U.S. pressures Japan to resolve child custody

by Masami Ito

Japan needs to deal with the issue of Japanese spouses taking their children from their divorced international partners or it could affect bilateral ties with the United States, Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state, said Tuesday.

Campbell, in Tokyo for meetings on strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance, held a special news conference at the U.S. Embassy on parental child abductions to urge Japan to take action in cases where American parents have little or no access to their children.

“Many of their situations are tragic and the situation has to be resolved in order to ensure that U.S.-Japan relations continue on such a positive course,” Campbell said. “This issue left unresolved has the potential to raise very real concerns — something that all of us seek to avoid.”

Campbell said he brought up the parental abduction issue during a meeting with Kazuyoshi Umemoto, director general of the North American Affairs Bureau, and Nobushige Takamizawa, director general of the Defense Policy Bureau.

Foreign Ministry officials in charge of the issue were not immediately available for comment Tuesday night.

The senior U.S. diplomat for Asia said Washington has discussed the option of demanding extradition but would rather avoid it, given the good relationship with Tokyo.

“I think our preference, given the fact that the United States and Japan are such close allies, is to avoid such a situation, but we will look at all options,” he said.

Japan has been the target of international criticism for not signing the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction to protect children from being wrongfully taken out of their country by a parent.

As of last August, 81 countries had joined the convention, including the U.S., Canada, Britain and China. Of the Group of Eight countries, only Japan and Russia have not signed the treaty.

Under Japanese law, only one parent gets parental rights over children after a divorce, and mothers are given priority in most cases.

Although there is no official number, Campbell estimated that the U.S. government was aware of about 70 cases affecting 100 children. In both the U.S. and Japan, Campbell has met with parents whose children were taken to Japan and have little or no access to them.

“Our children are our most important and cherished resource,” Campbell said. “The U.S. government places the highest possible priority on the welfare of children who have been victims of international parental child abduction and strongly believes that children should grow up with access to both parents.”

An argument often brought up by Japanese officials is that some cases involve domestic violence and that the Japanese spouses are fleeing with their children in search of safety.

Campbell, however, said the allegations of abuse are a misconception and that he has found “almost no cases of alleged or actual substantive claims of violence.”

“Because of the legal situation in Japan, I think that this allegation is used very loosely and often times inappropriately without any supporting criteria whatsoever,” he said.