemembers, Defense Department records show.

“We reiterated that we place the highest priority on the welfare of children who have been the victims of international parental child abduction, and stressed that children should grow up with access to both parents,” reads a joint statement released Friday by the U.S. embassy in Tokyo.

The latest move “clearly indicates that the international community is becoming less and less accepting of Japan’s stance on this issue,” said Steve Christie, an American university professor in Tokyo who has no custody rights to his teenage son who lives with his ex-wife in Japan.

For years, Japanese officials have said they would consider signing the treaty, but no concrete steps were taken in that direction until groups were formed within the foreign affairs and justice departments to study the issue in 2009.

Some members of the U.S. Congress insist on scrapping diplomacy for sanctions.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., co-sponsored a resolution that passed the House of Representatives earlier this fall condemning Japan for the parental child abduction problem. He said it could lay the groundwork for a bill he plans to reintroduce next year to impose economic sanctions against Japan and other countries that do not cooperate with the U.S. in resolving international child-abduction issues.

reedc@pstripes.osd.mil

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