Senators to Obama: Press Tokyo on parental child abductions

by Minoru Matsutani

U.S. President Barack Obama has been sent a letter signed by 22 senators urging him to address the issue of international parental child abductions during his summit in Tokyo this week with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

“This is a deeply important issue, as Japan currently does not recognize international parental child abduction as a crime,” the senators, including former presidential candidate John Kerry, said in the letter dated Thursday. “We urge you to ensure that the United States continues to raise this issue at the highest possible levels in the context of our close bilateral relationship with Japan.”

Foreign fathers who divorce Japanese wives typically cannot see their children because Japanese law allows only one divorced parent to have custody and Japanese courts usually rule in favor of Japanese mothers, even if they forcefully take their children away from their former husbands.

Such cases have violated overseas custody rulings in the event the ex-spouse took their children without permission to Japan from their country of residence — the U.S. in the case of the senators’ grievance.

Also, divorced fathers are rarely granted visitation rights, or at best get rare visitations because of cultural notions over stability in the family environment, some lawyers said. Japanese law equally deprives Japanese men of custody of their children.

“There are currently 79 known cases involving over 100 American children who have been abducted by a parent to Japan,” the letter says. “According to the U.S. Department of State, no cases have been successfully resolved with Japan over the last few decades through the Japanese judicial system or through diplomatic or political efforts.”

The senators urged Japan to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, whose aim is to secure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed to or retained in any signatory countries. But they also said the U.S. must work with Japan to establish a bilateral mechanism to assist with because the Hague Convention does not apply to abductions before a country becomes a signatory.