Congressmen look to pressure DOD to act on Japan child abductions
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A congressional resolution introduced Tuesday is calling on the secretary of defense to alter the status of forces agreement with Japan to assist servicemembers whose children have been kidnapped and taken to Japan.
The proposed resolution also calls for the United States to enact agreements with Japan to resolve the mounting cases of parental child abduction involving U.S. citizens, who now have few legal options in Japanese courts.
Most cases involve American fathers fighting for the return of their children who have been taken to Japan by their Japanese mothers, sometimes in direct violation of U.S. court orders.
Kidnapping your own child is not a crime in Japan, and the country’s family law is based on the tradition of sole-custody divorce, leaving noncustodial parents without legal recourse to pursue visitation rights.
Addressing such discrepancies between the U.S. and Japanese law through the SOFA and defining a process for handling international custody disputes involving American troops would help prevent them from turning into kidnapping cases, said Patricia Apy, a New Jersey international family law attorney and a legal consultant to the Defense Department.
International efforts to persuade Japan to resolve these cases so far have gone nowhere, leaving the SOFA option as "the one place where there’s leverage," said Apy, who represents an Iraq war veteran whose child was recently abducted to Japan.
The United States and seven other countries are pressuring Japan to sign a treaty that would help resolve the cases by obligating Japan to comply with provisions that protect the rights of both parents.
But even if the country adopts the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction it would not apply to the current cases, a caveat American lawmakers and diplomats aim to shore up with side agreements such as the one proposed Tuesday.
More than 100 American-Japanese children are considered abducted, 2009 State Department records show.
The U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement defines how the U.S. military operates within Japan, including legal consequences for troops who break Japanese laws while stationed here.
Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, and Rep. Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat, are co-sponsoring the resolution.
Smith sponsored an amendment in the 2010 Defense Authorization Bill that called on the military to issue a report on international parental child abduction.
Last summer, he also introduced the International Child Abduction Prevention Act, which would impose economic sanctions against countries that do not cooperate in resolving international child abduction issues.