Read the Senators' letter to the president

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A group of U.S. senators has urged President Barack Obama to address parental child abduction with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama during his first trip to Japan, scheduled for later this week.

“This is a deeply important issue,” states the Nov. 5 letter the 22 lawmakers signed. “Many parents have not seen or heard from their children in years. We cannot sit back and wait while these children grow up without one parent.”

Japan is the only major industrialized nation that has not signed an international treaty on child abduction, despite continued international pressure. The 1981 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, to which 81 countries are signatories, safeguards custody rights for parents and prevents them from fleeing with their children to or within those countries.

There are a growing number of international child custody disputes in Japan, where family courts typically award custody to mothers and do not enforce visitation rights with criminal penalties.

The courts also do not recognize foreign custody orders, which some Japanese women estranged from non-Japanese spouses defy to bring their children back to their home country.

Beyond convincing Japan to sign the Hague convention, the senators also want the United States and Japan to develop a process to resolve the current open cases involving more than 100 Japanese-American children living in Japan and kept away from their American parents.

It’s a critical point, according to the letter, because the treaty is not retroactive and could not be used as a tool to resolve the existing cases in Japan.

The new administration in Tokyo “is a unique opportunity for the United States to reinvigorate its dialogue with Japan on the issue of international parental child abduction,” the letter states.

There is also a bill making its way through Congress that would pose economic sanctions against countries that do not cooperate in resolving international child abduction cases.

The bipartisan push from the Senate further ratchets up the pressure for the new Japanese government to act.

The United States and seven other countries publicly urged Tokyo in October to sign the Hague treaty and resolve the current cases.

The eight-nation push came the same week Tennessee resident Christopher Savoie was released from a Japanese jail after attempting to take back his children, who were allegedly abducted by his ex-wife from their U.S. home and taken to Japan.

He has since returned to Tennessee and is prohibited from contacting his children or ex-wife in Japan as part of the conditions of his release, he said Monday in a phone interview.

He said he hopes Obama can make headway on resolving the abduction issue and that the senators’ letter proves it’s a matter of “great importance to the American people.”

“It’s not just this little dark secret anymore,” Savoie said.

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