The partnership between the United States and Japan is longstanding. It is based on common interests and values, including a shared commitment to promoting economic prosperity, human rights and international law.
It is as a friend of Japan and of the Japanese people that I’ve been fighting to break the diplomatic impasse over the issue of spousal abduction of American children to Japan. Upwards of 300 American children, including several from Northern Virginia, have been taken to Japan by a parent with Japanese citizenship, never to see their left behind parent again.
In May, I teamed up with Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), other House colleagues and the parental victims of child abduction to introduce a resolution H. Res. 1326 which calls attention to the problem. Last week, before Congress recessed for the elections, I oversaw passage of the resolution by a 416 to 1 vote.
There have been 269 cases of American children abducted to Japan since the State Department started recording this statistic in 1994. Research shows that abducted children are at risk of a number of serious emotional and psychological problems including severe anxiety, eating problems, nightmares, mood swings, and aggressive behavior. As adults, many struggle with identity issues, their own personal relationships and parenting.
Despite a shared concern within the international community, the Japanese government has yet to accede to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction or create another mechanism to resolve international child abduction disputes. Japan’s existing family law system neither recognizes joint custody nor actively enforces parental access agreements from other countries for either its own citizens or foreigners.
Most troubling, the existing legal system relies exclusively on the voluntary cooperation of the parent or guardian who has abducted the child. American parents must beg to see their abducted children and have no legal recourse if the parent who carried out the abduction denies them access.
The measure passed last week establishes the “sense of Congress” that Japan should work with the State Department to return child victims of parental abduction to their custodial parent or to the original jurisdiction in the United States for a custody determination and provide left-behind parents immediate contact with their children. It also calls on Japan to immediately adopt the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
It is my hope that the government of Japan will seize on this as an opportunity to work with officials in the United States to finally bring these children home and prevent future abductions.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.