In Japan, if a Japanese mother absconds in the night with her child, taking him or her from the American father, the government will do nothing. If that American parent tries to get the child back, however, he's likely to be arrested.
Which leaves servicemembers like Navy Cmdr. Paul Toland basically without recourse. Toland has been trying for six years to get custody of his daughter after his estranged Japanese wife took her from the Yokohama base housing when the girl was 9 months old.
This morning Congress' Human Rights Commission is hearing testimony from Toland and other parents in his position. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J, has introduced a bill to establish protocols to prevent international abduction and to advocate for U.S. children and assist the families when it does happen.
With servicemembers deployed all over the world they are a large percentage of the those affected by international child abduction. Smith's office estimates there are 25-30 cases involving servicemembers each year.
Japan-based Stripes reporter Charlie Reed has been reporting extensively on the issue. As she reported in August, Smith successfully got an amendment attached to the 2010 defense authorization bill that requires DOD to study the problem and report to Congress how they plan how to assist servicemembers.
"Congressman Smith's proposed laws are a step in the right direction," attorney Jeffrey Leving, a consultant to the State Department on this matter, said in a press release. "Creating a standardized system to prevent international child abduction and streamlining the government's response when children are abducted will allow families affected by this tragedy to focus on being reunited rather than navigating a bureaucratic maze."
(Pictured: Toland, left, on the Hill in August)