WASHINGTON – A group of U.S. fathers urged Japan on Monday to comply with the international convention for settling cross-border child custody disputes and help them and other American parents reunite with their children living in Japan.
The fathers and their supporters, including a veteran congressman, handed a petition to a minister at the Japanese Embassy in Washington the day before Japan’s implementation of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
They were among some 20 people who marched through the U.S. capital holding placards with their children’s pictures and met with a government official earlier in the day to increase awareness of offspring taken to Japan by estranged parents, usually wives.
The group Bring Abducted Children Home organized the events.
Paul Toland, 46, a co-founder of the group, told reporters, referring to Japan’s accession to the Hague convention, “Today can be a new beginning.
“But remember this. It’s just the beginning. The ultimate resolution of these cases has not yet been attained,” Toland, a U.S. Navy employee, added.
Toland said he has not seen his daughter for almost 11 years since his wife brought their then 9-month-old baby to Japan before divorce proceedings had concluded and custody had been determined.
His former wife and her mother rebuffed every attempt he made to see his daughter, he said. Even though his wife died several years ago and he is the surviving parent, he said he has not been allowed to see his daughter.
Tokyo became the 91st signatory of the convention, which sets out the rules and procedures for the prompt return to the country of habitual residence of children under the age of 16 taken or retained by one parent, if requested by the other parent.
The pact is not retroactive, and will only deal with cases occurring from Tuesday. But it can provide assistance to parents seeking visitations, regardless of when they were separated from children.
Christopher Smith, a member of the House of Representatives, joined group members in making calls on Tokyo.
“Parents here today whose children were abducted prior to ratification cannot be left behind again,” said Smith, who heads the House Subcommittee on Global Human Rights and International Organizations.
The fathers came to Washington from across the U.S., and one even attended after flying from Singapore. Some described Japan as a child custody “black hole.”
In a meeting with Beth Payne, director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues, the fathers and the supporters, including attorneys, asked the department to help arrange reunions with their children.
The department received 28 applications, involving some 40 children, from the group Monday. The office had been working on 58 other cases involving around 80 children as of February, according to a department official.
While the department’s spokeswoman, Marie Harf, described Japan’s participation in the convention as “a positive change,” many parents who took part in Monday’s events indicated they have little faith that Tokyo will help them retrieve their children.
They also said they are worried that cases will be referred to local family courts, which lack expertise on the convention and have traditionally given custody to mothers. Nor does Japan have a reciprocal custody agreement with the United States.
Stephen Cullen, the group’s attorney, mentioned that 200 more applications will be submitted within the year.
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