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Just over 10,800 American children were victims of so-called international parental child abduction from 2009 through 2019, according to a 2020 report by the Congressional Research Service.
Just over 10,800 American children were victims of so-called international parental child abduction from 2009 through 2019, according to a 2020 report by the Congressional Research Service. (Pixabay)

A New Jersey congressman and other advocates urged the State Department to use the strongest enforcement tools passed by Congress in 2014 for bringing home American children abducted by one parent living overseas — particularly in Japan.

“Child abduction is child abuse,” Republican Rep. Chris Smith said during a hearing Wednesday of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. “These young victims, like their left-behind parents, are U.S. citizens who need the help of their government when normal legal processes are unavailable or have failed.”

The hearing was intended to look at ways the Sean and David Goldman Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act could be better implemented.

Just over 10,800 American children were victims of so-called international parental child abduction from 2009 through 2019, according to a 2020 report by the Congressional Research Service. About 4,800 children were returned during that period, the report said.

Smith, who chairs the bipartisan House commission, called on the State Department to begin using sanctions “to promote adherence to law and return Americans.”

The hearing focused on Japan, where thousands of U.S. service members and federal employees are posted. Smith during the session said he is helping draft legislation that would “compel” the State Department to use the enforcement provisions set out in the Goldman Act specifically in regard to Japan.

More robust actions that the State Department can take under the Goldman Act for countries like Japan with “a pattern of noncompliance” are issuance of public statements detailing unresolved cases; public condemnation; delay or cancellation of official or state visits; suspension of American development assistance; and formal extradition requests.

“Each county and each case, as we all know, is unique, as are the cultural values that are reflected in the laws of each country,” Smith said. “Why, for example, do we face such challenges in Japan, a country with which we otherwise enjoy not just a good but excellent relationship?”

Japan does not recognize the concept of joint custody, and its courts instead give custody to one parent in what is called the “continuity principle,” he said.

“In other words, if the child is settled in one household, one shouldn’t disturb him or her,” Smith said. “Time for that to change, absolutely change. Not only does the law not punish a parent who absconds with a child, it rewards the abducting parent.”

The State Department declined the committee’s invitation to testify at the hearing, which Smith described as “deeply disappointing.”

Advocates for parents of abducted children also pleaded for stepped-up enforcement from Foggy Bottom.

“Japan is internationally known as a black hole for child abduction,” Jeffery Morehouse, executive director of the nonprofit organization Bring Abducted Children Home, said in written testimony submitted to the committee.

Citing U.S. government figures, Morehouse said more than 475 U.S. children have been kidnapped to Japan since 1994. He said Japan has persistently failed to aid in the reunification and return of victimized children.

“For seven years the Goldman Act has not been used to its potential by the State Department,” he said. “It is overdue for an overhaul to obligate State to be true to the intent of the act — to return our kidnapped children.”

Noelle Hunter, president and cofounder of iStand Parent Network Inc., another organization devoted to the issue, also took the State Department to task for lax enforcement.

“As lecturer in international relations, I would like to ask why the State Department seems enchanted with demarches — the tiny stick with which they gently assail nations with diplomatic wrist slaps for patterns of noncompliance in returning America’s Stolen Children — when the Goldman Act is replete with escalating, weighty enforcement tools,” Hunter, a political scientist at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, said in written testimony.

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