Lawmaker: DOD must do more to inform troops about child abduction issue

Posted on February 27, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Hague Convention | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

TOKYO — Resolving parental child abduction cases in Japan not only requires more attention from Japan and the U.S., but also is an issue the Pentagon must address.

Rep. Chris Smith, in Tokyo this week to lobby support for a treaty to end parental abductions, called for the U.S. military to step up efforts to help troops, since current and former service members often face impossible challenges in trying to get access to their children in Japan.

From 2007 to 2009, the number of troops who sought help from the U.S. State Department to get visitation rights with their half-American children outside the U.S. rose from eight to 34 in 14 countries, according to a 2010 DOD report on international child abduction.

Many cases go unreported because left-behind parents often realize early on that there is little that can be done to help them, said attorney Patricia Apy, who traveled to Tokyo with Smith to raise awareness about Japanese abduction cases.

In 2010, Smith passed legislation that created a partnership between the Pentagon and State Department to help better inform servicemembers on child abduction issues.

The diplomatic-military effort is still in its early stages and so far has only included training for military staff judge advocates, Pentagon spokeswoman Maj. Monica Matoush said in an e-mail Thursday to Stars and Stripes.

But active-duty and former service members whose children have been abducted to Japan contend the military could quickly and cheaply begin addressing the problem.

“With all the briefings you get in the military, they could include some information about the abduction problems,” said Michael Elias, who served in the Marine Corps and claims his estranged Japanese wife abducted his two young children to Japan from New Jersey in 2008.

“You go overseas they give you information about everything, even how not to catch an STD overseas,” he said. “But this topic goes unmentioned?”

Still, it was Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway who provided the first ray of hope for Elias in 2009.

“I wrote like 200 letters to (Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton and had called everyone from the (local) police to the FBI,” said Elias, who then e-mailed Conway.

Conway, who has since retired, quickly responded and hooked Elias up with Apy, his current attorney, who has worked as a legal adviser to the Pentagon and the Clinton administration.

“That was the best thing that could have happened,” said Elias. “I’ll never forget what he (Conway) wrote: ‘Never let it be said that Marines don’t help Marines out.’”

Like many young service members who fall in love and marry while stationed overseas, Elias never thought of the consequences associated with international marriage.

But that’s all the more reason the military should at least brief troops about the risks, he said.

“I never imagined (my wife) could or would do this,” said the 26-year-old sheriff’s deputy from his Rutherford, N.J., home this week. His parents Nancy and Miguel Elias accompanied Smith to Japan, a trip Michael Elias said he skipped for fear of being served with a Japanese court order.

Nancy and Miguel Elias said a U.S. Embassy official in Tokyo made contact with  their daughter-in-law while they were in Japan, but that she refused to allow them to visit their grandchildren.

Stars and Stripes was unsuccessful in contacting Elias’ ex-wife.

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Congressman continues to push Japan to sign child abduction treaty

Posted on February 27, 2011. Filed under: Child Abduction, Child Custody and Visitation, Divorce, Hague Convention | Tags: , , , , , , , |

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A U.S. congressman left Tokyo on Wednesday after a whirlwind trip aimed at rallying Japanese support for an international child abduction treaty, an issue that has sparked a growing debate in Japan and abroad.

While lobbying members of the Diet and other government officials this week to ratify the 1981 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Rep. Chris Smith said Tokyo and Washington must resolve the current cases of parental kidnapping in Japan involving U.S. citizens.

The treaty would essentially stop Japanese law from shielding people who have taken their children to Japan in violation of jurisdictional authority in another country. The 1981 treaty was written without retroactive authority and can only be applied when both countries — where the custody dispute arises — are signatories.

The New Jersey Republican said it would be a “gross miscarriage of justice” if the American parents of 103 U.S.-Japanese children who have been taken to Japan go without help should Japan sign the treaty — a decision the government ponders as the issue gains domestic and international media attention.

Smith said establishing government-to-government protocols for the U.S. and Japan to resolve current cases would help lay the foundation within Japan’s domestic legal framework to ease ratification of the treaty.

Recent moves by Japan — such as establishing working groups within the government and legislature to study whether Japan should accede to the treaty — indicate the country is seriously considering the matter for the first time.

Smith’s efforts come as diplomatic pressure from the international community on the matter has increased in the past two years.

“This problem isn’t going away,” said Smith, who is working closely with Americans whose children have been abducted to Japan and with attorney Patricia Apy, a New Jersey international family law attorney.

Apy, who traveled to Japan with Smith, said she has unsuccessfully pleaded with the government of Japan at least eight times to assist in the extradition of Japanese citizens who have fled to the country in violation of U.S. custody orders. She said those failures highlight the impunity with which parental child abductors facilitate their crimes in Japan.

Japan’s new consideration of the abduction issue should be viewed with “cautious optimism,” said Apy, who has worked as a legal consultant for the Defense Department and the Clinton administration.

It’s too early to tell whether Japan is fully on board with the concept, she said.

With Japan’s custom of sole-custody divorces that typically cut off all contact between children and their non-custodial parents, even the fundamental idea behind the 1981 Hague treaty — that both parents deserve access to their children after divorce — clashes with conventional wisdom in Japan, Japanese officials say.

Masae Ido, a Diet member affiliated with Japan’s ruling party, said her biggest concern with the Hague is the disadvantage it could impose on Japanese women who flee with their children to Japan to escape domestic abuse.

“In a litigious society like the United States, Japanese women often end up fighting a lone battle (in American courts) without getting any support,” Ido said, adding that the language barrier and a lack of financial means “contribute to their decision to leave the country without due process.”

While emphasizing the polite and productive nature of his meeting with Ido and other Japanese officials, Smith said Japan no longer can condone the clear cases of parental kidnapping within its borders.

Smith said his trip is tied to legislation he plans to introduce in the House in the coming weeks that would impose economic sanctions against Japan and other countries that fail to return kidnapped children. Smith tried to pass similar legislation in 2010 but it died in the House, and it’s unclear whether the bill has any new support this year.

“These current cases must be resolved. These parents can’t be left behind again,” Smith said.

reedc@pstripes.osd.mil

sumidac@pstripes.osd.mil

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